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Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 1/29/2016

Dear Neighbors,

This week I was proud to present a Resolution on the Senate floor affirming that all Washington residents should be able to access reproductive health care without fear of violence, intimidation or harassment. The alarming firebombing of the Pullman Planned Parenthood clinic last September shut down the facility for six months, forcing 3,000 patients to find other methods to access health care. It is a blessing the firebombing didn’t kill or injure anyone. A few months earlier, as you probably recall, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado was attacked by a gunman who shot three people to death and injured nine more.

Extreme, demonizing and politically motivated rhetoric contribute to a climate that is dangerous for those who provide or access comprehensive women’s health services. The recent scheme to accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue through manipulated and dishonest videos, has been found to be false. Indeed our state Attorney General Bob Ferguson conducted an investigation of Planned Parenthood operations in our state and found no violations of law whatsoever.

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Read coverage on the resolution from The Stranger here.

But there have been plenty of violations of law by the anti-abortion campaigns. Since 1993, there have been 11 murders in our country by anti-abortion militants. In fact our country has endured nearly 7,000 acts of violence against providers at reproductive health centers, including arsons, kidnappings, assaults and death threats since the 1970’s.

In our state, voters passed Initiative 120 in 1991 declaring that a woman has a fundamental right to privacy and the right to choose or to refuse to have an abortion. That remains the law of our state.

In the Resolution passed on the floor of the Senate this week the Senators voted to condemn acts of violence against reproductive health care providers, their patients, families and supporters and further declared that all people should have access to reproductive health care without fear of violence, intimidation or harassment. The vote was unanimous.

A Huge Turnout for Transgender Bill

As a member of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week, we had a hearing on SB 6443, a proposal to roll back a Human Rights Commission rule issued last year after three years of hearings, town meetings and public comments regarding the right of transgender individuals to be free from discrimination. Opponents of the rule claimed that it could lead to sexual assaults in bathrooms and other public spaces. More than 500 supporters of the bill showed up along with about another 500 opponents of the bill. Checking my constituent e-mail on this bill, I was pleased to see I had received just 4 “pro” e-mails and 30 e-mails against this bill.

You can view clips from the hearing by clicking here.

Just four hours after the hearing, the bill was brought up for a vote by the committee chair. The vote was along party lines, and it passed with 4 Republican supporters and 3 Democratic opponents, including yours truly.

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Thanks to the visitors from the Washington Occupational Therapy Association!

A Big Bump in the Road to Cleaning Up Hazardous Waste

One of the “unintended consequences” from the steep drop in oil prices, down from more than$100 a barrel to about $30 a barrel is we also have a steep drop in revenue for our state’s Model Toxic Control Act (MTCA) projects. The projects almost all paid for from a .7 of 1% fee on the price of oil. The MTCA fee was passed by a vote of the people in 1988 and has never been increased.  The MTCA program has also been crippled because since the great recession beginning in 2009, tens of millions of dollars have been “swept” out of MTCA’s hazardous waste cleanup projects and put into the budget to run our state’s Department of Ecology.

I am working on ways to restore the integrity of the MTCA program and also restore the ability of the MTCA revenue to pay for the cleanup projects that are so important to our communities. So far we have opened several conversations on possible solutions. I would welcome your suggestions too, so do feel free to weigh in on how we can best fix the current crisis in funding these critical projects.

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It was wonderful to have a visit this week from a group of SeaTac city officials including (from left to right) Interim City Manager Donny Payne, City Councilmember Kathryn Campbell, and newly elected Mayor Rick Forschler.

Back Wages for Airport Workers

Last week I sent a formal request to the state Department of Labor and Industries (LNI) to undertake an investigation of wage complaints at Sea-Tac Airport. As you know, the minimum wage was increased by the voters in the city of SeaTac in 2013, but the airport employers have been refusing to comply and going to court to challenge the law. They have lost at the state Supreme Court, but we still have not seen full compliance much less payment of back wages owed to workers since January, 2014. So this week’s blog post, my “K2 Views” lays out a tale of two cities that compares the fate of the $15 minimum wage in Seattle and SeaTac. To read my blog, click here.

Always,

Keiser

 

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 1/11/2016

Dear Neighbors,

The 2016 Washington State Legislature is back in Olympia and open to do the people’s business. If you happen to visit Olympia this session, please know that I have moved down the hall to a lovely corner office with lots of light, in room 219 of the John A. Cherberg building.

