Friday, April 12, 2013

Keeping kids in school is in everyone's best interest

Dropouts come in all ages. Sure, we know that as many as 20 out of every hundred schoolkids will never make it to commencement. But did you know that some youngsters, for all practical purposes, are actually "dropping out" of school emotionally in the first, maybe the second grade?

House Education Committee members this year have examined the dropout quandary at length, tackling it from a variety of real-world perspectives. Those testifying in committee meetings offered a number of observations, including the above-noted assertion that many of our very youngest students are checking out emotionally in their first years of school.
Hammered home time and again were the sad facts that dropouts tend to:

· Make up a big percentage of the ranks of the unemployed.

· Take home meager wages when they do work.

· All too often tumble into the criminal-justice system.

Consider also the fact that just as today's Washington businesses cry out for more and more skilled workers, dropouts are in no position to acquire the specific training and academic chops needed for 21st-century jobs.

Education Committee member state Rep. Kathy Haigh is the prime-sponsor of House Bill 1424, which is aimed at "enhancing the statewide K-12 dropout prevention, intervention, and re-engagement system." The measure cleared the House, 88-10, a month ago. Unfortunately, the legislation is stymied in the Senate and likely going nowhere near the governor's desk this year.

That is very unfortunate news, especially given the Washington State School Directors' Association (WSSDA) issued a summary recently of the big steps many districts have taken to keep young men and women in school. Their e-newsletter reviews the high level of success some of these intervention and prevention programs have worked in diverse districts around the state. The Sunnyside School District in the lower Yakima Valley, for instance, lifted its graduation rate an incredible 38 points in a recent five-year period -- from 41 percent in 2007 to 79 percent in 2012. The Spokane Public Schools worked to push on-time graduation up from a rate just above 62 percent in 2008-2009 to way more than 76 percent in 2010-2011.

Read this story in Spanish.

Putting $$$ where our mouth is on mental health

Earlier this week, House Democrats released a proposed operating budget. There are a lot of highlights – our proposal is the high-water mark on education funding, saves the safety net, and goes all in on Obamacare.

What may have been missed in all the hoopla was the important investments our budget makes in mental health care. Our budget pays for improvements to ensure the mentally ill get the care they need and make Washington a safer place.
  • House Bill 1114: Introduced by Rep. Jamie Pedersen, fills the gap between the criminal justice system and mental health care providers. It ensures that violent mental health offenders get the treatment they need, instead of ending up on the streets.
  • House Bill 1336: A Rep. Tina Orwall measure that requires school counselors and nurses to receive training on suicide prevention – giving these professionals the tools to identify early warning signs of troubled youth and prevent tragedies. 
  • House Bill 1777: Rep. Tami Green’s bill will accelerate the implementation of critical involuntary commitment of people with pressing mental health issues. The new approach will take input from family members and friends into consideration when making a decision to involuntarily commit. We pay for this change two years ahead of schedule. 
  • House Bill 1522: Another Green bill, HB 1522 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.
  • House Bill 1627: A Rep. Dawn Morrell bill to give county jails the tools they need to meet the growing demand for competency evaluations. Our county jails aren’t mental health care providers and, without adequate care, the mentally ill deteriorate rapidly in jail.
We’ve seen the tragedies that can occur when the mentally ill don’t get treatment they need. House Democrats believe mental health care is a critical investment – it’s just one of many priorities we will be fighting for in coming weeks.

Photo: Members of the House Health Care Committee discuss budget priorities.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

When was the last time you exercised with Walkman?

The Judicial Information System (JIS) is the primary information system for Washington state courts and the network that connects the courts with law enforcement agencies.

Sony Walkman (1979)
The JIS was state-of-the-art when it was created 35 years ago. What was also considered state-of-the-art in 1978? The Walkman. Our state's main judicial system is running on the efficiency and reliability of Walkman-era technology.

JIS is failing. Today, this behemoth wastes incredible amounts of time and money – and worse, it's unreliable. The system is expensive to maintain and faces the possibility of catastrophic failure.

Courts, like businesses, are urged to do more with less and use technology to work more efficiently and productively. How are the courts supposed to administer justice with a system like this?

A serious problem with JIS is that it doesn't relay to law enforcement when defendants are convicted of felonies. This has placed domestic violence victims in danger and can allow criminals to keep firearms. How can police be expected to protect us if they do not have accurate information on criminals?

Screenshot of the computer system used in Washington courtrooms.

If we want a justice system that functions and uses taxpayer resources effectively, then replacing these ancient systems is critical. The courts need $20 million to run the computer system and begin replacement.

The Senate Republican budget sweeps the entire $20 million for the JIS database and the replacement of the Superior Court Management Information System (SCOMIS).

