Billig elected Senate Majority Leader

TUKWILA – Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, will be the new Senate Majority Leader in the Washington State Senate, following a vote among Senate Democrats on Monday.

Billig will take over immediately as Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, prepares to retire after more than a decade of service in the Legislature, including five years (2013-18) as leader of the Senate Democrats.

Billig has served in the Senate since 2013 and was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2011. Billig is the only Democrat in the Senate representing eastern Washington, but he’s not the first Spokane Democrat to lead Senate Democrats in Olympia. Former state legislator Lisa Brown previously held Billig’s seat and was majority leader from 2005-13.

In the Legislature, Billig has been a leading voice on early learning and was instrumental in forging compromise on the state’s education funding challenge. Billig has also been a fierce advocate for campaign finance reform. Earlier this year, he sponsored and passed the DISCLOSE Act, which exposes the source of hidden contributions in campaigns and closes campaign finance disclosure loopholes.

Although a handful of 2018 election results are too close to call, Billig is poised to lead a larger majority of Democrats in the Senate next year. In 2018, Democrats took back a slim 25-24 majority after five years of Republican control. In the short 60-day session, Democrats made progress on a bevy of issues that had stymied in a split Legislature, including education funding, voting rights, net neutrality, women’s health and LGBTQ rights.

“I’m extremely eager to build on the success we had in 2018. I am humbled to lead this diverse and talented group of senators. This caucus recognizes that bipartisanship and viewpoints from every corner of Washington are crucial in moving our state forward,” Billig said. “We welcome new members whose energy and passion will help Senate Democrats continue to put people first and tackle the issues Washingtonians care about most – affordable health care, tax fairness, public education, mental health, public safety from gun violence, climate change, and more.”

November 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Ranker: Orca extinction not an option. What are we going to do about it?

OLYMPIA – Speaking from the San Juan Islands, Sen. Kevin Ranker has released a video message explaining why we need bold action to save our Southern Resident Killer Whale population, as well as listing some of the steps that he said we need to consider in order to do so.

“Like you, I was deeply saddened watching Tahlequah’s display of grief as she pushed her dead calf for days. Thousands of you have contacted me with your grave concerns regarding the dangerous predicament our resident orcas face, asking… what we are going to do about it?

“In the following short video, I cover some of the key actions I believe we must take now if we are going to save these incredible creatures.

“Know that, as a member of the task force responsible for developing recommendations to save our Southern Resident Killer Whales, I am totally committed to taking bold actions that will truly make a difference now. We must base our actions in science, but we must not delay.

“Our values compel us to do whatever is necessary. We must put politics aside and we must act boldly, now. Extinction is not an option.”

August 21st, 2018|Uncategorized|

Wenatchee is first city to use new Voting Rights Act to ensure better representation

OLYMPIA – The City of Wenatchee today became the first local government to use the new Washington Voting Rights Act to change its electoral system to ensure better representation for voters.

The City Council voted to move from an at-large system for electing all seven council members to a hybrid model, keeping two at-large positions and splitting the city into five districts.

The act, which Democrats passed during the 2018 legislative session, permits local governments to restructure electoral districts to avoid costly litigation over gerrymandering that disenfranchises minority populations, allowing communities to elect leaders who reflect their values and the diversity of their neighborhoods.

“Making our democracy accessible to all eligible voters is our fundamental duty, so it’s great to see local officials use the new flexibility that the Voting Rights Act gives them to proactively engage with their community and tailor local solutions to achieve a more-representative government,” said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who chairs the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee.

August 10th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Ranker: Witnessing extinction is not an option

OLYMPIA – Sen. Kevin Ranker released a statement today regarding the need for action to protect and recover the Southern Resident Killer Whale.

“The past days have been overwhelming with sorrow, anguish and anger. Like you, I have been deeply impacted by the images of the mother with her dead calf.

“It is far past time that we act. The loss of another Southern Resident Killer Whale, the mother’s continued display of grief, and now another young member of J pod facing starvation are all gruesome reminders of the dangerous predicament these magnificent creatures face. Our resident Orca have not had a successful pregnancy in three years. The reality is that these incredible creatures are at extreme risk of becoming extinct. This is not an option. We must do every single thing in our power to reverse this trend.

“This is exactly why I introduced the Orca Protection Act last session. Many of us in the Senate worked so hard to pass it, but, unfortunately, this critical legislation did not make it to the governor’s desk. Our efforts continue and we are developing new recommendations for the short and long term.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale task force, on which I serve, is developing recommendations that will come back to the Legislature next year. As a member of that panel, I am doing everything in my power to make sure we produce bold recommendations — recommendations that put aside politics, and in some cases compromise, and purely focus on recovering our resident Orca.

