The Hopper

Senate Democrats introduce bill to address oil transportation safety

In the first week of the 2015 legislative session, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, and Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, introduced Governor Jay Inslee’s request oil transportation legislation to the state Senate (SB 5087).

“Unprecedented amounts of oil are traveling along the rails of Washington state, through our rural areas and downtowns and along our coastlines,” Rolfes said. “Right now, it is impacted communities and the taxpayers of Washington who bear all of the risk and responsibility in the event of an accident. This legislation simply shifts some of the burden of spill prevention and response onto those that profit from oil transportation.”

How to address increasing oil transportation has been an ongoing debate in Washington and across North America in recent years. North Dakota and the Bakken region of Canada are experiencing an oil boom, and spills and explosions have followed as a result of substandard rail cars and flagging regulation and industry oversight. Roughly sixty-million gallons of volatile crude oil passes through Washington every week, and over a million gallons of crude oil was spilled from trains in North America in 2013, more than the previous 30 years combined. Numerous explosions also occurred, including the explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.

“For the safety and health of our communities, it’s imperative we give first responders all the information they need to best prepare themselves to respond and contain a spill or derailment to prevent a worst case scenario,” Ranker said. “We will not sit idly by and let a city in Washington join the list of those devastated by an oil train fire or vessel spill.”

Although the federal government alone has the authority to impose many safety measures, states do have control over some key aspects related to transparency, accountability and taxation. A study was conducted in 2014 to evaluate the risks associated with the vast increase of oil transported by rail through Washington, with many of the recommendations included in this bill. The final report is due in March.

“Transparency and safety need to be the focus of our efforts here in Olympia,” Energy, Environment & Telecommunications committee ranking Democrat Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said. “We can’t put the interests of the oil industry over the safety of our impacted communities.”

“This is not a theoretical problem. We know derailments and oil spills will happen,” Rolfes added. “For the safety of our communities and economy, as well as the preservation of our environment, we need to pass this bill.”

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

January 15th, 2015|Uncategorized|

Nelson: “Billionaire Protection Act” will hurt working families, small business

The nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy today released the 2015 edition of its “Who Pays?” report which analyzes the tax structure in all 50 states.

Just as it has since ITEP began this study in 1996, Washington again topped the list of states with the most regressive tax structure. According to the study, low income Washingtonians pay 16.8 percent of their income in taxes while the wealthiest people in the state pay just 2.4 percent. 

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson called Washington’s existing tax structure “unsustainable and more importantly, unfair. An enormous part of our budget solution is reforming our state’s tax structure in a way that helps working families and small businesses, not harms them. Unfortunately fixing this was made much more difficult on Monday.”

On the first day of the 2015 Legislative Session, Senate Republicans adopted a rule that requires the support of two-thirds of Senators to approve any “new taxes.” This means the same taxes that make Washington the most regressive in the nation – sales tax, business and occupation tax, property tax and others – can be raised with a simple majority of senators. Taxes paid by the wealthiest Washingtonians and polluters, however, will be held to a higher standard.

“On Monday, Republicans essentially created the Billionaire Protection Act,” Nelson said. “Working families and small business owners are simply trying to make ends meet. Fixing our backwards tax structure to meet the best interests of the majority of Washingtonians will now be much more difficult.”


