Friday, March 29, 2013

Got studded tires? Time for them to go into storage for a few months

Earlier this week the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a reminder to drivers about removing their studded tires by midnight, March 31. If you travel across the mountains in the winter, chances are you're familiar with studded tires, but how much do you really know about them? 

Here's a bit of information found on

Studded tires, which were introduced in the USA in the 1960s, have anywhere between 60 and 120 metal pins protruding from them to make driving in snowy, icy roads safer. The pins cut into the ice, which causes enough friction to prevent sliding, but if there's not enough snow or ice on the road, or none at all, studded tires chip away at the pavement. This represents two main problems: First, it's a safety issue because ruts in the pavement can cause vehicles to hydroplane in the rain, and second, damage to roads and highways were costing taxpayers millions of dollars in maintenance every year, until restrictions on the use of studded tires were put in place. 

Legislation to address the issue was first introduced in 1991, then in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 but none of those measures passed. It wasn't until 1999 that, to protect Washington's taxpayers, drivers and roads (and based on this DOT report), the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5384. That bill required that as of July 1, 2001, the studs that were placed into tires had to be of a lighter grade, which saved the state over $1 million per year on road repairs. 

And that's why studded tires are legal from November 1 to March 31, which is when temperatures generally warm up to at least 50 degrees in most parts of the state. If you fail to remove them, you could get a ticket for $124. 

The DOT release stresses that drivers traveling to higher elevations should always prepare for winter driving conditions and roadway conditions before traveling across the passes because you can find snow in the mountains well into May.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

HDC reactions to Governor Inslee's budget proposal -- it's all about the kids

Governor Inslee released his operating budget proposal today, which included $1.26 billion in new spending for K-12 education.

"I feel deeply that my number one priority is to help rebuild our economy, get people working again and take important steps toward building a workforce for the future," Inslee said. "And that begins with education."

House Democratic leaders agree. 

Said House Speaker Frank Chopp: “Taking meaningful steps toward better-funding of our public schools is a top priority, and many of our members have long argued for giving tax breaks serious scrutiny.  So we are heartened to see the governor call for closing some tax loopholes to fund the education of our kids."

Appropriations Chair Ross Hunter
added: “Governor Inslee’s proposal focuses on funding education and responsible budgeting – these are the right priorities for Washington."

And House Finance Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle
said: "We strongly agree that fully funding public education is a higher priority than continuing tax exemptions that may not provide a reasonable return on investment for the future of our state.”

Read this story in Spanish.

How do we solve the workforce shortage in our state?

Two years ago, give or take a couple of weeks, we wrote about the fact that in our state there are more job openings than qualified workers to fill those vacancies. The Washington Roundtable addresses that issue in its Great Jobs Within Our Reach report released yesterday. And the Seattle Times ran this editorial calling on the Legislature to fund more seats in high-demand fields.

According to the Roundtable's news release, Washington state could see 160,000 jobs by 2017 and $720 million in new state revenue if we take the necessary steps to fill the growing skills gap.

The report found that 25,000 jobs have been unfilled in our state for three months or more due to a lack of qualified candidates and eighty percent of these jobs are in high demand fields such as health care and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

The report warns that the gap will grow to 50,000 jobs by 2017 unless we fix this problem, in which case, due to the multiplying effect, the scenario in 2017 would be much brighter with an additional 110,000 jobs.

The necessary steps, according to the Roundtable, to fix the problem are just five:

1. Increase computer science, engineering and healthcare capacity at colleges and universities.

2. Foster STEM interest and performance among K-12 students.

3. Improve alignment of technical degree and certificate curricula with employer demands.

4. Promote and enable in-bound migration of skilled workers from other states.

5. Support expansion of international immigration opportunities.

Following some of the Roundtable's recommendations is easier said than done, though, especially when the state is so dramatically strapped for money to satisfy the growing demands in other areas like K-12, health care and human services. How do we get there? Think you have the solution? Try this Seattle Times balancing the budget interactive tool to see how you would do it.

Read this story in Spanish.

Saturday, March 30, Traveling Town Hall: Perhaps a small step toward a healing

All of us -- as parents, as children, and as fellow members of our Seattle and Washington and American neighborhood -- grieve over the terrible, very recent accident involving a motor vehicle hitting pedestrians on a street in North Seattle.

Two people were killed, and two others were very critically injured. They were innocent pedestrians, minding their own business and simply crossing a road not far from our community's Eckstein Middle School. Though we don't know for sure, as the police investigation is ongoing, it does look as if the driver was severely impaired by alcohol or other drugs.

In the very neighborhood of this awful tragedy, Representative Gerry Pollet will host the latest in his series of Traveling Town Halls Saturday morning, March 30, from 10 to noon.
The Town Hall will happen at Top Pot Donuts, 6855 35th Avenue Northeast (between 68th Street and 70th Street). Rep. Pollet and constituents will talk about proposals for stronger DUI laws, of course, as well as other issues. As we endure the aftershock of yet another grievous heartbreak, perhaps coming together in this way, as a community, can be a small step, a little fragment of help toward a healing.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stonier to host telephone town hall tonight

Residents of the 17th legislative district are invited to participate in Rep. Monica Stonier’s (D-Vancouver) live telephone town hall at 6 p.m. tonight. The conversation will focus on issues currently before the state Legislature, including education, transportation, jobs, and the economy.