It doesn't have to be this way. The House budget proposal fully funds the JIS and the replacement of the SCOMIS system. With this investment, we can greatly improve the accuracy and efficiency of our justice system. We can give judges, attorneys, and law enforcement the tools they need to protect us. And, we can save the taxpayers time and money.

Photo courtesy of the Administrative Office of the Courts and Wikipedia

Yesterday was CRC Project day at the Capitol

Sen. Annette Cleveland & Reps. Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie
at the Columbia River Crossing Information Exhibit
Many lawmakers in both chambers, as well as the general public got a chance to get a better understanding of the Columbia River Crossing Project yesterday at the CRC Information Exhibit in the Columbia Room. The Columbia River Crossing Coalition organized the event and brought pictures, brochures, and CRC engineers to answer questions and provide information.

The section of I-5 just north and south of the Columbia River has major safety and congestion problems that, experts say, will only worsen unless something is done pronto. The solution put forth after ten years of considering other options is the Columbia River Crossing Project, which, according to its proponents, will reduce crashes, provide predictable travel times, add travel choices, prevent traffic backups, and benefit the economies of Oregon and Washington.

The CRC project could begin creating thousands of much needed jobs on both sides of the river as early as next year if the funding is secured. Oregon has already committed to its share ($450 million) in order for the CRC Project to get $850 million in federal dollars; if Washington doesn't do its part, those federal funds will go to other states.

Secretary of Transportation, Raymond H. "Ray" LaHood, who a year ago said that the CRC is a great project anyway you can describe it, and Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff were also in Olympia yesterday. They met with House and Senate Transportation chairs and with Southwest Washington legislators to talk about the regional and national importance of the CRC project. The Columbian ran this story shortly after the meeting.

For more information on the CRC Project, please visit the CRC Website.

You can also get the handouts from the 49th Legislative District CRC Town Hall hosted by Reps. Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie and Sen. Annette Cleveland on March 16 here.

Read the Columbia River Crossing "Factbook" released last week.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

House doubles up on education

House Democrats unveiled a state budget that funds education without shredding the safety net for
kids, seniors, the blind, and disabled – and without resorting to accounting tricks or one-time spending.


The budget set the high-water mark for education spending, adding $1.3 billion over predicted spending on public schools. If you compared total education spending to the current budget, the House proposal spends $1.9 billion more than the status quo.

Gov. Jay Inslee proposed putting $1.2 billion more toward education, while Senate Republican budget writers put forth a budget that adds only $760 million to meet our McCleary obligations.

The House proposal also:
  • Invests in early learning
  • Reduces class sizes in K-3
  • Puts more money into high-demand college degrees
  • Expands health care and protects the safety net

The House proposal fully embraces the savings and opportunities offered by Obamacare. The budget:
  • Offers affordable health coverage to 385,000 more people by expanding Medicaid
  • Helps small business with costs by implementing the health care exchange, giving business owners and employees affordable and portable options for health coverage
Tax reform and tax fairness

A citizens' commission, panel of experts, and the House Finance Committee all examined the massive number of tax breaks, exemptions, and loopholes. Hundreds of breaks and loopholes costs the taxpayers $24 billion, compared to the entire two-year state budget proposal of $34 billion.

Many of these breaks have been on the books since the 1930s. Do they still make sense? Do they actually create jobs?

The House proposes a series of reforms to shift tax dollars from loopholes that don't create jobs to funding education, which we know is the foundation of our modern economy.

The $1.3 billion in loopholes and revenue match up with the $1.3 billion invested in new education spending aimed at meeting our constitutional duty under the Supreme Court's McCleary decision.

To find out more about the our budget proposal, click here.

Read this story in Spanish.

House budget will be released today

House Appropriations Chair Ross Hunter
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, Appropriations Committee Chair Ross Hunter, and Finance Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle will release the House 2013-15 operating budget proposal at 12:15 today in House Hearing Room A.

TVW will cover their press conference live, and documents will be made public at the same time.

Check back here later for more details.

Read this story in Spanish.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

House transportation budget passes committee

​Yesterday, with a bipartisan 20-10 vote, the House Transportation Committee passed their budget that was rolled out late last week.
The $8.4 billion budget allocates $4.9 billion for existing capital projects, and $3.5 billion for operating programs. The sum represents a decline of about $1.4 billion from the previous biennial transportation budget, primarily due to declining revenue from the state’s gas tax.
Some highlights include: stabilizing the Washington State Patrol, Washington Ferry System, and Department of Transportation budgets; funding the continued construction of the SR 99 Tunnel, 520 floating bridge, I-90 improvements and North Spokane Corridor expansion; and implementing efficiencies to make transportation dollars go further. A full summary is available here.
House Democrats acknowledge that this budget is only a stopgap measure to fund our transportation system for the next two years. Both Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn and Vice-Chair Marko Liias
pointed out that additional revenue will be necessary before the next biennial budget in order to prevent gridlock and agency shortfalls.
The budget, House Bill 1864, will go to the Rules Committee and then proceed to the floor of the House for a vote by the full chamber. The Senate has released their own version, but the differences are small and are expected to be resolved when the two bodies conference.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tax loopholes: Did you know...

