11 04, 2019

House passes Bill committing Washington to 100-percent clean energy

April 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – A historic bill to commit Washington to 100-percent clean energy from renewable and zero-emission sources took another step forward today following passage by the Washington House of Representatives.

Representatives voted 56-42 in favor of Senate Bill 5116, a centerpiece of Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2019 agenda to take meaningful action on climate change and reduce Washington’s carbon footprint.

Sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) and in House companion legislation by Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-Ballard), the bill requires all electric utilities in Washington to transition to a 100-percent, carbon-neutral electricity supply by 2030 and to 100-percent carbon-free electricity by 2045.

“It’s time to move past the era of carbon into the next generation with modern, 21st-century energy systems using integrated wind, hydro and solar power,” said Carlyle, who chairs the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee. “At a time when the federal government has functionally imploded on addressing climate change, the states are now taking the lead and moving forward on climate action.”

“Moving away from fossil fuels has to start somewhere, so why not here?” asked Tarleton, who chairs the House Finance Committee. “Washington has the courage to build a 21st century economy beyond coal, beyond fossil fuels, to maintain and build a quality of life for generations to come. Thank you to Sen. Carlyle and my colleagues for having the courage to make this choice.”

“We are rightly proud of how clean Washington’s electricity already is,” said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle), chair of the House Environment & Energy Committee. “This landmark bill will take Washington the rest of the way there to 100 percent clean electricity, ensure reliability and lay the foundation for continued pollution reductions throughout our whole economy.”

Senate Bill 5116 would make Washington one of the first states in the nation to commit broadly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity while adopting a precise action plan to do so. It is also the most extensive measure on climate action that Washington’s Legislature has adopted since 2008, when it committed the state to reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.

Electricity remains the largest source of carbon emissions worldwide and is the third-highest emitting sector in Washington, after transportation and buildings.

The Senate approved the bill last month. The bill now goes back to the Senate for approval of amendments added by the House before it can go to the governor.

9 04, 2019

The Everblue State: Sen. Karen Keiser, one of the Legislature’s longest serving members

April 9th, 2019|Podcast|

Sen. Karen Keiser has served in the Washington State Legislature since 1996 — and she’s seen a lot of change. She watched as the number of women in the Senate grew, and then dropped again.

Keiser chairs the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, and frequently presides over the Senate as President Pro Tempore.

She shared some insights from her long career in this episode of the Everblue State.

4 04, 2019

Two-year operating budget approved by Senate

April 4th, 2019|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate today approved a $52.2 billion state operating budget to fund vital state services, including targeted support for the state’s behavioral health system, K-12 special education, higher education, and the environment.

Because the Senate amended ESHB 1109 before passing it, budget writers from the Senate and House must now begin a conference process to negotiate the differences in the versions that passed each chamber and pass a final operating budget before the end of the legislative session on April 28.

More than half of the state budget pays for K-12 education, honoring commitments made in 2017 to increase basic education funding. A new investment of $283 million is dedicated to improving behavioral health services over the next two years.

“This is a smart budget that puts people first and fulfills commitments to quality education and a more effective behavioral health system,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and its chief budget writer. “We deepen our commitment to quality early learning, give more kids a chance at college, invest in our state’s vital workforce, and address threats to our health and environment. This budget continues our commitment to putting people first.”

The budget represents a $4.5 billion increase in K-12 education spending above the last biennial budget, including a $937 million increase for special education.

Other budget highlights include the funding of Gov. Inslee’s climate initiatives and orca whale protection, investments to address housing needs and homelessness, expansion of college scholarship programs, improving the foster care system, police de-escalation training, expanded access to early learning, and funding the sexual assault kit backlog at the Washington State Patrol.

Click here for Senate Operating Budget details

Senate Democrats are proposing roughly $518 million in new revenue to pay for many of the new investments. The proposal calls for changes to make the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) more fair and the closure or reduction of three preferential tax rates: non-resident sales tax, prescription drug resellers, and travel agents. The budget also includes a tax increase on property, auto and casualty insurance, from 2 percent to 2.52 percent, to establish a dedicated account to fund the growing cost of wildfire prevention and suppression.

“Our economy is leading the nation is several categories, but our upside-down tax structure places a disproportionate burden on middle-class individuals. Where more revenue is needed to address our state’s growing needs, the budget strategy is careful not to increase the costs to working families,” Rolfes said.

