27 03, 2018

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

March 27th, 2018|Uncategorized|

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.

21 03, 2018

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

March 21st, 2018|Uncategorized|

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.”

19 03, 2018

Access to Democracy bills signed into law

March 19th, 2018|Uncategorized|

TUKWILA – Five bills aimed at increasing voting access, representative government and exposing hidden money in elections were signed into law Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The Access to Democracy package – which includes The Washington Voting Rights Act, automatic voter registration, same-day registration, 16-17 year old pre-registration and The DISCLOSE Act – were all part of the Senate Democrats’ early action agenda.

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

Washington Voting Rights Act
The Washington Voting Rights Act will remove barriers in existing law to ensure fair representation as well as authorize a collaborative process so that impacted communities and local governments can reach agreement without resorting to litigation. (SB 6002)

Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle: “The Washington Voting Rights Act puts power back into the hands of the people, where it belongs. It will empower disenfranchised communities and people of color to elect leaders who better reflect their concerns and the rich diversity of our state. This is a big step forward in achieving a truly representative government.”

Automatic Voter Registration
This bill provides automatic voter registration when citizens obtain enhanced driver’s licenses or identification cards through the Department of Licensing. Other state agencies that require citizenship will be able to provide automatic voter registration after they assess their capability and receive the governor’s approval. (HB 2595/SB 6353)

Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia: “Voting is a right, not a privilege. A strong government is built on access to democracy, and the right to vote is the key.? Automatic voter registration is one of the major steps Washington is taking to provide the most progressive, secure voter registration and election system in the country. This bill will make registering to vote as easy as saying ‘yes’ for anyone who is legally eligible to vote in our state.”

The DISCLOSE Act is a nation-leading transparency effort to ensure campaign finance disclosure by nonprofits that participate in elections. Until now, political action committees must disclose their donors but other nonprofits have been exempt. The result has been a significant increase in campaign dark money flowing through these non-profit groups. (SB 5991)

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane: “Voters have the right to know who’s paying for a campaign. Whatever you care about in your community, whether it be healthcare, education, or any other issue, it is vital to know who is paying to influence those who are making our laws,” said Billig. “The Washington DISCLOSE Act shines a light on dark money, which creates better informed voters, increases accountability, and reduces the opportunity for corruption, all of which results in a stronger democracy.”

Same-Day Voter Registration
In the 2017 general election, voter turnout in Washington hit a record low as only 37 percent of voters cast ballots.? Voter apathy is a disturbing trend nationwide, fueled in part by some state laws that restrict voting rights.?Same-day voter registration could increase voter turnout by up to 10 percent.?This bill will ensure every eligible voter in Washington State can register and vote in person on Election Day. They’ll also be able to register electronically or by mail up to eight days before Election Day.?(SB 6021)

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue: “We have all watched as voter participation has declined by double digits over the past decades, hitting a record low in 2017 with only 37 percent of voters casting a ballot. Today we send a strong signal around our state, and around the country, that when Democrats lead we fight for access to democracy and break down barriers to participation. Every voice matters.”

Pre-Registration for 16 and 17 year olds
The biggest indicator as to whether or not a person engages in government is their status as a registered voter. The aim of this bill is to get people civically engaged early as 16 and 17 year olds, making them more likely to vote once they turn 18. (HB 1513/SB 5110)

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane: “This package of bills will increase transparency and equity in our democracy. By increasing access for more voters alongside clear information, we can have a truly engaged and informed electorate.”



13 03, 2018

Governor signs bill banning credit freeze fees

March 13th, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee today signed a bill to eliminate the fees that credit bureaus charge customers who want to freeze their credit reports to protect their personal information.

Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, sponsored Senate Bill 6018 in response to the Equifax database hack last summer that exposed the private information of more than 143 million Americans.

“This important, bipartisan consumer protection measure will make it easier for people to protect themselves and their identities without financial penalties,” Mullet, who chairs the Senate Financial Institutions & Insurance Committee, said. “Consumers whose sensitive financial data has been exposed through no fault of their own shouldn’t have to pay to protect their credit ratings.”

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who chairs the House State Government, Elections & Information Technology Committee and had sponsored a similar bill, helped shepherd Senate Bill 6018 through the House.

“It’s not right to charge these fees when people are simply trying to protect their personal data from online theft,” Hudgins said. “This measure will ensure that all Washingtonians can protect their identities by freezing their credit without paying a fee to do so. It’s the right thing to do.”

In addition to eliminating credit freeze fees, the bill requires the state to conduct a study on its impact on consumers and credit reporting agencies.