  • We must recover their primary food source, Chinook salmon.
  • We must prioritize the cleanup of toxins in the Puget Sound.
  • We must protect the whales from harassment and noise pollution from vessels.
  • We must make sure there is not an oil spill that is the demise of an entire pod as occurred in the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

“Politics as usual is not an option. It will take dedication, resources and political courage to save these whales.

“Witnessing extinction is not an option. The struggle of these creatures is indicative of the struggle of the entire Salish Sea. These magnificent creatures and this incredible place we call home must be protected. These beautiful whales do not get a second chance.  We do not get a second chance.”

August 3rd, 2018|Uncategorized|

Rolfes: Dismissal of Eyman v. Davidson nixes ‘political distraction’

OLYMPIA – Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island and chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, released this statement today after the Thurston County Superior Court dismissed the Eyman v. Davidson case, which would have impacted the 2018 Supplemental Budget passed by lawmakers in March:

“As chair of the Senate committee responsible for crafting our state budget, I take my duty to the people of this state extremely seriously, and I know my colleagues do as well. Earlier this year, we worked closely with our expert staff to write a budget that met our state’s pressing needs while also providing needed tax relief. The budget was certainly unique by including the first general property tax cut in decades, but in no way was it unconstitutional. I’m pleased the court agreed with a swift dismissal and taxpayers will not be further burdened by this political distraction.”

August 3rd, 2018|Budget|

Washington State Senate releases new staff-written ‘Policy on Appropriate Workplace Conduct’

The Washington State Senate today released its new ‘Policy on Appropriate Workplace Conduct’ following approval by the Senate Facilities & Operations Committee. The recommendations were developed by the Respectful Workplace Policy Task Force made up of Senate staff from both caucuses and non-partisan Committee Services.

The Senate’s previous policy was updated to better reflect current best practices for addressing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. Most notably, the policy creates a non-partisan Human Resource Officer position to manage the complaint and investigation process. The new policy requires the person who fills this position to manage regular training on the policy at least every two years and when new staff is hired or a new member is elected.

The new policy also codifies the Senate’s current practice of releasing to the public investigation records involving members of the Senate if a Senator is a respondent and the Secretary of the Senate or Facilities & Operations Committee finds a violation.

The ‘Policy on Appropriate Workplace Conduct’ and relevant resources for staff will be available online for easy access.

“The task force that developed this policy has been a great example of a collaboration between the Senate caucuses and Committee Services. Everyone’s voices were heard and the result is a more appropriate policy that takes very seriously the responsibility to provide staff with a workplace free from discrimination, harassment and intimidation. It respects the accuser’s right to privacy, the accused’s right to due process and the public’s right to know,” said Kimberly Wirtz, Communications Director for the Senate Republican Caucus and a member of the Task Force. “We believe this policy will instill more confidence in the reporting and investigation of complaints.”

“I’m pleased with the collaborative work we did to respond to the requests of many employees for a clearer policy with better paths for seeking resolution,” said Sarah Clifthorne, Policy Coordinator for the Senate Democratic Caucus and a member of the Task Force. “This policy was written by Senate employees, for Senate employees. I look forward to the next phase where we can hear from our external stakeholders and partners in the House.”

Several members of the Task Force have agreed to take part in its next steps. These include working with stakeholders and lobbyists to get their input on how best to create a safe workplace for every person who works at the legislature. The Task Force also anticipates working with the House of Representatives as it continues to revise its own workplace conduct policy.

The Respectful Workplace Policy Task Force was created to update the harassment and discrimination policy of the Washington State Senate. It consists of male and female Senate staff. These staff members were from all employment levels and from both the Democrat and Republican caucuses, as well as non-partisan Senate Committee Services. The Task Force developed the new ‘Policy on Appropriate Workplace Conduct’ after 13 meetings over six months totaling many hours of meeting time, as well as in numerous online discussions.

In the course of its work, the members of the Task Force consulted with their individual workgroups, surveyed all Senate staff, and consulted with Senate Counsel and an Assistant Attorney General with expertise in harassment and discrimination law. They also considered policies of other agencies, states and private sector employers in developing a consensus recommendation. Staff were also surveyed to gauge everyone’s ideas of best practices.

See policy for further details. To read online, click here.

July 16th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Sen. Nelson: Family separations “run counter to who we are as human beings”

Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson on Wednesday sent a letter to Washington’s congressional delegation, calling for immediate action to reunite children separated from their families by the Trump Administration.