January 14th, 2015|Uncategorized|

Democrats’ bill would repair hole in women’s health coverage

It would be illegal for employers in Washington state to provide health insurance plans that discriminate against employees’ by interfering with their access to contraception, under a bill sponsored by virtually the entire Senate Democratic Caucus.
Senate Bill 5026, prime-sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, has 22 Democratic sponsors before the 2015 legislative session has even convened.
“The people of Washington have long supported individual privacy rights and made it clear that discrimination based on sex or interference with a woman’s right to choose or refuse birth control is contrary to the values and laws of our state,” Pedersen said. “This right is ensured by Article One of our state Constitution.”
Under the bill, any employee whose rights are violated may file a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission and also file a civil suit to enjoin further violations, recover any damages, or both, as well as any legal costs including attorneys’ fees.
“Contraceptive care is both a health issue and an economic issue for women. Women who use contraception to plan pregnancies tend to have healthier pregnancies, for themselves as well as their babies, by spacing births apart,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent. “We also know that the earning power of women with reliable access to contraceptive services is 40 percent higher than for those without access. Access to contraception can narrow the gender pay gap.”
“The vast majority of Washingtonians strongly support access to contraception and family planning, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision goes against those core Washington state values,” said, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “Now is the time to pass this legislation and ensure women have the freedom to make their own health care choices¬ independent of their employers’ values.”
With 22 Democratic senators already in favor of the legislation, the bill could pass the Senate with the support of as few as three Republicans.
“We are reaching out to the more moderate Republican members and, frankly, I would expect this legislation to have the strong support of anyone who opposes discrimination against women,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. “There’s no reason this shouldn’t pass the Senate handily.”
SB 5026 was drafted by a work group of senators, with support from numerous stakeholders, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. The bill was honed through 15 drafts to ensure that it would be passage-ready for the 2015 legislative session.
“The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to include a comprehensive package of services, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception, but the Supreme Court created a loophole that puts women’s health at risk,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. “This legislation is to close that loophole and make sure health care insurance across our state is consistent with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and with the rights guaranteed by our state Constitution.”

January 7th, 2015|Uncategorized|

Senate Democrats release full leadership and committee appointments

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate Democratic caucus approved their full leadership and committee appointments on Thursday, for the upcoming 2015 legislative session.

Changes to leadership include Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, assuming the role of Caucus Deputy Leader; Sen. Elect Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, will serve as Democratic Whip with Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah as Assistant Whip; and Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, serving as Caucus Vice Chair.

Resuming leadership roles for 2015 are Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, as Democratic leader; Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, as Caucus Chair; Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, as Democratic Floor Leader and Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, as Assistant Democratic Floor Leader.

“This is going to be a tough year, but we have a great group of leaders in the Senate Democratic Caucus,” Nelson said on Thursday. “In addition to our veteran members, I am so pleased to welcome senators elect Pramila Jayapal and Cyrus Habib. Their expertise and experiences bring a welcome perspective, not only the Senate, but the Legislature at large.”

For a full list of committee appointments, please click here.

December 18th, 2014|Uncategorized|

Senators call for full funding for higher education

The Legislature should make every effort to fully fund the $198 million sought by Washington’s universities in order to hold tuition steady for the next two years and to maintain institutional quality, Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said today.

“Higher education is a public good that we must support as a community,” said Frockt, a member of the Higher Education and Ways and Means committees. “Low- and middle- income students continue to struggle to finance their education and yet we know that the lifetime earnings for those with a college degree will far outpace those without. College access is also the key to breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty. So this is the right public investment if we want to keep the gateway to the middle class open.”

“Since 1991, cuts in state spending have raised the students’ share of tuition costs by 356 percent,” said Kohl-Welles, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Higher Education Committee, Ways and Means Committee member, and vice-chair of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. “That’s a deal breaker for many middle-class families and students who face a choice between passing up on college or taking on crushing debt. This is not the recipe for a healthy middle class.”

The radical increase in tuition is the result of a dramatic flip in who pays the lion’s share of the cost of a college education at state institutions. In 1991, the state funded 82 percent of the cost and students paid 18 percent; by 2013, the state’s commitment had fallen to 34 percent and students’ had risen to 66 percent. The senators believe that the state policy should be to move back toward a 50/50 split over time.

“It’s easy to say we support education, but the true measure of our commitment will lie in what this Legislature does to balance the debilitating cuts that were made during the Great Recession,” Kohl-Welles said. “We made some hard choices to balance the budget during hard times, and now it’s time to move the pendulum back on the side of the households across this state whose success hinges on access to an affordable college education.”