“Both the Senate and House proposals focus on creating safe, healthy communities where people have access to quality education, affordable housing, and economic opportunity,” Rolfes said. “I look forward to working with the House to finish our work and pass a final 2019-21 budget before the session ends on April 28.”

4 04, 2019

Senate budget funds study of state production of generic drugs

April 4th, 2019|Uncategorized|

The operating budget passed today by the Senate includes $20,000 to fund a study of the feasibility of the state producing certain generic drugs.

“One of the biggest concerns in many households today is the high cost of prescription drugs,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who inserted the proviso in the budget. “This is an opportunity to lower the cost of some essential drugs significantly.”

Van De Wege’s proviso would enable the state Department of Health to research the feasibility of the state’s ability to produce generic drugs, and report its finding to the Legislature by Dec. 1.

“This could have a huge impact on prescription drug prices, while also addressing shortages of a number of critical drugs,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), who helped draft the proviso. “Many generic drugs are expensive because of the limited number of companies that produce a particular drug. Production by the state might lead to lower prices simply by increasing competition and options for consumers.”

Insulin is a good example, Van De Wege said, because there is still no generic version available even though there have been no significant improvements to the drug, yet prices have tripled over the past decade.

“Not only would a generic version cost less, a generic version produced by the state would cost even less than that because, unlike pharmaceutical companies, the state doesn’t have to turn a profit,” Van De Wege said. “Insulin has been around for nearly 100 years, but instead of getting less expensive, prices keep going up at a rate higher than inflation. That is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”

In 2016, Washington State Attorney Gen. Bob Ferguson joined several other states in filing a lawsuit against the generic drug industry over anti-competitive behavior including price fixing and market rigging. The lawsuit has since grown to cover 16 companies and 300 drugs.

“The Government Accountability Office reported to Congress in 2016 that the prices of 300 generic drugs were increased by more than 100 percent in the year 2015 alone,” Keiser said. “We can stand pat and just keep paying higher and higher prices, or we can take things into our own hands at the state level.”

4 04, 2019

Transportation budget clears Senate

April 4th, 2019|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The 2019-21 Transportation budget cleared the Senate on Thursday with unanimous support.

ESHB 1160 will now head to conference where Senate and House transportation leaders will negotiate through the differences between the two chambers.

“This budget addresses the transportation needs of our state in a fiscally responsible way,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, chair of the Senate Transportation committee. “This was a good, bipartisan effort to keep our promises and move our state forward.”

There are several highlights and new investments made as part of the $9.8 billion, two year plan including the continued delivery of projects first adopted as part of the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package.

“We are keeping the promises made in Connecting Washington to reimagine transportation in Washington,” Hobbs said. “These projects continue forward and are complimented by the additional investments made in this budget.”

New investments include an $8.5 million investment in the creation of a project office to continue the work of replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge across the Columbia River. This office will begin the reevaluation of scope, schedule, and budget for a reinvigorated bi-state effort.

Additional investments include providing $35 million in savings and $20 million in toll revenue to advance the design and complete right-of-way acquisition for the I-405 north end completion. Several projects had funding advanced including $40 million for the SR 167/SR 509 Puget Sound Gateway project and $17 million for I-90 Snoqualmie Pass.

Ferry investments include providing for the start of building a new 144-car hybrid electric vessel as well as the conversion of two existing ferries. The ferries division was provided $990,000 for the planning work needed to prepare for hybrid-electric vessel terminal charging investments. The Colman Dock project in Seattle and the Mukilteo terminal also received additional funding to keep those projects moving forward. Also included is $160,000 for a vessel noise reduction study aimed at helping protect the endangered southern resident orcas.

The Commute Trip Reduction program received a $1 million investment for a new first/last mile transportation demand management pilot program and $1 million for the continuation of a small businesses transit pass incentive.

With continued issues with maintaining a stable Washington State Patrol force $4.2 million was funded for a third cadet class and a position was funded for a recruitment and retention captain position.

“I’m proud of the bipartisan cooperation and outcome of this budget,” Hobbs said. “It’s yet another reminder that our Washington can still get things done while the other Washington is stuck in place by partisan gridlock.”

1 04, 2019

The Everblue State: Sen. Manka Dhingra on diversity, behavioral health and more!

April 1st, 2019|Podcast|

For this episode of the Everblue State, Sen. Manka Dhingra tells us about her path to the state Senate, what it’s like to be deputy majority leader, and why improving Washington’s behavioral health system is one of her priorities.

Plus, she told us what it was like to make history as a woman of color in the King County Prosecutor’s Office and in the Senate.