Uncategorized

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.

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.

23 02, 2018

Ban on credit freeze fees clears Legislature

February 23rd, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – A bill to eliminate the fees that credit bureaus charge customers who want to freeze their credit reports to protect their personal information is headed to the governor following passage yesterday by the House of Representatives.

The House voted 81-15 in favor of Senate Bill 6018. Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, sponsored the bill in response to the Equifax database hack last summer that exposed the private information of more than 143 million Americans.

The bill, which the Senate approved in January by a vote of 46-2, now needs only Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.

“This bill is an important, bipartisan consumer protection measure that 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.”

Senate Bill 6018 received strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. 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.

“I don’t think it is right that consumers are paying to protect their data when credit agencies are the ones making that data vulnerable,” 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.”

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, meaning that those who freeze and unfreeze reports with all three major agencies actually face some $60 in fees.

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.

21 02, 2018

Lawmakers: Residents might want to delay paying property tax

February 21st, 2018|Uncategorized|

Property owners might be wise to delay paying their 2018 property taxes until after the close of the 2018 legislative session in March, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, said today.

“Democrats are working hard to protect homeowners from the worst impacts of the Republican property tax of 2017,” said Van De Wege, a member of the Senate Ways & Means Committee that heard the proposal late Wednesday night. “One of the possibilities is to use the increase in revenues projected by the latest state forecast to transfer funds from the state’s extraordinary revenue growth to offset the size of the tax hikes.”

The proposal comes in response to the 2017 session, when Republicans used their majority control of the Senate to insist on meeting the state’s constitutional duty to fund K-12 education by passing the largest property tax increase in state history. Democrats sought other solutions, such as closing tax loopholes on corporations or imposing a capital gains tax on the wealthiest 1 percent of Washingtonians. Republicans refused to budge, taking the state to within hours of a government shutdown before Democrats relented to avoid the expense and chaos of a shutdown.

Having won majority control of the Senate this year, Democrats now seek ways to shield households from the tax increase. If people pay their property taxes in advance, Van De Wege said, the state has no mechanism to refund that money.

“I would caution people to consider waiting,” Van De Wege said. “We’ll finish our work in Olympia by March 8, and taxes aren’t due until April 30. If we succeed in cutting property taxes, everyone should benefit. But it’s impossible to refund taxes that have already been paid.”

19 02, 2018

Senate Democrats call for property tax cuts, education funding in budget

February 19th, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats unveiled their 2018 supplemental operating budget plan on Monday—a budget that will cut property taxes by $403 million while still meeting the critical needs of our state with significant investments in education and mental health.

“This budget represents a responsible and thoughtful approach in spending our state’s resources,” said Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and chief budget writer. “We have seen substantial gains in our economy, but we also recognize the growing needs of Washington’s 7.5 million residents. I’m proud this budget makes targeted investments without any new taxes. It’s a document based on a vision of healthy families, safer communities and an economy that works for everyone across the state.”

The 2018 Supplemental Budget Proposal will make key investments in following areas:

  • Tax relief ($403 million): The extraordinary growth of our economy gives the state an opportunity to reduce the property tax burden on communities across the state. This budget cuts state property taxes by 31 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2018, from $2.70 to $2.39.
  • Education: This budget will at long last bring the state into compliance with its constitutional obligation to amply fund our public schools. An additional $1 billion would fully fund teacher and staff salaries as directed by the state Supreme Court, in addition to other targeted investments.
  • Mental health: The 2018 budget fulfills our moral and legal responsibility to provide adequate support for those in our society who need mental health treatment. The budget invests nearly $300 million more over the next four years for state hospitals and the opioid crisis.

Other investments: The 2018 budget makes a number of other key investments:

  • 2,500 additional State Need Grant slots
  • Funding to support foster youth
  • TANF grant is restored to pre-recession levels
  • Funding increases for pediatric care
  • Funding for improved school safety

“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.”

About the Supplemental Budget
Supplemental budgets are passed in even years and allow us 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.

16 02, 2018

Senate passes Dhingra bill to provide property tax relief for seniors, veterans

February 16th, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The Senate yesterday unanimously passed legislation introduced by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, to provide property tax relief to those who can least afford an increase—senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and veterans who reside in areas with a high cost of living.

“Affordability is a huge problem in the 45th Legislative District and surrounding communities,” Dhingra said. “Seniors and people on fixed income, many of whom have called the 45th home for decades, are being priced out of their homes.”

Under current law, the senior property tax exemption is calculated based on statewide income thresholds, which do not account for the disparate cost of living in different counties. Senate Bill 6251 will change eligibility to be based on each county’s median household income.

“Simply put, current exemptions do not account for regional difference,” Dhingra said. “This bill fixes that.”

Senate Bill 6251 passed with a vote of 47-0.