Following the Equifax hack, consumer watchdogs recommended that customers request credit freezes from credit reporting agencies to ensure that the stolen information could not be exploited. A freeze blocks access to a credit report, which makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts using stolen data.

Credit reporting agencies charge Washington residents $10 to temporarily freeze their credit reports. But a consumer who needs to unfreeze the account to generate the credit report necessary to buy a car, take out a mortgage or open a bank account must pay the fee again to each agency. As a result, those who freeze and unfreeze reports with all three major agencies can actually face some $60 in fees.

9 03, 2018

With Dems in control, voting rights, health care access, gun safety, education, jobs take center stage

March 9th, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA — With Democrats back in control, Washingtonians saw a Legislature that fought for their values, putting the focus on issues that will leave a lasting, positive impact on people in communities throughout the state.

“I am so proud of what we have accomplished on behalf of the people of this state,” said Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson. “We put people first and followed through on an agenda that every Washingtonian can be proud of.”

The Legislature adjourned today on time for the first time in four years, passing a balanced budget plan that will make substantial investments in education, mental health and provide property tax relief across the state in 2019.

“We hit the ground running in 2018 and never looked back,” Nelson said. “When we look back at what was accomplished this year, it’s hard to believe all of this happened in just 60 days.”

Policy that passed during the 2018 legislative session includes:

  • Expanded access to Democracy on several fronts by passing:
    • The DISCLOSE Act to expose hidden money in elections (SB 5991);
    • Same-day voter registration (SB 6021),
    • Automatic voter registration (HB 2595),
    • Voter pre-registration (HB 1513);
    • The Washington Voting Rights Act (SB 6002)
  • Passage of the long-delayed 2017 capital construction budget that provides the largest-ever investment in K-12 school construction, 19,000 jobs and badly needed infrastructure projects across the state. (SB 6090)
  • A budget that invests in education, mental health and jobs as well as the final piece of funding to satisfy McCleary, the state’s constitutional obligation to amply fund K-12 education. The budget includes a $2.4 billion reserve, the largest in state history, as a hedge against an economic recession. (SB 6032)
  • A statewide property tax cut, effective in 2019, to give households relief from the Republican Property Tax of 2017. (SB 6614)
  • A ban on bump stocks, the device used in the Las Vegas massacre to give a semi-automatic rifle the rapid-fire capability of a machine gun. (SB 5992)
  • Adding domestic violence harassment to the list of conditions that prevent people from being able to buy a firearm. (SB 6298)
  • Legislation to allow anyone struggling with mental illness to place themselves on a firearms do-not-purchase list. (SB 5553)
  • Equal pay legislation to help close the wage gap between men and women in our state by offering protections for workers who are paid less, or are offered lesser career advancement opportunities on the basis of gender. (HB 1506)
  • A pair of bills that strengthen protections against sexual harassment in the workplace (SB 5996, SB 6471)
  • First state in the nation to pass state-level Net Neutrality policy (HB 2282)
  • Consumer protection from unfair fees charged by financial institutions to freeze and unfreeze credit accounts when information is breached as in the notorious Equifax debacle. (SB 6018)
  • The Reproductive Parity Act to make sure women have the option of choosing the healthcare choices that are best for them and their families. (SB 6219)
  • Separate bills requiring health care providers to cover the cost of 3-D mammograms (SB 5912) and requiring doctors to inform and assist patients who have high breast density, to better detect early signs of breast cancer. (SB 5084)
  • A requirement that all health plans sold in Washington state cover the same preventive services required by federal law in the Affordable Care Act, such as disease screening and contraception (HB 1523)
  • The Student Loan Bill of Rights, to protect college students from fraudulent and predatory practices by lenders that saddle students with spiraling debt. (SB 6029)
  • A ban on conversion therapy, the practice of applying physical and mental discomfort to try to force LGBTQ minors to conform to a gender identity other than which feels appropriate for who they are. (SB 5722)
  • Expansion of Breakfast after the Bell, a program that has been shown to improve student performance by making sure kids start the school day able to concentrate on their classes instead of grumbling stomachs. (HB 1508)
  • The phasing out of Atlantic salmon net pen farms that threaten the health of our water and native fish populations. (HB 2957)
  • The Dream Act 2.0, to expand access to higher education for students who are DACA recipients. (SB 5074)
  • Standing up for workers made sick because of conditions at Hanford (HB 1723)
  • Efforts to reform juvenile justice that include reducing recidivism and racial disproportionality (SB 6160); and expanding juvenile court jurisdiction (SB 6550)
  • Combatting homelessness by raising the document recording fee from $40 to $62. (HB 1570)
  • Prohibiting housing discrimination by stopping landlords from turning away potential tenants who rely on Section 8 vouchers, Social Security or veterans benefits. (HB 2578)
  • The Fair Chance Act. Ban the box legislation to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity for employment (HB 1298)
7 03, 2018

Senate approves $400 million statewide property tax cut

March 7th, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The Senate today approved an approximately $400 million property tax cut, giving homeowners a break on their 2019 tax bill to offset the large increase in this year’s taxes that was passed in 2017 to fund K-12 education.

