23 03, 2020

Statement from legislative leaders in support of Stay Home, Stay Healthy

March 23rd, 2020|Uncategorized|

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane), Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville) and House Minority Leader JT Wilcox (R-Yelm) released the following statement in support of Gov. Inslee’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Washington state.

* * *

“We encourage all Washingtonians to follow the new guidance of Gov. Jay Inslee. The guidance in “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” is critical to limiting the spread of COVID-19 and helping flatten the curve of infections. Our behavior could mean life or death for Washingtonians.

“We have already lost Washingtonians to this virus. We grieve with their families and stand alongside the people who are currently battling this illness.

“We recognize the impact these decisions have on businesses, families, and individuals across the state. There is no way to overstate the challenge facing our state and our nation. The weeks and months to come will test our will, our values and our courage but our state is resilient. We will get through this. We must work together, support each other and stay positive.

“Ultimately we will emerge from this challenge more united than ever, prepared to build an even stronger Washington.”

18 03, 2020

Billig: Governor has Legislature’s full support

March 18th, 2020|News Release|

OLYMPIA – Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said the Legislature took steps before adjourning last week to swiftly support coronavirus response efforts by Gov. Jay Inslee, including the release of $200 million in emergency funds appropriated by the Washington State Legislature to help fund the state’s COVID-19 response.

The funds will be used for hospital surge capacity, testing, and other efforts at local health departments. The Legislature also authorized immediate funding that may be used for shelter needs related to COVID-19, which the Department of Commerce is already in the process of distributing to counties and cities.

“Leaders in the Legislature will continue to coordinate with the governor’s staff and our partners in local governments to mitigate both the health emergency and the economic crisis that is unfolding in our state,” Billig said. “I admire the work of the governor and his staff under difficult circumstances, and his important warning for all of us to do our part to stay away from public gatherings and slow the spread of coronavirus. In concert with his efforts, state leaders will continue to take any and all actions we can to protect the people of our state.”

Before the Legislature adjourned last week, lawmakers approved other key measures to protect Washingtonians during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • Ensuring people receiving unemployment insurance can continue to do so even if they can’t meet the work search requirement due to quarantine.
  • Supporting businesses that rehire employees who had to go on unemployment insurance because of the coronavirus emergency.
  • Reimbursing nursing homes that aid in the coronavirus response.
  • Allowing school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the rest of the school year even if they come up short of required work hours because of the coronavirus state of emergency.
  • Giving flexibility to the State Board of Education to allow high school seniors to graduate this year if they were on track before the emergency declaration.

“Public health is our first priority, with mitigating the economic impacts from this outbreak not far behind,” Billig said. “I know Washingtonians will remain resilient during this difficult time, while at the state level we’ll continue to do our part to deliver all the resources necessary to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe.”

Primary state response websites:

Washington State’s official COVID-19 site: www.coronavirus.wa.gov
Washington State Department of Health: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus
Washington Employment Security Department: https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19

 

12 03, 2020

Sen. Billig statement on the conclusion of the 2020 session

March 12th, 2020|News Release|

“I am so proud of the work we’ve done on behalf of the people of this state, but all of our thoughts right now are with the people and communities across Washington impacted by the coronavirus and with the public health professionals who are working around the clock to stop its spread.

“The budget we passed today addresses the needs we saw coming into session as well as those that unfolded in recent weeks. The steps we have taken this year, and really for the past three years, leaves our state in a strong position to combat this outbreak.

“We finished our work on time for the third year in a row – marking only the third time in the last 79 years the Legislature has accomplished that.

“This budget invests heavily in public health, including $200 million in emergency funding to the State Department of Health and local public health organizations so the people working to keep us safe and healthy have the resources they need. We also invested in accessible health care, behavioral health, affordable housing, education, early learning, the environment and other areas important to the people of this state. This budget leaves more than $3.5 billion in reserves – an extraordinarily important figure in these unprecedented and unpredictable times.

“We will continue to do everything in our power as legislators to invest in the future of our state and keep Washingtonians safe during this crisis.”

12 03, 2020

Legislature doubles funding to respond to coronavirus

March 12th, 2020|News Release|

OLYMPIA – As the 2020 Legislative session came to a close, lawmakers increased emergency coronavirus funding from $100 million to $200 million.

With the passage of House Bill 2965, a total of $175 million will be directed to state and local public health agencies and the remaining $25 million will be transferred into the newly created COVID-19 unemployment account to help businesses and workers disrupted by the pandemic.

“It’s crucial that the people of Washington have the full support of the Legislature behind them during these challenging times,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “Even after we leave Olympia today, we will be collaborating closely with Gov. Inslee’s office to ensure they have the resources and authority they need.”