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Students Present Their Ideas

Last week, I was able to go back to school—Pacific Middle School to be exact, and visit with the incredible students of Jennifer Muscolo’s Student Leadership Class. These young students showed incredible skills in researching, writing and presenting testimony on more than a dozen different bills that were before the Legislature last session, some of which are still before us and a few that have now been passed into law. I was in awe at the skill, poise and knowledge these young students had in this class. It was a wonderful experience for me to see first-hand how successful our local schools are at educating and preparing our students.

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Hoping to Make Progress for Pregnant Workers

Speaking of bills, I plan to focus on just a few key issues this session because it is a short 60-day session and we will be focusing on education and budgets. I am proud to introduce the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (SB 6149) and am inviting all Senators from both sides of the aisle to join me in sponsoring this proposed legislation to require that employers give temporary accommodation to their pregnant employees, much as they give permanent accommodation to their disabled employees. Not all female employees work in offices where seating is available, water is available and bathrooms are available and accessible. Pregnant workers need to hydrate and often need access to bathrooms or seating in the late months of a pregnancy. This bill is supported by the March of Dimes and the Children’s Alliance and I hope to see it move forward this year.

Check Out My New Blog: K2 Views

Weekly newsletters are one way I can give you an up-to-the-minute report on what is happening during the session. But this year, I am also investing time and effort to write weekly blogs, or “columns” on a single topic in a deeper dive that I hope will provoke thought, discussion and perhaps even action.

I call my blog: “K2 Views” and I invite you to check it out.   I’ve been in the Legislature long enough to have a considerable depth of knowledge and some well-considered opinions that I will share on my legislative website blog. You can find my K2 Views blog at: http://sdc.wastateleg.org/keiser/k2-views/

Get to Know Our New Team

This session I am also pleased to introduce my team that helps me succeed as your state Senator. You already know Tara Jo, my permanent assistant, and my intern this session is a student who grew up in Kent and is now studying at the UW, Claira Rolfson.   My session aide is Omar Jackson, who earned his spurs last session when he worked as an aide in Sen. Bob Hasegawa’s office. They’re a terrific team and they will be your link to our office this year.

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As always, if you have any questions about legislation or issues in the Legislature this year, please do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail, postal mail, telephone or on the legislative hotline, 1-800-562-6000.

Until next week!

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 11/24/2015

Dear Neighbors,

Before the holidays descend on us all, I wanted to give you a brief update. The 2016 Legislative session will get underway soon on Jan. 9.  We are preparing for that off-year, “short” session now by developing bill drafts and analyzing our budgets.

The budgets look tight, but barring a Supreme Court surprise, we should be able to go forward with minor adjustments to pay for higher than expected firefighting costs, health care and hazardous waste cleanups.  If the state Supreme Court takes further action on education funding or refuses to declare the latest Tim Eyman initiative unconstitutional, all budget projections will be set aside and we’ll have another budget crisis to solve.  (I’m hoping for no more budget battles next year!)

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Site for services moved to Kent

One update for the Woodmont community of Des Moines is that the proposed Valley Cities campus near 272nd Street and Pacific Highway South to provide access to mental health and drug rehabilitation services for residents of the community will not be built.

Instead, a partial solution was found by securing a small property in Kent that recently became available where the previously operated Recovery Center had closed several years ago.  The upside is that remodeling can begin in early January with 32 mental health beds projected to be operational by the end of the year.  Currently, only 201 involuntary treatment beds are available in all of King County, and people from our neighborhoods must wait for a bed to open and travel to Seattle, Kirkland or Burien to get treatment.  This is a good first step and I am proud that the city of Kent welcomed the Valley Cities project.

Some emails express fear of refugees

So far this year, we have responded to 5,489 e-mails from 33rd district constituents.  I am always happy to hear from my neighbors about what’s of concern.  I am also happy to report that only a small handful of constituents have contacted me to demand that the state close its borders to refugees from Syria.  I do understand the fear and anxiety we all face with the current outbreak of violent terrorism.  You may be interested in my response to those who want to close our state’s borders to these refugees:

Thank you for your email about refugees.  I hope you will reconsider your viewpoint.  Refugees from war torn countries have always been part of the American dream, and in fact our Statue of Liberty welcomes them with its enduring motto:  “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”   Of course, all due diligence must be taken to ensure that no terrorists are allowed to enter our country in the disguise of a refugee.  Since the entry process is lengthy and rigorous, taking up to two years, there is ample opportunity to uncover such a criminal.  

