Dear neighbor:

To all of you who joined in on the 2014 telephone town hall meeting last week, thank you! We had a peak attendance of over 1,200 people, and most of the time had over 300 people on the line. Although we were not able to answer all the questions, we hope that it was informative. The telephone town hall is one of the many options we utilize to communicate with you: Watch for an announcement of our annual in-person Town Hall meeting, usually held on a Saturday in February at a public location in the district, and constituent coffee hours during the interim. 

Pictured above L to R: Sen. Jeannie Darneille, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Rep. Jake Fey answer questions during the telephone town hall.

This week kicks off the 2014 legislative session. Sessions in even-numbered years are shorter, just 60 days. Despite the shorter session, we will still have a number of contentious issues to grapple with in these coming weeks.

Unfinished business from 2013

This year, the Legislature will be considering two key pieces of legislation that failed to pass in the Senate last year.

The Washington State Dream Act would allow the children of illegal immigrants raised here in Washington to be eligible to apply on an equal basis for financial aid at Washington colleges and universities. These students have grown up here, paid taxes here and gone to school here, and now they want to access to be eligible for higher education so they can develop their skills and contribute to our economy and society.

The Dream Act has strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. Last year, the bill overwhelmingly passed the House. In the Senate last year, Rodney Tom and the Republicans voted to block it from coming to the floor for a vote. We are hopeful that we’ll pass the bill in 2014.  This bill passed the House on the opening day of Session.  

The Reproductive Parity Act would protect a woman’s right to choose by making sure that her insurance covers pregnancy termination services. Making sure that women, and not their insurance companies, have the freedom to make their own medical decisions is a vital and fundamental safeguard for women. Like the Dream Act, the Reproductive Parity Act passed the House on a bipartisan vote last year but similarly got stuck in committee in the Senate. 

Work on transportation continues

One of the most contentious issues of the 2014 session will be whether or not to make new investments in transportation infrastructure. Our transportation system is in dire need of new investment to complete major important projects, maintain our roads and bridges, and support additional new infrastructure for transit and safe streets for pedestrians. A transportation package would create up to 85,000 much-needed jobs and make key improvements that would benefit our economy for decades to come. At the same time, we need to make sure that any package respects and reflects local priorities and needs. Here in Pierce County the completion of Highway 167 is critical.

Work will continue on this subject to see if we can come to agreement on a plan that works for Washington. The next step must be for Senate Republicans to produce and pass a plan that can then be reconciled with the package already passed by the House. I will keep you updated on new developments.

Supreme Court calls for more K-12 funding

Last week the Washington State Supreme Court held the Legislature to task for our lack of progress towards fully funding K-12 education under the Court’s McCleary decision. The Court told the Legislature that we must continue to increase funding for basic education and that we must outline a plan showing how we will implement it by 2018. The Court specifically mentioned the need to increase funding for books and supplies in our schools, as well as the need to pay a fair market wage to our educators so we can recruit and hire great teachers. Their message made it clear that full funding for our children’s education cannot continue to be delayed.

Meeting our McCleary obligation and fully funding education for our kids was a priority for us last session and it will be a priority again this year. We cannot ignore the court or the pressing need to reduce class sizes, hire more and better teachers, and increase our investment in our next generation.

AMTRAK in Freighthouse Square

I was very pleased to hear that the Washington State Department of Transportation is seeking additional community input on the redesign/demolishment of the westernmost 150 feet of Freighthouse Square. I wrote to Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson in early December to express my deep concern that the design proposed for the relocation of the Tacoma Amtrak station would destroy the face of a local icon. WSDOT has announced that two open houses and a workshop will be held in the next six weeks: dates are not final, but information will be available on www.wsdot.wa.gov.

 2013 Senate Democratic Caucus Leader of the Year

On Thursday, I was honored to receive the 2013 Senate Democratic Caucus Leader of the Year award from the Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs (WACOPS). Each year, WACOPS honor members of each caucus who demonstrate the strongest support to the law enforcement community. This year’s honorees included: Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe; Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane; and Rep. David Hayes, R-Camano Island. To view a few pictures from the event, please visit my website.

My legislative priorities for 2014

As I have throughout the last 14 years, my energies will be focused on policy changes that address the issues of racial inequity and poverty, especially in state programs. I am particularly interested in the intersection between the juvenile justice system, the foster care system, teen homelessness, and the failure of the educational system to graduate students who are impacted by the other issues and will be working on several bills in this area. 

I hope that you will contact me about any legislation that interests or concerns you. Let me know if you will be in Olympia, and I will do my best to get you on the schedule. Or, please call and email me any time. My staff this year, Lisa Fisch, Legislative Assistant, Nancy Ryan, Session Aide, and Nessa Thomas, Legislative Policy Intern will do their best to answer any questions you might have.

Take care,

darneille