Senate Bill 6614, sponsored by Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, would use some $400 million in projected revenue from Washington’s booming economy to roll back about 40 percent of this year’s state property tax increase while continuing to fully fund K-12 education.

Specifically, it reduces the state property tax rate in 2019 by 30 cents, from $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value to $2.40.

The 2018 tax increase resulted from a compromise deal lawmakers made last year to address the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling that the state unconstitutionally passed its responsibility to fund K-12 education on to local school districts. The deal essentially increased the state property tax rate starting in 2018 and reduced local levy rates starting in 2019, leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay both this year.

“If we had known last year what we learned last month – that projected revenue is much greater than expected – we would have waited to increase the state rate and decrease local rates at the same time, instead of putting so much on taxpayers in 2018,” Mullet said. “This bill is an attempt to return a portion of the 2018 property tax increase back to the residents of Washington.”

Mullet said he would have preferred to apply the cut to this year’s property tax bills. But doing so would be complicated, he said, given that bills due in April have already been sent to taxpayers. He also noted that some 70,000 Washingtonians have already paid their 2018 bill in full and Washington’s constitution bars the state from giving them a refund.

The Senate approved the bill 25-23. It now goes to the House of Representatives.

7 03, 2018

2018 budget agreement increases education funding, cuts taxes

March 7th, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – Budget leaders in the House and Senate today announced a 2018 supplemental operating budget plan that will provide property tax relief while directing additional funding to K-12 education, mental health care and college financial aid.

The budget plan includes no new taxes and complies with the state’s four-year balanced budget requirement. It leaves $2.4 billion in reserves at the end of the current budget cycle, the largest balance in state history.

“This budget tackles two of our state’s urgent needs — ample funding for education and adequate support for mental and behavioral health,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “It’s a plan that balances our needs with fiscal discipline while also providing tax relief for people across the state next year. For the last decade, we have worked to improve funding for our schools, and this budget is another milestone. It’s time to finish McCleary and focus on other enhancements in our classrooms and other needs in our state.”

Senate Bill 6614, which runs concurrent with the budget, provides $391 million in tax relief in 2019 with a one-time state property tax rate reduction of $0.30 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“If we had known last year what we learned last month – that projected revenue is much greater than expected – we could have waited to increase the state rate and decrease local rates at the same time, instead of putting so much on taxpayers in 2018,” said Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, prime sponsor of the measure. “This bill will reduce the impact of the 2018 property tax increase on the residents of Washington.”

“This state’s reliance on property taxes has reached a breaking point and I’m glad Democrats have led on providing this tax relief to homeowners across our state,” said Rep. Kris Lytton, D-Anacortes, chair of the House Finance committee. “This short-term relief must be followed by a strong look at our regressive tax code and how we can take the burden off working and middle class families.”

The budget invests nearly $1 billion in education and brings the state into compliance with its constitutional obligation to amply fund our public schools. The new state money would mostly go to fully fund teacher and staff salaries, as directed by the state Supreme Court, in addition to other targeted investments.

“A decade-long odyssey is finally coming to an end. This supplemental budget will fully fund teacher compensation and address the final piece of the McCleary lawsuit,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “We’re able to make these investments while also significantly reducing the State Need Grant backlog, improving our mental health system, providing much-needed property tax relief, and leaving Olympia with healthy, stable reserves. This is a great budget for the people of Washington.”

The budget also invests $306 million more over the next four years to improve mental health treatment in state hospitals and community treatment centers.

It also phases in full funding of the State Need Grant over the next four years, includes key investments to support foster youth, funds TANF grants above pre-recession levels, and increases funding for pediatric care.

Click here to find budget documents and summaries.

About the Supplemental Budget
Supplemental budgets are passed in even years and allow the state to make mid-course corrections on the two-year budget passed in odd years. This year, the state had the opportunity to make critical new investments that provide high-quality teachers, and address other emergent needs like mental health care and college financial aid.