“In addition, we must move aggressively to fully fund the State Need Grant program,” Frock said, “Right now, we are only meeting the needs of 70 percent of those who are eligible for the SNG, leaving 30,000 eligible but unserved – with no option other than to tack on more student loan debt as they seek a degree or more workforce skills. This lack of full funding also drives up costs in our College Bound Scholarship program since the two programs are linked. Full funding will also free up institutional aid for middle-income students just above the SNG cutoff line as a recent UW student report demonstrated. State policy should be to expand educational opportunity at every juncture, not curtail it.”

December 11th, 2014|Uncategorized|

Retiring Sen. Adam Kline says farewell

Senate Democrats said farewell to retiring member Sen. Adam Kline, D-Southeast Seattle, during a gathering of colleagues, staff and friends. Kline served in the Legislature for 18 years, nine as chair of the Judiciary Committee.

Kline has a unique background and played an active role in our country’s history. He participated in 1963 in the March on Washington, where he heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his iconic “I have a dream” speech. During the Freedom Summer of 1964, Kline volunteered with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee to help register African American voters for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Later, in Seattle, Kline worked for what is now Columbia Legal Services where he represented people who were indigent or disabled and in need of legal help. In his own private practice, Kline represented people injured in auto accidents, especially the victims of drunk drivers.

As a legislator, Kline’s list of accomplishments include creating more district court judge positions in King County; strengthening the state’s Hate Crime statute; strengthening penalties for negligent driving which results in bodily harm to vulnerable drivers; modernizing Washington’s policies for caring for people with developmental disabilities; and strengthening our state’s DUI laws, among other accomplishments.

Before leaving for final meetings during Committee Assembly days in late November, Kline had some remarks to share.

Advice for the 2015 Legislative Session:

Sen. Adam Kline: “Yeah. Somebody’s got to get their act together and we do need new revenue, and just about everybody in our caucus knows that. And, I would say that most people in the other caucus know that except that they are playing the same old game. Making us be the ones to do it… and when we do it, they’ll blame us for it and they all know it’s necessary.”

Fond memories in the Senate:

Sen. Adam Kline: “I guess the fondest memories I have are chairing the Judiciary committee and of making things happen in the field of judicial procedure, criminal sentencing and eventually marriage. Marriage equality was one of the best things that ever happened here and I’m happy to have had a small role in it – chairing the committee, making sure everything went through smoothly. And in my district it counts for a lot. I’ve been to several weddings and they’ve been the happiest weddings you’ve ever seen. Folks understanding, you know, in a real legal, tangible way that they are first class citizens in the State of Washington. It means a lot.”

Additional remarks:

Sen. Adam Kline: “This is something that occurred to me, um, some years ago, um. In 1963, Dr. King, Dr. Martin Luther King, said among many other things he said that afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial was a phrase that has been quoted a lot since. Not the usual phrase about how “I have a dream,” but rather this: “That the arc of the moral universe is long, but it tends toward justice.” He didn’t write that – that’s not original with him. It goes back to a preacher and an abolitionist in the 1840s.

“I had thought when I was 20 years old and my generation started militating about racial segregation, that somehow we had just invented the issue – ignorant of the fact that the fight for civil rights goes back to the abolitionists, to the reconstruction and post-reconstruction era, certainly the 1930s – the Depression, the 40s. The initial modern civil rights action in the 50s. Like any 20 year old, I thought in 1964 we were inventing this, right? And sure enough in 1964 – the Civil Rights Act, 1965 – the Voting Rights Act. No this was not any long arc of the moral universe – this is quick! This is the way it happens, right? Progress is linear, right? It just happens 1, 2, 3!

“Oh, no. No. No. Dr. King was right. It is… it tends toward justice, but there are steps backward. There are reverses. There are downright defeats. There are times when we become depressed and think that we’ve lost whatever little we’ve gained. And then somehow, we gain it back.

“Um, it’s not a straight line. It’s a zig-zag…it’s, it’s…it’s circular sometimes but it tends toward justice.”

December 1st, 2014|Uncategorized|

Sen. McCoy: “We will recover, but we will never forget the victims of today’s terrible violence”

Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, issued the statement below following a shooting Friday morning at Marysville-Pilchuck High School:

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the students, faculty and families of Marysville-Pilchuck High School on Friday.

