Friday, March 15, 2013

It's town hall weekend

Tomorrow, March 16, many legislators will be will be holding town hall meetings in their respective districts. 

Constituents are invited and encouraged to participate in the discussion. It's an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback on the issues before the legislature this year.

Here are the scheduled town hall meetings for House Democratic legislators this weekend. We hope to see many of you there.

Read this story in Spanish.

Tourism in Washington slowly regaining ground

Guemes Island tide flats
Back in 2010, AOL Travel listed Guemes Island as one of the top top-secret beaches in the nation. According to this New York Times story, that was also the year Washington attracted 30 percent more international tourists than in 2009, and annual visitor spending increased 7.4 percent.

Now, we're not saying that those impressive figures were due to the Guemes Island secret getting out, but we're not ruling it out either.

All kidding aside, tourism in our state hasn't done as well as in good old 2010, and that may have something to do with the fact that in the summer of 2011, due to budget cuts, Washington became the only state in the nation to close the doors of its tourism office.

However, the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal reported yesterday that we did better last year than in 2011. According to figures released by the Washington Tourism Alliance, which held its summit earlier this week in Olympia, Washington's tourism growth was 2.1 percent. Our state received $16.9 billion in overnight visitor tourism spending, which is 4.4 percent more than the previous year.

Leavenworth (photo by Dmmaus via
Wikimedia Commons)
This past January, the Huffington Post included Leavenworth in its top 20 great small towns for a weekend. Not that it's a secret, mind you, but more news about lederhosen and beer steins can't hurt. 

Read this story in Spanish.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Preschoolers lobby legislators with story time "flash mob"

Earlier this week, preschoolers descended on the state capitol to help raise awareness about the importance of high-quality early learning and child care.

These young learners participated in a story time "flash mob" in the capitol Rotunda, organized by the group MomsRising. They were read a story by local children's book author Bonny Becker.

Both Governor and Trudi Inslee joined in the story time, as did several legislators including Rep. Ruth Kagi, who chairs the House Early Learning and Human Services committee.  Rep. Kagi is sponsoring a bill this session to create an integrated, high-quality birth-to-five early learning continuum in our state called "Early Start."  The bill passed the House last week and is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate tomorrow.

The Shoreline Area News covered the event.  From the article:

Rep. Kagi said, "It was a delight meeting with my youngest constituents at the 'flash mob' in the Rotunda. We seldom see the faces of the children who benefit from the high-quality early learning opportunities we are hoping to expand this session. It was a fun day talking with these young 'lobbyists'."
(From left: Trudi Inslee, Bonny Becker, Rep. Kagi and Rep. Maureen Walsh. Photo courtesy MomsRising)

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Higher Ed Live Chat with Larry Seaquist

SAVE THE DATE – March 18, noon – 1 p.m. 

Rep. Larry Seaquist, chair of the House Higher Education Committee, would like to invite students, parents, faculty, administrators, and anyone else with an interest in higher education issues to a live chat on Monday, March 18 from noon to 1 p.m.

Seaquist will give an overview of where we are in the legislative process with higher ed and answer questions from chat participants.

Seaquist particularly wants to hear from students willing to share their stories about struggling with student debt, course availability, and other challenges they face while pursuing a degree or certificate.

Come back to the HDC Advance on Monday, March 18 at noon to be a part of the discussion.

You can also submit your email address below and we’ll send you a reminder when the event is about to start.

To help you remember about the live chat, you can submit your email address below. We’ll send you a reminder as the event approaches. 

Read this story in Spanish.

Two Green-Collar Jobs Bills Pass the House

Legislation sponsored by two House Democrats aimed at encouraging growth in renewable energy jobs and manufacturing has been approved by the House of Representatives
House Bill 1301, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Morris, improves an existing program that provides incentives for energy consumers who use renewable sources to meet their electricity needs. It also includes new performance measurement tools to increase accountability and ensure that the tax credits administered under this program are accomplishing what they are meant to – helping to create new jobs in our state.
The state will use metrics, such as how many consumers are receiving credits and where they are buying their renewable energy systems, to measure the success of the program and assess how credits are given out. This will help reward companies that manufacture their products in Washington, expanding our clean energy economy and creating good-paying jobs for Washington families.
The second piece of legislation is House Bill 1663, sponsored by Rep. Steve Tharinger. It extends an existing sales and use tax exemption for a kind of biomass called “hog fuel” which, incidentally, has nothing to do with hogs. Hog fuel is a wood waste product, created from the limbs and branches left behind when timber is harvested. Turning this wood waste into renewable energy eliminates the need for open pile burning at the timber harvesting site, which means fewer emissions into our atmosphere.
In addition to being environmentally friendly, the resulting biomass product is a commodity itself that helps support timber industry jobs.These family-wage jobs tend to be located in areas of our state that suffer from stubborn unemployment, so it’s important to preserve these jobs and help the industry find ways to stay competitive in the global market.
Both pieces of legislation will create or maintain jobs here in Washington while reducing our dependence on outdated fossil fuels – further proof that it doesn’t have to be a choice between growing our economy and protecting our environment.

Read this story in Spanish.