Washington State gives the oil industry about $3 million a year through a tax loophole based on how gasoline was transported back in the 1930’s. It’s completely outdated and even they have admitted they don’t want or need the exemption anymore.

Fifteen years ago, the Legislature tried to entice out-of-state prescription drug companies to build warehouses in Washington by giving them a tax break. The plan didn’t work out as originally intended. Out-of-state companies are getting the tax break even if they don’t have warehouses in Washington. In other words, we’re giving away $15 million in tax loopholes for no reason.

Washington State gives away $32 million a year to public utilities through a 1935 tax loophole. This exemption was created to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has since been overturned.

When you travel to another state, you help support their schools and other needs when you buy goods and pay their sales tax. How much do out-of-state residents pay in sales tax when they buy items in Washington? ZERO. That tax loophole costs Washington taxpayers $32 million a year.

These are just a few examples of the 640 tax loopholes our state hands out to businesses each year. According to the Washington Budget & Policy Center, these tax loopholes cost Washington taxpayers over $10 BILLION per biennium – that’s about one-third of the total state budget.

Last week, the Senate unveiled a budget proposal that added 15 new tax loopholes to the books, which will cost taxpayers over $11 million. How many did they eliminate? ZERO.

Tax breaks themselves are not inherently bad things. Many serve the people well. But there are also several tax loopholes, like the 1939 fuel spillage loophole, that are outdated and unneeded. Because most do not have expiration dates, they’ll remain on the books unless the Legislature repeals them.

Budgeting is all about priorities. By preserving unneeded tax breaks, the Senate budget prioritizes corporate profits over kids and working families. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better.

House Democrats will unveil our budget proposal on Wednesday. In our proposal, you will see kids and working families come first.

Check out our website for a Top 10 list of reasons why the Senate budget is bad for kids, middle class families, and our future.

Read this story in Spanish.

Guns and restraining orders don’t mix, says House bill that advances in Senate

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach/
Two House bills that tighten critical areas of firearms regulation quietly moved another step closer to final Legislative approval this week when they cleared a Senate committee.

House Bill 1840 would prohibit possession of a gun by anyone subject to certain restraining orders, no-contact orders or protection orders if a judge finds that the subject of the order poses a threat to an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner. Those who fall under the finding and already have guns would be required to surrender them to police.

The Senate committee added the requirement for both an order and a court finding of a threat to the version of the bill that earlier passed the House 61-37. The House-passed version would trigger the gun prohibition in the case of either an order or a finding of a threat.

A recent New York Times article looked at how states nationwide deal with gun rights and restraining orders.

If the amended bill is approved by the full Senate, it would return to the House, which could either accept the Senate change or negotiate a version acceptable to both chambers.

The Senate committee also approved House Bill 1612 which sets up a statewide data base to log felony firearms offenders. The data base is designed to aid law-enforcement officers and would not be available for public viewing. It earlier passed the House 85-10.

Prevent drunk driving -- save lives

Lately, our local news has been full of disasters involving drunk drivers. In just one week, two grandparents were killed and their daughter-in-law and grandchild gravely injured when they were struck by a truck, and a mother was killed on her way to work by a car heading in the wrong direction on SR 520.
The drivers responsible for these incidents are both accused of being drunk at the time – and both had prior arrests for impaired driving on their records.

In response to these tragedies, Rep. Roger Goodman, founder and chair of the Washington Impaired Driving Working Group, is holding an emergency meeting Tuesday, April 9th. There, lawmakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and judges will discuss smart solutions to stop impaired drivers.

Some policies up for discussion will certainly be:

·Sobriety checkpoints.
·Decreasing the number of impaired driving offenses before someone is charged with  a felony DUI from 5 to 3.
·Immediate arrest and jail time after offense.
·Mandatory impoundment and installation of an Ignition Interlock Device upon arrest.
·Spike strips on freeway on-ramps to prevent cars from driving the wrong way.
·Better enforcement for our current DUI laws through increased funding for the State’s Target Zero Plan.

Washington state is a national leader in effective DUI Prevention legislation. Since 2006, we have reduced deaths and injuries on our roadways by 34 percent.
But we clearly must do more. Regardless of what happens at tomorrow’s meeting, it is certain that our legislators will continue to push forward with smarter laws to prevent Impaired Driving and save lives in Washington state.

Read this story in Spanish.