The COVID-19 unemployment account will mitigate costs for businesses due to an expected increase in unemployment insurance claims.

The Legislature finished its work on time for the third straight year and is scheduled to return next January for a 105-day session.

11 03, 2020

Takko secures $700,000 to cut traffic congestion in Aberdeen

March 11th, 2020|News Release|

The City of Aberdeen will receive $700,000 for the US 12 Highway-Rail Separation Project, thanks to a provision added to the Legislature’s final transportation budget by Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview).

The money will fund preliminary work for an overpass and roundabout to raise South Chehalis Street above US 12 and Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, where train traffic regularly causes congestion and backups on US 12.

The number of freight trains traveling along this corridor has significantly increased over the past 15 years and is predicted to continue growing in the coming decades.

The Port of Grays Harbor, at the western end of the Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, is the closest port to Seattle with direct access to the ocean and is crucial for transporting timber, agricultural products, and autos, among other goods.

“This funding is crucial because it keeps this project moving and positions us competitively for big federal transportation grants,” said Takko. “Having more freight trains on the tracks is a sign of a strong economy — a good problem to have — but we need the overpass to cut down on traffic jams when those trains come through town.”

Without this funding, the project would miss a key deadline and the planning process would need to be restarted, setting the work back by months and costing an additional $300,000. The state’s $700,000 will help get the project construction ready by 2023, which will make it more competitive for federal INFRA and BUILD grant programs.

Local support for the project is strong. The City of Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County, and the Port of Grays Harbor together have committed $700,000 to match the state’s appropriation.

A 2019 cost-benefit analysis calculated that this project will return a benefit of $1.72 for every $1.00 invested.

11 03, 2020

Legislature doubles funding to respond to coronavirus

March 11th, 2020|News Release, Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The Legislature approved the 2020 supplemental operating budget today as the 60-day legislative session ended on time. In a late addition, lawmakers increased emergency coronavirus funding from $100 million to $200 million.

With the passage of House Bill 2965, a total of $175 million will be directed to state and local public health agencies and the remaining $25 million will be transferred into the newly created COVID-19 unemployment account to help businesses and workers disrupted by the pandemic.

“It’s crucial that the people of Washington have the full support of the Legislature behind them during these challenging times,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “Even after we leave Olympia today, we will be collaborating closely with Gov. Inslee’s office to ensure they have the resources and authority they need.”

The COVID-19 unemployment account will mitigate costs for businesses due to an expected increase in unemployment insurance claims.

The increased coronavirus funding was the only major change from the budget agreement reached between the House and Senate on Wednesday (see original press release immediately below). The Legislature finished its work on time for the third straight year and is scheduled to return next January for a 105-day session.

ORIGINAL RELEASE:

OLYMPIA – Budget leaders in the House and Senate today unveiled a $1 billion, 2020 supplemental operating budget that provides an additional $160 million to address housing and homelessness as well as $100 million to support the state and local response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The budget plan includes no new general taxes and complies with the state’s four-year balanced budget requirement. It leaves $3 billion in total reserves at the end of the biennium, the largest balance in state history. Over the four-year outlook, the reserves are expected to grow to $3.6 billion.

The budget includes significant new investments in childcare and early learning programs to address the immediate needs of working households.

“This budget will make progress on urgent needs across our state — public health, housing, childcare and climate resilience,” 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. We’ve done our best to prepare our state for an uncertain, volatile economy.”

The budget adds a just over $1 billion in new spending to the $52.4 billion, two-year budget passed by lawmakers last April.

“This budget makes prudent and responsible investments where they are needed most. We confront the scourge of homelessness and commit significant resources to combat the coronavirus outbreak,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The additional $100 million in coronavirus funds fulfills a request by the state Department of Health.

“We continue to strengthen our foundational public health investments. This budget ensures our health departments have the resources they need to respond to any public health threat,” Rolfes said.

More than $150 million will target the immediate shelter needs of the state’s growing homeless population and support new affordable housing programs.

“Across our state, too many people are living in their cars or on the street. This budget ensures that more of our neighbors will be able to find and maintain safe, affordable housing,” said Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett), vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Other highlights of the budget include additional funding for K-12 education, climate resilience, rural health clinics and nursing homes.