The full text of the letter is below:

June 20, 2018

The Honorable Patty Murray,  U.S. Senator
The Honorable Maria Cantwell, U.S. Senator
The Honorable Adam Smith, U.S. Rep
The Honorable Rick Larsen, U.S. Rep
The Honorable Cathy McMorris Rogers, U.S. Rep.
The Honorable Dave Reichart, U.S. Rep.
The Honorable Jamie Herrera Beutler, U.S. Rep.
The Honorable Suzan DelBene, U.S. Rep.
The Honorable Denny Heck, U.S. Rep.
The Honorable Derek Kilmer, U.S. Rep.
The Honorable Dan Newhouse, U.S. Rep.
The Honorable Pramila Jayapal, U.S. Rep.

United States Senate
U.S. Capitol
Washington D.C. 20510

House of Representatives
U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Members of the Washington State Congressional Delegation:
From our beginning, the United States has existed as a beacon for those seeking a better life. People come here in search of religious freedom, opportunity and safety for their children. Our country is a welcoming place that gives everyone the chance to work toward the American dream.

The images of children being ripped away from parents fleeing violence and seeking asylum not only contradict who we are as Americans, these atrocious actions run counter to who we are as human beings.

After enormous outcry from people across our country, President Trump has apparently relented and signed an executive order to temporarily end his administration’s horrific policy.
Now that the Trump Administration is claiming that the most appalling aspect of its “Zero Tolerance” program has ceased, we are calling on you, our congressional delegation, to ensure the thousands of children separated from their parents are immediately reunited.

Since the Trump Administration began these callous and disgusting acts, we have heard from our constituents in great numbers, asking what we as a state can do. Terrorizing actions like those of federal immigration agents at the direction of the Trump Administration have dramatic chilling effects on law-abiding immigrants within our communities causing them to avoid interactions with local law enforcement, hospitals and social service agencies. That’s why earlier this session, Sen. Lisa Wellman sponsored SB 5689 to ensure our local law enforcement and state agencies cannot be used as arms of federal immigration authorities.

But beyond such measures, our hands are tied and the solution to this heartbreaking issue is in your hands. We are fearful that this reckless and mean-spirited policy will lead to a humanitarian crisis and families being permanently torn apart or placed in what are essentially internment camps. There are already reports of parents being deported while their children remain in federal custody.

Please do not delay. Families belong together. We stand with immigrant families already living in our state, and we support refugees that continue to come to the United States in search of asylum, despite the misguided and destructive policies of the Trump Administration.

We applaud our leaders in Washington that continue to work toward an end to family separations and implore those who have yet to act to do so immediately.

Sincerely,

Senator Sharon Nelson
Senate Majority Leader
34th Legislative District

June 20th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Sen. Nelson: It’s a great day, the future is bright, and the work on behalf of our kids will continue

OLYMPIA – Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson issued the statement below following the State Supreme Court’s order ending the McCleary K-12 funding case Thursday:

“I’m certainly pleased with the Court’s ruling today, but our work is far from over. While this portion of the journey is complete, we will continue to support our students and teachers and improve all aspects of education for our state’s 1.1 million school kids.

“I’d like to specifically thank Sens. Rolfes, Billig, Frockt, Wellman and our entire K-12 team, who worked tirelessly over the last decade to get us to this point. It’s a great day, the future is bright, and the work on behalf of our kids will continue.”

June 7th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Governor signs ‘people first’ state budget – education funding, tax relief, mental health among top priorities

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee today signed a 2018 supplemental operating budget (SSB 6032) that directs nearly $1 billion toward K-12 education to finally resolve the McCleary litigation and bring the state into compliance with its constitutional obligation to amply fund public schools.

The budget also provides nearly $300 million over the next four years for mental and behavioral health care to fulfill the state’s legal and moral obligations at our state hospitals and in our communities.

Other major aspects of the budget include more than $400 million in statewide property tax relief in 2019 and funding to make college possible for 22,000 students who qualify for the State Need Grant but have been stuck on a waiting list.

The budget levies no new taxes and leaves more than $2.4 billion in reserves, the most in state history, giving the state a significant insurance policy against an uncertain economy.

“With this budget, we use our state resources wisely and take care of two of the biggest challenges our state faces—ample funding for education and adequate support for mental and behavioral health,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, the Senate’s chief budget writer. “At the same time, we are able to offer property tax relief, greater access to college financial aid, and hundreds of other investments that will put people first and improve lives across the state.”

In total, the supplemental budget adds more than $750 million in net spending to the current $43.7 billion two-year state budget signed in July of 2017.

The new education money will mostly go to fund teacher and staff salaries, as ordered by the state Supreme Court. The state will also increase spending for special education by $97 million over the next four years.

“It’s nearly been a decade since parents and students first took the state to court due to a lack of financial support for basic K-12 education,” said Sen. Lisa Wellman, chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee and sponsor of E2SSB 6362. “Today, we mark a major milestone in our effort to provide quality instruction for every student in our state. We have much more to do to support and improve our schools, and we can now focus on those other enhancements.”