Public radio network spotlights Rep. Cyrus Habib

​First-term Rep. Cyrus Habib of Kirkland has attracted a lot of media attention this session because he’s been blind since age 8 and is the state’s first blind legislator in a century. But it’s another distinction of Habib’s that served as the lead-in for a recent public-radio report on him: He’s the highest-ranking Iranian-American elected official in the nation.
Here’s what Habib told the Public Radio International Network on their program “The World:”
I think we’re at a critical moment as a community of Iranian-Americans, or Middle-Eastern Americans.
To listen to a recording of the segment or read the text version, click here.
Read this story in Spanish.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Making sure the mentally ill get the care they need

This afternoon, House Democrats made it clear that mental health care is a priority. The House of Representatives took action on several bills to ensure that the mentally ill get the attention they need.

Rep. Tami Green, a Lakewood lawmaker who doubles as a mental health nurse, introduced two of the measures.

Back in 2010, the Legislature OK’d new parameters for the involuntary commitment of people with pressing mental health issues. Often after a tragedy, we hear from family members or a close friend who admits that they could see the capacity for violence – just not when or where it would occur.

The new approach takes important input from family members and friends into consideration when making a decision to commit. It also allows decision makers to take a close look at a person’s history of mental health behavior.

However, budget constraints prevented the Legislature from funding the changes until 2015. House Bill 1777 speeds up the implementation of this involuntary treatment law – funding the reforms two years ahead of schedule.

HB 1522, another Green bill, builds a bridge between hospitals and the community for the mentally ill. It creates a step down from state hospitals – which will provide an important service to folks beginning to transition back into day-to-day life. This isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the cost-effective approach as it is most expensive to treat these patients in a hospital setting. The bill will also free-up beds in our mental health hospitals, which are becoming more in demand every day.

The House also passed HB 1627 from Rep. Dawn Morrell – a critical care nurse at Good Samaritan Puyallup. The bill combats a mental health care crisis not only in Pierce County, but across the state.

The number of requests for competency evaluations for criminal defendants is sky-rocketing. In Pierce County, these requests have increased by 80 percent since 2001. Many of these defendants actually wait longer for an evaluation than the time they would’ve served if convicted.

Our county jails aren’t mental health care providers and, without the care they need, the mentally ill deteriorate rapidly in these settings. All too often, this mistreatment ends in tragedy. HB 1627 would give counties a critical tool to meet the growing demand for competency evaluations.

These improvements will go a long way towards keeping our communities safe and Washington families strong.

Read this story in Spanish.

Photo: Reps. Green and Morrell hard at work in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee

House OK for Hansen bills brightens job outlook

Rep. Drew Hansen
The state’s job market would gain strength for the future under four bills by Rep. Drew Hansen that cleared the state House this past week.
“There are signs we’re rebounding from the depths of the Great Recession, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Hansen said. “I want to protect the jobs we have and prepare our young people for opportunities in the 21st –century economy. It’s very encouraging to me to get the strong, bipartisan support of my fellow legislators in that work.”
The bills are:
House Bill 1247, which makes it easier for small businesses to get money from a key state job-training program designed to help employees upgrade their skills. The bill also ensures that money from this program supports training that leads to degrees and credentials rather than dead-end jobs. The House voted unanimously for it Saturday, 98-0.
House Bill 1472, which helps students train for high-paying jobs in the computer industry by enhancing computer-science education in high schools and creating a statewide task force to address the computer programmer shortage. It was approved Friday 95-3.
House Bill 1245, which protects jobs in the shellfish and recreation industries by getting abandoned vessels out of our waters before they sink and cause pollution. It passed the House Thursday on a 96-1 vote.
House Bill 1660, which will lessen the paperwork burden on hospitals and colleges as they train new doctors and nurses. It won unanimous approval Tuesday, 96-0.
House approval of Hansen’s bills sends them to the Senate for action there.
To read a more extensive account of House action on these bills, click here.

Read this story in Spanish.

House passes driver protection & accountability package

Putting in extra hours in advance of Wednesday’s house of origin cutoff, the House of Representatives passed several bills relating to enforcement and consumer protection for motorists on Saturday, March 9th.
“It shouldn’t cost a mom or a dad a month of mortgage or rent to get their car back that they need for picking up their children or getting to work,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet in a floor speech on predatory towing rates.

The four pieces of legislation – which protect law-abiding drivers and punish those attempting to break the rules – all passed with strong, bipartisan support.

Here are the bills that were approved by the House of Representatives:

HB 1941 gives drivers who feel that have been inappropriately tolled, fined or assessed the wrong amount the opportunity to appeal the fee before an administrative judge that can actually mitigate the amount owed. Currently the process doesn’t allow much room to lower fines, even when compelling cases have been made that a person wasn’t aware of a tolling bill.

HB 1625 prevents victims of car accidents or parking missteps from being hit a second time by outrageous bills from towing companies, which can wind up cost hundred – even thousands – of dollars. While many towing services keep pricing in line, reports of some towing companies dinging drivers with outrageous rates from storage to non-business hour fees led to a need for reform.

HB 1944 makes it a gross misdemeanor to own or sell a license plating flipping device, which switch between two different license plates with the push of a button. These devices have become increasingly popular as some drivers seek to avoid tickets or tolls. By making them illegal, this legislation will help to ensure that no one is cheating the system.

HB 1946 helps crack down on improper use of disability parking placards. It expands the definition of unauthorized use to include expired or counterfeit placards and makes it illegal to gain a placard through medical misrepresentation. These changes will strengthen the program to ensure that it benefits people with disabilities, not freeloaders.

Read this story in Spanish.