Highlights of the 2020 Supplemental Budget Proposal

  • $100 million to cover costs associated with the coronavirus outbreak, including a dedicated call center, monitoring, testing and support for local health jurisdictions.
  • $160 million to address homelessness and affordable housing, including:
    • $60 million in one-time funding to shelter homeless adults, families and youth across the state.
    • $15 million (per year) for the state’s Housing and Essential Needs program.
    • $40 million for the state’s Housing Trust Fund.
    • $10 million in rapid-response funding to help more individuals stay in their homes.
    • $15 million (per year) for permanent supportive housing.
    • $5 million for maintenance and preservation.
  • $50 million to address the climate crisis by investing in communities and projects to enhance mitigation and resilience.
  • $153 million to the state Department of Children and Families to reduce childcare rates for working families ($65M), strengthen the foster care system ($52M), expand early learning programs ($15M), and other increases.
  • $172 million for K-12 education in the form of local levy assistance ($46M), counselors in high poverty schools ($32M), special education ($2M), pupil transportation ($41M), paraeducator training ($14M), student mental health and safety ($3M), and other increases.
  • Health care: Investments in primary care physician rate increases ($10M), rural health clinics ($34M), family planning ($8M), foundational public health ($17M), and other increases.

Other budget items of note include:

  • $51 million to help meet the increasing demand for the state new Paid Family Leave Program
  • $18 million to support struggling nursing homes by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • $25 million for wildfire suppression and prevention.
  • $24 million for operations at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • $2 million for enhanced election technology and security.
  • $4 million for state parks.

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

7 03, 2020

Bill mandating comprehensive sexual health education in public schools heads to Inslee’s desk

March 7th, 2020|Uncategorized|

A bill requiring comprehensive sexual health education (CSHE) in all public schools by the 2022-23 school year received final approval from the Washington State Senate on Saturday, and now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law.

The Senate had previously passed the bill, but because the House passed the bill with an amendment, it required another vote from the Senate. The Senate concurred with the House’s changes with a 27-21 vote.

Senate Bill 5395, sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), would:

  • Require age-appropriate, medically accurate CSHE to be taught once from kindergarten to 3rd grade, once from 4th to 5th, twice in 6th to 8th, and twice in 9th to 12th.
  • Teach the concept of affirmative consent to older students so they can better recognize inappropriate behavior and their right to reject it.
  • Define CSHE and specify that curricula for kindergarten to 3rd grade must meet social and emotional learning standards.
  • Uphold the right of parents to review the curriculum and opt their children out of any portion of the instruction.
  • Require schools to notify parents when CSHE will be taught.
  • Establish new requirements for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to provide technical assistance so that districts can effectively implement the new standards.
  • Require CSHE curriculum to include information about affirmative consent.

“The hard work that we put into this bill — in both the House and Senate — is well worth it because it will improve safety for children statewide,” Wilson said. “We must ensure that our kids have the tools and knowledge they need to recognize and resist inappropriate behavior. This important education will help prevent younger kids from being targeted by pedophiles, and help teens who feel pressured to have sex.”

“It also helps students stay healthy in consensual relationships,” Wilson added. “Studies consistently show that the most effective programs include comprehensive sexual health or HIV education — or both — and the comprehensive approach is proven to reduce unintended pregnancy and STIs.”

Wilson noted that young people ages 15–24 represent one-fourth of the sexually active population but acquire half of all new STIs.

SB 5395 does not mandate any statewide curriculum. Instead, the bill gives local school districts the flexibility to determine what will best meet the needs of their students and families. All information must be appropriate and must meet existing state K-12 Health and Physical Education Learning Standards.

The goal of this legislation, Democrats argued during floor debates, is to give Washington students the tools they need to engage in safe, consensual relationships as adults, in addition to teaching them skills to identify and prevent sexual abuse.

The bill initially passed the Senate on Jan. 22 with a 28-21 voted, and passed in House on March 4 with a 56-40 vote. Now that the Senate has concurred on the House amendments, the bill is eligible for signing by the governor.

 

4 03, 2020

Senate fast-tracks $100 million for coronavirus response

March 4th, 2020|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA — As more cases of coronavirus are being confirmed in Washington state, including the nation’s first known fatalities, the Washington State Senate today approved a $100 million funding package to ensure a comprehensive response from state and local public health organizations.

“The safety and health of our neighbors is paramount, and it’s important we give our state and local health departments the support they need to respond to this outbreak,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, (D-Spokane). “We have excellent public health systems in our state, and I’m pleased we have found a bipartisan path forward to help address this crisis.”

“It’s important to the people of Washington that we get ahead of the curve on this, and stay ahead of the curve,” said Republican Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville). “This is a lot of money, but no one knows the full scope of this situation. The cost to our state will be much higher if we don’t manage this well.”

House Bill 2965 passed the Senate unanimously and will now head back to the House of Representatives for a final vote before Gov. Inslee can sign it into law.

The Senate amended the legislation to ensure Washingtonians can access unemployment benefits without meeting the work search requirement if they are under quarantine or isolation during the outbreak.

The conditions provided by this amendment expires June 30, 2021.