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14 01, 2019

Legislature opens 2019 session

January 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The 2019 Legislature will officially be gaveled into session today at the Capitol. New and recently re-elected representatives and senators will be sworn in starting at noon. TVW.org will stream the ceremonies and speeches live. Follow the Senate Democrats on Facebook and Twitter for updates today and throughout the session.

It has only been a year since Senate Democrats took control the Senate after five years of Republican control. Last year, the Legislature cast bipartisan votes to move the state forward on issues like education, voting rights, net neutrality, equal pay and women’s health — and passed two capital construction budgets. Democratic majorities in both chambers of the Legislature grew as a result of the November election. This year Senate Democrats remain committed to putting people first by targeting job training and education, behavioral health services, clean air and water, affordable health care, and an economy where everyone has a fighting chance to find a path to prosperity. 

New faces in the Senate

From left: Sens. Mona Das (D-Covington), Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline), Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), Joe Nguyen (D-White Center), and Emily Randall (D-Bremerton).

Senate Democrats will welcome five new members on Monday. Mona Das was born in India and moved to the U.S. at eight months old. It helps inform her efforts in her community on behalf of women’s and immigrants’ rights groups. Joe Nguyen, a second-generation Vietnamese American, has helped lead efforts in his community on issues related to affordable housing and police relations. Emily Randall is a community organizer and the daughter of two union workers. She plans to focus on affordable college tuition, apprenticeships, and job training programs. Jesse Salomon is an attorney with the King County Department of Public Defense, a Shoreline city councilmember and a former child welfare prosecutor. Claire Wilson is an educator who has spent three decades specializing in early education and family involvement.

Click here to view bios of the entire Senate Democratic Caucus.

New leadership in 2019

Senate Democrats elected new leadership in November. Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) was elected to serve as the new Senate majority leader. Billig has served in the Legislature since 2010. One of the two deputy leaders, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), is a former labor organizer who worked with farmworkers in eastern Washington. The other, Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), is a prosecutor who has led community-wide efforts to prevent domestic violence in King County. Both broke barriers upon entering the Senate: Saldana became the only Latina in the chamber, while Dhingra became the first Sikh woman ever elected to a state legislature. Read more about the team.

Hearings to watch this week

LAW & JUSTICE COMMITTEE

TUESDAY @ 10 A.M.

LAW & JUSTICE COMMITTEE

The committee will hear compromise legislation (SB 5039) that makes changes to Initiative 940, which was passed by voters in November. The measure aims to address officer-involved shootings and ensure that police have the tools they need to respond to people in crisis.

SENATE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE

TUESDAY @ 10 A.M.

SENATE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE TUESDAY @ 10 a.m.
Senators will hear a briefing on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report and the National Climate Assessment — plus an overview of proposals for carbon emissions reductions in 2019.

WAYS & MEANS COMMITTEE

TUESDAY @ 3:30 P.M.

Members of the Senate Ways & Means Committee will get a briefing on Gov. Inslee’s budget proposal. This year lawmakers will write the state’s two-year budget, which pays for education, human services, corrections, natural resources, and more.

WEDNESDAY @ 8 a.m.

GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE

Lawmakers will hear an update and analysis of voter turnout for the 2018 election and have a hearing on legislation to ensure every future Washington ballot includes pre-paid postage (SB 5063). STATE

SENATE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE

THURSDAY @ 10 a.m.

Lawmakers will hear the governor’s plan (SB 5116) to transition the state to an entirely carbon-free electricity supply by 2045. They will also hear an important bill aimed at improving appliance efficiency standards (SB 5115). 

11 01, 2019

The Everblue State: Farewell to Sen. Sharon Nelson

January 11th, 2019|Podcast|

Sen. Sharon Nelson served Washington state in the Legislature for more than a decade. She led the Senate Democratic Caucus for four years — including during the progressive and productive 2018 Legislative Session.

For this episode, we traveled to Vashon Island to speak with Nelson in her home district. She talked to us about her experience as majority leader and the highlights of her career.