17th-district residents should receive a call at about 6 p.m. tonight. Those wishing to participate can simply pick up the phone and follow the prompts. Stonier will deliver a short opening statement followed by a Q&A session until the town hall concludes at 7 p.m.

Constituents who don’t receive a call can still take part by calling 1-877-229-8493 between 6 and 7 p.m. and entering 18646 when prompted.

New House Majority Report answers the eternal question: “Whip?”

It’s time for a new edition of House Majority Report, the weekly podcast that offers a bite-sized conversation with members of the House Democratic Caucus leadership team.  This week’s guest is House Majority Whip Kevin Van De Wege. 

The Sequim Democrat, a firefighter and paramedic when he’s not in Olympia, has been Majority Whip for three years now.  In this newly recorded interview, available on iTunes and, even more conveniently, right here, Kevin explains what a whip is, how he goes about being one, and why he calls it “a fun job.” But don’t forget, Kevin also walks into burning buildings on purpose.

To listen to earlier House Majority Reports, click here.  Once you’re there, you can subscribe to future editions of the weekly podcast as well.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Health care for our heroes

As we move into the last month of session, lawmakers will be making tough decisions about the future of our schools, public safety and transportation system to name just a few.
A decision that shouldn’t be so tough: Whether or not to expand the Medicaid program.

Beginning next year, the federal government is offering to send our tax dollars back home to cover 385,000 Washingtonians making less than $15,000/year. Over the next two years, Medicaid Expansion is estimated to save our state about $275 million.

There is no shortage of good reasons to support Medicaid Expansion, and the Urban Institute has just given us yet another.

On the national level, about 1.3 million American veterans go without health insurance. But it doesn't have to be that way.

We can all agree that we have a responsibility to these heroes, as well as their families, who have sacrificed so much for us. Medicaid Expansion gives us another opportunity to make good on that promise.

From the Urban Institute:

An estimated 40 percent of uninsured veterans (535,000 people) have incomes that, under provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could qualify them for Medicaid.

Whether or not these veterans qualify for Medicaid under the ACA depends on whether – and which – states opt to expand Medicaid.

Most of those eligible – about 414,000 uninsured veterans – will only have new coverage options if they live in a state that expands Medicaid.
Right here in Washington state, about 12,200 veterans would be eligible for health care coverage under Medicaid Expansion. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we can all agree this is a step in the right direction.

For the Urban Institute’s complete report, follow this link.

Read this story in Spanish.

Trying to keep track of the action in Olympia? Here's a quick guide!

So what's really happening in the House and Senate?

While it's easy to look up a single piece of legislation, it's hard to keep track of the big picture.

  • Which bills are alive?
  • Which ones are probably dead?
  • What did the House pass that the Senate is considering – and vice versa?

We're past the House of Origin cutoff, which is a fancy way of saying to the House and Senate, "If your bill didn't pass from one chamber already, it's dead."

There are exceptions to that rule. Anything related to budgets is exempt from cutoff rules, and it gets complicated really quick. But in general, if a bill started in the House and doesn't involve money, it should have passed by now. Same with Senate bills.

Bills that spend money, raise money or involve the budget are called NTIB ("Necessary To Implement the Budget") are exempted.

Here are some quick shortcuts to finding out what you want to know.

Keeping track of the House of Representatives

To find out what bills passed the House, click here.

To see what lawmakers are debating on the House floor, click here for the Floor Activity Report.

To look at all bills introduced in the House, click here.

Keeping track of the Senate

To find out what bills have already passed the Senate, click here.

To see what senators are debating on any given day, click here for the Senate version of the Floor Activity Report (which, by the way, will want you to click on a calendar thing on the left before it shows you any bills).

For all bill introduced in the Senate, dead or alive, click here.

Going simple or getting all fancy

To simply check on bills, go to the main bill information site. You can do it by bill number, prime sponsor (the lawmaker who introduced the bill) or by topic.

Now, if you want to get all advanced, and show off your techno-political skills, there are ways to automatically track whichever bills you care about, whether they're in the House or the Senate. Create a free account on the bill tracker and it will let you do all kinds of crazy complicated and impressive things.

And to see video, or hear audio, of any legislative meeting or floor debate, go to

Read this story in Spanish.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Main Street businesses: Close tax loopholes, invest in future

It’s not every day that a business group calls on legislators to resist budget cuts, raise revenue and invest wisely to boost the economy and fuel consumer demand, but Monday was one of those days.

“We need customers – not cuts!” a coalition of small-business owners from across the state said in a letter hand-delivered to Rep. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle in the Legislative Building. “We believe it’s time to refocus our political debate on generating revenue to create the investments we need to support small businesses,” the letter said.

The letter called for closing tax loopholes for big corporations or adopting new revenue measures in order to raise money for health care, education and infrastructure. It was signed by more than 170 members of the Main Street Alliance.

“We believe that an economy works best when everyone pays their fair share,” the letter said. “When essential public services are cut, our economy suffers, people lose their jobs and small businesses lose our customer base.”

The letter was delivered by Consuelo Gomez of Marty K Comprehensive Facilities Maintenance in Bellevue, Tiffany Turner of Adrift Hotel and Inn at Discovery Coast in Long Beach and Don Orange of Hoesly Eco Automotive in Vancouver.

Carlyle has long advocated for increased accountability for tax loopholes granted to businesses and industry sectors. As chair of the House Finance Committee, he is working this session to make sure that the exemptions are linked to measurable economic benefits.

Read this story in Spanish.