14 02, 2018

Senate approves sweeping bill to expand rural broadband access

February 14th, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – With lightning-fast Internet and 5G service just around the corner, the Washington Senate approved a sweeping bill Wednesday that paves the way for expansion of high-speed broadband services in rural and underserved areas of the state.

Senate Bill 5935, sponsored by Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, establishes high-speed broadband service for all of Washington as a high-priority state concern. The measure responds to concerns that less-lucrative markets will be bypassed as commercial providers race to install high-speed broadband systems. Sheldon’s bill creates a new Office on Broadband Access under the state Department of Commerce, establishes an advisory task force, and launches a study of the ways the state can encourage deployment and remove barriers to service.

“The Legislature has come to recognize the importance of high-speed Internet service to our state’s economic competitiveness,” Sheldon said. “As senator from the state’s most-rural district, I want to make sure none of us are left out.

“Good broadband service is just as important to rural areas as it is to cities — if not more so, as we encourage work-from-home as a way to reduce traffic congestion. We need to do everything we can on the state level to ensure this coming broadband revolution benefits all the communities of Washington.”

Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, the chair of the Senate Energy, Environment & Technology Committee and a cosponsor of the bill, added: “The most important thing for economic growth in the rural parts of our state is high-quality, affordable access to broadband. Too many of our small communities and rural areas are still without it and changing that is a top priority for the Senate Democratic Caucus and many others across the aisle. The federal government recognizes the importance and for many years there’s been talk about it at the state level, but now we’re boldly developing a system to move forward.”

SB 5935 follows federal standards in setting a target for high-speed service of at least 25 megabits per second for download speeds, and upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second. The Office on Broadband Access will coordinate with local governments, public and private entities and utilities to develop broadband deployment strategies. It will develop a model ordinance for local governments for permitting of new facilities, and will study the possibility of tax credits to encourage deployment in underserved areas.

The office also will develop a grant program for local governments and make recommendations for grant projects. Other provisions of the bill require cities to develop a permitting process for new telecommunications facilities and to generally prohibit conditional land-use permits except in cases of large facilities or conflicts with community design standards. Rural port districts and the Kitsap Public Utility District would be allowed to offer broadband service.

12 02, 2018

Senate passes bills to help youth in foster care or facing homelessness

February 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The Senate today overwhelmingly approved three bipartisan measures to help children and youth who are in foster care or experiencing homelessness.

Senate Bills 6222 and 6223, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, would expand extended foster care eligibility and improve educational opportunities and outcomes.

Senate Bill 6274 , sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, would create a new pathway to earn post-secondary credentials and degrees through college or apprenticeship programs in the Passport to Careers program.

“Improving the educational and overall circumstances of youth in foster care has been a key priority for me for years and it was one of the reasons that led me to elected office,” Carlyle said. “Each year, hundreds of young adults exit the foster care system and are left to make their way forward in life without the support networks that many of us take for granted. They absolutely need and deserve our support.

“Similarly, youth in foster care or experiencing homelessness deserve an equal shot at the education they need to adequately prepare for their future. We have to do better at coordinating programs and policies that affect them and to ensure accountability.”

“We need to put our children on the best path to success, whether it is in software development and clean technology or in teaching, the arts and human services,” Ranker said. “However, not everyone learns the same way or sees college as the best path forward for their success. We need to help children find the right path to success through college or apprenticeship learning.”

Senate Bill 6222 would grant young people access to the Department of Social and Health Services’ Extended Foster Care (EFC) program until the age of 21. Eligibility is currently capped at age 19. Youths would no longer need to have been in foster care at age 18 to utilize the program and they would be allowed to un-enroll and re-enroll an unlimited amount of times, subject to certain conditions, instead of only once. Senate Bill 6222 passed unanimously.

Senate Bill 6223 would require state departments and agencies to work with aligned non-governmental organizations to create a plan to facilitate educational equity between children and youth in foster care and their peers in Washington’s general student population, and to close disparities between racial and ethnic groups. The bill would require similar action with respect to children and youth experiencing homelessness. The bill passed on a 45-2 vote.

Senate Bill 6274 would expand the innovative and wildly successful Passport to College Promise program that Carlyle helped create in 2007 as a citizen activist prior to winning election to the Legislature.

The bill would create a Passport to Careers program with two pathways. The first would incorporate the Passport to College Promise program and expand it to include people who have experienced homelessness and those who have spent time in a tribal or federal foster care system. The second pathway, the Passport to Apprenticeship Opportunities, would establish a program of financial assistance to allow foster youth or youth who have experienced homelessness to pursue registered apprenticeships. That bill passed on a 35-12 vote.

“There is a huge need to expand access and opportunity for children, particularly those who do not have the ease of access and support of most families,” Ranker said. “With stronger services to guide children through junior high school and high school, these children will have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

All three bills now head to the House of Representatives for further consideration.