She was a champion for equality, consumer protection measures and environmental issues in her district. In 2010, she was part of an effort that prevented gravel mining on her home Maury Island. This accomplishment protected orca habitat and preserved an area where 34th District residents can enjoy the island’s natural beauty.

Nelson announced her retirement following the 2018 Legislative Session, explaining that she wanted to spend more time with her family. She and her husband John plan to travel (their motto is sun, sand and surf) and explore Vashon and Maury islands on their e-bikes.

8 01, 2019

The Everblue State: Sen. Annette Cleveland talks health care

January 8th, 2019|Podcast|

For this first full episode of the Everblue State, we drove down to Vancouver, WA to catch up with Sen. Annette Cleveland.

Cleveland chairs the Senate’s Health & Long Term Care Committee, and is working to ensure that Washingtonians have access to affordable health care. She talked to us about the rising cost of care, efforts Senate Democrats are making to improve the system and what issues are likely to arise during the 2019 Legislative Session.

And as a bonus, she talked to us about what she’s doing to ensure health care for some of our favorite family members: our pets!

28 11, 2018

Senate Democrats elect most diverse leadership team in state history

November 28th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Senate Democrats will be led by the most diverse leadership team in the history of the Washington State Legislature when lawmakers return to Olympia in January for the 2019 legislative session.

The Senate majority leader hails from Spokane on the east side of the Cascades. The two deputy leaders are women of color from distinctly different cultures and backgrounds. The caucus chair is a Tulalip Tribe member who has long served as the Legislature’s leading authority on tribal issues.

“I think it’s fair to say that a Washington legislative caucus has never had the benefit of this diverse a range of representation,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said. “It’s one thing to talk about someone else’s needs and another thing altogether to have lived them. No one needs to explain Eastern Washington priorities to me; I’ve been fighting for them ever since I was elected to the Legislature.”

Similarly, the caucus chair needs no primer on tribal issues. Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip) has been the Legislature’s foremost arbiter of tribal concerns since he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2003.

One of the two deputy leaders, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), is a former labor organizer who worked with farmworkers in eastern Washington. The other, Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), is a prosecutor who has led community-wide efforts to prevent domestic violence in King County. Both broke barriers upon entering the Senate: Saldana became the only Latina in the chamber, while Dhingra became the first Sikh woman ever elected to a state legislature. Both say they understand intuitively whether aspects of state laws meet or fail the unique needs of Washingtonians of color.

“The Legislature is full of smart, insightful elected officials who can write strong, sensible laws, and our knowledge is further enlightened by our personal life experiences,” Saldaña said. “Representation matters, and when we apply a more diverse range of experiences to our work, we wind up with better laws that apply more fairly and equitably to the very diverse communities that make up our state.”

“In addition to serving as deputy leader, Saldaña will serve as vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and serve on Labor & Commerce as well as the new Housing Committee.

“As a King County prosecutor in my day job, I have the benefit of a specialized skill set that increases my awareness of the legal ramifications of any legislation I touch,” Dhingra said. “In the same light, I know that when women of color advance into leadership roles, we flourish. We uplift our communities. We uplift us all.”

In addition to her leadership duties, Dhingra chairs the Senate’s new Behavioral Health Subcommittee. She will also serve as vice chair of Law & Justice and serve on the Health & Long Term Care Committee.

“Our life experiences allow us to do far more than represent a particular point of view,” McCoy said. “I can look at a proposed law and know readily if it might violate tribal sovereignty or cause other problems unique to tribes. That results in legislation that is better grounded, laws that are more fair, and communities that are healthier.”

In addition to his leadership post, McCoy will serve as vice chair of the Environment & Tourism Committee. He will also serve on Early Learning & K-12 as well as on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.

“We may do our work during the legislative session here in Olympia,” Billig said, “but we are focused on the needs of the very diverse people and communities that make up our state.”

SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS 2019 LEADERSHIP TEAM
Majority Leader: Andy Billig (D-Spokane)
Deputy Leaders: Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond); Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle)
Caucus Chair: John McCoy (D-Tulalip)
Floor Leader: Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo)
Whip: Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah)
Vice Caucus Chair: Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle)
Assistant Floor Leader: Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue)
Assistant Whip: Claire Wilson (D-Federal Way)

PENDING A FULL SENATE VOTE IN JANUARY:
President Pro Temp: Karen Keiser (D-Federal Way)
Vice President Pro Temp: Steve Conway (D-Tacoma)

28 11, 2018

Senate Democrats prioritize affordable housing, mental health care and the environment in new committee structure

November 28th, 2018|Uncategorized|

RENTON – The issues of housing affordability, homelessness and mental health care will receive intensified scrutiny in the 2019 Washington State Legislature.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday adopted a structure that includes two new committees that prioritize these areas – the Housing Stability & Affordability Committee chaired by Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) and a Behavioral Health Subcommittee chaired by Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond).

“I’ve heard from people across the state, and these two issues consistently rise to the top,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane). “Every community, and really every family, has in some way been touched by a mental health crisis and the intersection between that issue and our state’s housing and homelessness crisis is clear as glass. The creation of these new committees will enable us to intensify our efforts to create solutions in these areas while providing Washingtonians more opportunity to articulate their needs.”

The Senate is also restructuring environmental oversight by creating a committee whose primary focus is environmental health through improved water quality, oil spill prevention and other measures to protect our state’s ecosystems. Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) will chair the new Senate Environment & Tourism Committee. As the name suggests, committee members will also work to boost our state’s tourism industry.

The Senate Energy, Climate and Technology Committee, chaired by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), and the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, chaired by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), are the existing environment-focused committees. These committees will address a variety of issues from climate change to telecommunications to water rights.

“The environmental health of our country and our state have reached a critical tipping point,” Billig said. “Washingtonians want and deserve action on this critical concern. It’s up to us to lead on this issue and accomplish what the other Washington can’t or won’t.”

Click here complete list of committees and membership.

12 11, 2018

Billig elected Senate Majority Leader

November 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|

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.”

10 08, 2018

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

August 10th, 2018|Uncategorized|

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.

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

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.

23 02, 2018

Senate passes budget to fully fund education, invest in mental health

February 23rd, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The 2018 supplemental operating budget (SSB 6032) passed today by the Senate directs additional funding to make critical investments in education and mental health.

“Supplemental budgets were intended to make modest updates to our two-year state budget, but this is not an ordinary supplemental budget,” said Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and chief budget writer. “With this budget, we take care of two of the biggest challenges our state faces—ample funding for education and adequate support for mental and behavioral health.”

The 2018 budget would invest nearly $1 billion into education and bring 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.

“I see this a major milestone in our ongoing effort to provide a seamless system of education from cradle to career,” said Rolfes. “It’s time to finish McCleary and focus on other enhancements in our classrooms, and other needs in our state.”

The budget also invests nearly $294 million more over the next four years to improve mental health treatment in state hospitals, including funds to address the Supreme Court’s Trueblood ruling, and to address the opioid crisis.

Other investments include 2,500 additional State Need Grant slots, funding to support foster youth, restoration of TANF grants to pre-recession levels, increases in pediatric care, and money to improve school safety.

The budget is concurrent with Senate Bill 6614, which would cut property taxes by 13 percent, tapping the state’s extraordinary revenue growth to shield households from the Republican Property Tax of 2017, the largest property tax increase in state history. The Senate is expected to vote on SB 6614 in the coming days.

“These investments will touch every corner of our state and improve the lives of all Washingtonians,” said Rolfes. “From extra money in their pockets to better classrooms for their kids, this is a budget that puts the people of Washington state first.”

The budget passed on a 25-23 vote and now heads to the House for consideration.

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. It gives the state the opportunity to make critical new investments that keep families safe, provide high-quality teachers, and address other emergent needs like mental health care.