Frankly, professional security experts tell us to be more concerned with homegrown terrorists than the far-fetched possibilities being posed by fear mongers.  Indeed, I am becoming increasing concerned about the reaction of our citizens to overblown threats to our safety and security.  Just a year ago, many were in a panic about the Ebola outbreak in a few countries of West Africa.  I heard then from many constituents asking us to not allow anyone from Africa into our country, or to put anyone arriving from those countries into long quarantines.  Those fears, too, as I hope you would agree, were terribly overblown.  The Ebola outbreak was contained, and though a handful of courageous medical volunteers did get sick, all but one recovered and we had no epidemic here. 

 Americans should not be afraid, we should be smart, strong and free.  Please do not allow terrorism to terrorize you!

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Fighting to keep Health Homes available to the vulnerable

Finally, I want to report on the very encouraging early returns for a big project I helped get started three years ago.  We call it the Health Homes project for folks who are sick, frail and often disabled.  These folks are dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, and they have been among the most expensive patients among the tens of thousands of patients our state covers in Medicaid, the state program for low-income kids and adults.

In the first 17 months of operation in 37 counties across the state, we saw every measure of hospitalization and emergency room visits show significant reductions.  We also have solid evidence that patients have experienced an improved quality of life by being able, with the help of a Health Home coordinator, to maintain their medication schedules and get to their medical treatment appointments.

This program was almost eliminated in the last budget, but we fought for and won a last-minute reprieve.  Still, the program is now scheduled to end in six months.  I hope to work with advocates and lawmakers to keep the Health Home program going and hopefully expand it to King and Snohomish counties as well.  We often try to get to the “sweet spot” in health care reform efforts — to increase access, improve outcomes and reduce costs.  This is one program that I certainly would call sweet!

On that bit of good news, I want to wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a terrific Thanksgiving.  This will be my last e-newsletter of the year.  Since we had a record-setting legislative session that ran through July, I discovered I had written you 25 legislative update newsletters this year, and that sets a record, too!  I hope they have been of use to you.

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 10/13/2015

Dear Neighbors,

What a fantastic experience! I was thrilled to be invited, along with about 40 other state legislators from around the country, to travel to Washington DC for a series of meetings at the White House to discuss issues where some states making real progress— including our neighboring state of Oregon.

It was not only an honor to be invited, it was a wonderful opportunity to learn about issues that have not seen much action yet in our state. For example, the president’s proposal for free community college.

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I was privileged to be among 40 state legislators at the White House last week.

That might sound farfetched, but our state’s community colleges were originally tuition free. Indeed, a hundred years ago in our country, high school wasn’t free. Children in our country had free public education only up through the 8th grade a century ago. But citizens decided back then that free public education through high school would be a good investment in the future, and they were so right! America thrived in the 20th Century in large part because we had the world’s best educated workforce. Now it’s time to look forward once again.

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Our White House activities included informative briefings by President Obama; Thomas Perez, Secretary of Labor; Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President; and Jerry Abramson, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.

President Obama is proposing new steps to build on his America’s College Promise to make two years of community college for responsible students as universal as high school. I also found out that the Oregon Legislature took action on this proposal during its last session. I think it is time for us to make a similar investment, and look forward to next session to work on this proposal.

Last session in our state, Senate Republicans proposed cutting tuition for four-year colleges and universities by 25 percent. Senate Democrats insisted that community colleges also be included in any tuition reduction, but the only tuition reduction for community colleges that the Republicans would agree to was a mere 5 percent! We can, and should, do better.

I also learned about the new “Pay As You Earn” loan repayment plan from the Administration. It caps student loan repayments to no more than 10 percent of a graduate’s income. In addition, if the student goes to work in public service, the student loan will be forgiven after a decade of employment. Those are welcome adjustments to the heavy student loan debt carried by so many young adults.

Also unveiled, a new federal website — https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/ — where students, and their parents can check out the success rates of state colleges and universities. Metrics include tuition costs, graduation rates and average earnings of graduates. It’s a terrific new tool that compares apples to apples when researching the best fit for a student headed for higher education.