The budget is concurrent with Senate Bill 6614, which will give homeowners a one-time 30-cent cut to the statewide property tax rate in 2019, lowering the rate from $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $2.40. The tax cut is made possible by the state’s extraordinary revenue growth and is intended to give households relief from the Republican Property Tax of 2017, the largest property tax increase in state history.

Other key investments include:

  • Opioids: $6.1 million to expand critical programs across the state that address abuse and treatment.

  • Pediatric care: $19.2 million (over four years) for increased pediatric Medicare payments that were elevated under the Affordable Care Act.

  • Needy families: $27 million (over four years) to fund the TANF grant above pre-recession levels, giving struggling families the support they need to get back on their feet.
  • Foster youth: Funding to improve the state’s foster-care system, ensuring more safe and nurturing homes for children.

Click here to find a summary of key investments.

Click here to find budget LEAP documents and summaries.

About the Supplemental Budget
Supplemental budgets are passed in even years and allow the state to make mid-course corrections to the two-year budget passed in odd years. It gives the state the opportunity to adjust its spending to keep families safe, provide high-quality teachers, and address other emergent needs like mental health care.

March 27th, 2018|Uncategorized|

‘Putting the Women of Washington First’ bills signed into law

OLYMPIA – A package of bills to improve the lives of women throughout the state were signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The “Putting Women First” package runs the gamut from equal pay, to the Reproductive Parity Act, to sexual harassment non-disclosure agreements, to removing barriers for harassment lawsuits, to prohibiting discrimination in employment contracts, to requiring breast density screenings and three-dimensional mammograms.

Below is additional detail on these bills and a quote from each sponsor:

Equal Pay
House Bill 1506, companion legislation to Cleveland’s Senate Bill 5140: addressing workplace practices to achieve gender pay equity by instituting penalties for wage discrimination on the basis of gender and for offering lesser opportunities on the basis of gender, and by prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who discuss their rate of pay or benefits with other employees.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver:

“When I first began fighting for pay equality in 2013, people asked me, ‘Is this still a problem?’ What they didn’t realize is that while the Equal Pay Act of 1943 called for equal pay between men and women for comparable work, the reality is that society has not caught up. Today women earn an average of 79 cents on the dollar compared to men with the same experience doing the same work.”

Reproductive Parity Act
Senate Bill 6219: The Reproductive Parity Act requires almost all health plans to cover all types of reproductive health care without cost sharing. It also requires all health plans that cover maternity care to cover abortion services. The bill was first introduced in 2012.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens: “Washington state has long strived to ensure women control their own reproductive destiny. This law guarantees that right and also helps provide a little more certainty for women in our state. At a time when access to health care and services are at risk all across our country, I’m proud that once again our state has stood up to protect these rights.”

Sexual Harassment Prevention

Senate Bill 5996: Encouraging the disclosure and discussion of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.

Senate Bill 6313: Preserving an employee’s right to publicly file a complaint or cause of action.

Senate Bill 6471: Relating to developing model policies to create workplaces that are safe from sexual harassment.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines: “I have been working on addressing sexual harassment for quite some time, and passing this group of bills is great news for the women of Washington. Right now, we are seeing a cultural shift when it comes to what is acceptable in the workplace. Women are demanding a change, and it is incumbent that those with power listen.? The fact that these bills were passed unanimously by both Democrats and Republicans shows how seriously the Legislature is taking this issue.”

Sexual Harassment NDAs
Senate Bill 6068: Shedding light on sexual harassers by removing barriers to lawsuits created by non-disclosure agreements.

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle: “In recent months, we have all been struck by the sheer volume and national discussion of prominent sexual harassment incidents across the country. We have seen that powerful perpetrators and enablers on company boards and other entities have hidden behind non-disclosure agreements to prevent the truth about patterns of behavior from coming out. This bill will lead to more truth and justice for victims.”

Breast Density
Senate Bill 5084: Providing women with timely information to improve early detection of breast cancer.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D- Bainbridge Island: “This legislation simply allows a woman access to the same breast health information as her doctor. Knowledge is power, and this legislation will give patients the tools to make smart decisions and ask better questions about their own health.”

3-D Mammograms
Senate Bill 5912: Requiring coverage of tomosynthesis, or three-dimensional mammography.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D- Bellevue: “About one-in-eight women in the United States can expect to develop breast cancer over the course of their lives. We need to be utilizing and supporting the use of early detection technologies so that we are saving lives and sparing families the tragedy of losing their daughters, sisters, mothers and spouses. This legislation will help ensure that economic circumstance or the type of insurance you have is not a barrier to accessing this life-saving technology.”

March 21st, 2018|Uncategorized|