“It saddens and angers me greatly every time one of these heartbreaking tragedies takes place but I know that our community is strong and will recover from this with the passage of time.

“We will recover, but we will never forget the victims of today’s terrible violence.

“These scenes are all too familiar throughout our country. It is our job as legislators to do whatever is necessary to help our schools and police prevent tragedies like these in the future.”

October 24th, 2014|Uncategorized|

Rolfes: “I believe the Court has done us a favor”

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Christine Rolfes issued the statement below following today’s Supreme Court ruling:

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling that the state is in contempt for failing to adequately fund the education of Washington’s one million school kids should come as no surprise and serve as a wakeup call. The 2015 Legislature will be faced with an unprecedented challenge in meeting this directive, but also with an opportunity to finally do right by our state’s kids, teachers, principals and families.

“I believe the Court has done us a favor. I was alarmed last year to watch some in the legislature completely dismissed the Court’s directive. I hope today’s announcement will convince everyone that the Court is not only serious, but that we have difficult decisions to make that will require real compromise to reach real solutions.”

September 11th, 2014|Uncategorized|

Report shows hazardous chemicals still in children’s products

OLYMPIA – Following the release of a report by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) on the presence of toxic chemicals in children’s products, Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, is calling for renewed attention to the dangers of poisonous chemicals in household goods.

“The report released today once again proves the inability of chemical companies to put people before profit,” Nelson said. “Ecology evaluates products and chemicals based on evidence and science – not profits and bottom lines. They already use these proven methods to develop the list of chemicals of high concern to children; they now need the authority to act on what we know is in the best interest of the health of Washington families.”

The report by DOE follows the testing of 125 children’s and consumer products, including seat cushions, mattresses, upholstered furniture for children, electronics, clothing and baby carriers. The results showed some manufacturers continue to replace banned toxic flame retardant chemicals – known to cause hormone disruption and developmental complications – with other products that are unregulated and “potentially toxic,” according to the DOE .

Eight samples from children’s products actually contained flame retardants above the reporting limit for chemicals that have been banned.

Including Nelson’s Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, several attempts have been made in the Legislature in recent years to allow the DOE to ban chemicals from products as they are found to be hazardous. Despite wide bipartisan support, every effort to grant this authority has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.

“Toxic chemicals in our homes and nurseries is not a problem for the future – it is a deadly reality now,” Nelson added. “I am sad to say 2014 was another lost year when it comes to passing common-sense legislation, and every delay only prolongs this legacy of contamination we leave for our children, our firefighters and our environment.”

To learn more about the fight against toxics in Washington, click here.

To view the database of manufacturers’ reports, click here.

To join the children’s safe products email list, click here.

June 26th, 2014|Uncategorized|

Sens. Ranker, Rolfes call for full disclosure of ALL shipments of volatile Bakken crude

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, and Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, sent a letter to the heads of two major American railroad companies as well as U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx requesting comprehensive reports of ALL shipments of volatile Bakken crude oil anticipated to be transported through Washington state be made available to first responders and impacted communities.

The letter follows a recent decision by US transportation officials that requires rail companies to disclose shipments of a million gallons or more of Bakken crude.

“That’s a start, but it doesn’t go far enough,” Ranker said. “Disaster after disaster has shown us that safeguards must be put in place so that if the worst-case scenario does come to pass, our first responders are ready to act.”

The letter urges the USDOT to lower the threshold from a million gallons, stating that, “shipments on a train of any less than about 35 rail tank cars need not be included, yet several recent derailments and spills and/or explosions of crude oil involved fewer tank cars while causing considerable damage.

“An incident involving release and ignition of Bakken crude from even one rail car could potentially cause the loss of life and severe damage in some of our densely populated communities…”

In fact more oil has been spilled from trains in 2013 than in the previous 37 years combined.

“These trains run through the heart of our communities,” Rolfes said. “Public safety is one of the top priorities of state government and recent derailments and disasters throughout the U.S. are a constant reminder that oil trains are a very real threat to the public good.”

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

June 23rd, 2014|Uncategorized|