Another topic we explored included criminal justice reinvestment projects. The states now have 2.2 million people in prison, which amounts to a very expensive and big government program. The Obama administration created a Task Force on 21st Century Policing that came up with more than 50 recommendations to improve our criminal justice system. They are well worth considering, in my opinion. In particular, we need to consider diversions for non-violent offenders that can rehabilitate them into productive lives. I think rehabilitation is an approach we should restore to our toolbox of options.

The Administration also briefed us on the many state and municipal initiatives for higher standards in the workplace for paid sick leave, family and medical leave insurance and the minimum wage. California has already had a family leave insurance program in place for a decade, and Oregon just passed a statewide standard for earned sick days. Of course, our local efforts to establish paid sick leave and increase the minimum wage in SeaTac, Seattle and Tacoma were also highlighted.

The White House briefings and sharing with other state legislators at the State Innovation Exchange conference following the White House events were a fantastic learning experience. What I love most about my job as your legislator is always learning something new!

Time to File Your SeaTac Wage Complaint

As many of you no doubt know, our state Supreme Court recently upheld the SeaTac minimum wage initiative that was passed by the voters nearly two years ago. However, Alaska Airlines and other Port of Seattle based businesses have filed a “Motion for Reconsideration,” asking the Supreme Court to revisit their decision. So that means yet another delay for employees who work at the airport — employees who should have seen a wage increase nearly two years ago!

For those of you wondering what you can do in the meantime, I recommend that you file a wage complaint with the Washington Department of Labor & Industries. Every individual with a claim needs to file an individual complaint, which seems an inefficient and cumbersome process; nevertheless, that is the current rule.

Once you file a wage complaint, the Department will undertake an investigation. You can file your complaint online or download it at: http://www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/ComplaintDiscrim/WRCcomplaint/.

Once you fill out the complaint form and file it online or mail it in to the local L&I office for your area (which is listed on the form), the Department of Labor and Industries will accept your case and begin the process. I should also point out that L&I strongly recommends filling online rather than by mail, as it takes longer to process hard copy complaints and will delay your case. But I know many of you have little access to computers and printers.

Until the Supreme Court makes its final determination of course, we do not know what the outcome will be and we don’t know how long it will take. But in my opinion, the best option for anyone believing they are owed back wages under the law is to file a complaint so you are “on the record” and the case is established.

I realize hundreds of you have waited patiently for months and months to receive this pay increase. I share your frustration with this further delay. If I can do anything to resolve this situation faster, I will do so.

Come to our Alzheimer’s Town Hall Meeting

As the author of the bill requiring the state to draft a state plan to address Alzheimer’s, I have been invited to speak at an Alzheimer’s Town Hall Meeting two Fridays from now.

My legislation calls for the coordination of the help and resources for more than 100,000 individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It includes recommendations to address crucial support such as meeting the needs of caregivers, reducing stigma associated with dementias, raising awareness, increasing available and affordability of long-term services, and increasing the qualify and availability of paid aides.

The meeting is open to the public and is scheduled for 2:30 to 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, at the Senior Activity Center at 600 East Smith St. in Kent. I hope to see you there!

Hitting the Pause Button

Finally, regarding the medical treatment controversy in the Woodmont neighborhood in Des Moines, I want to assure everyone that nothing will happen without a full review of options. At this point, the pause button has been pushed and we are considering different locations and services for our neighbors who need mental health treatment or drug rehabilitation treatment. We share the same goals: To have healthy, safe and thriving communities.

I remain concerned about conditions in the area, and am worried that the current unkempt property on Pacific Avenue South next to the Taco Bell near S. 272nd Street has become a haven for prostitution, crime and drugs. While I was visiting the Woodmont library last week, I noticed that the library is installing a security gate that will be locked after 9 p.m. That is another strong signal that the current condition in the area needs improvement. Let’s work together to improve the Woodmont community, not tear it apart in argument and anger.

As always if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me or my assistant Tara Jo Heinecke. I hope you have a fun and spooky Halloween!

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 8/25/2015

Dear Neighbors,

Summer is coming to a close already, and since the Legislature did not adjourn finally until mid-July, I feel rather robbed of the recuperative pace we usually enjoy during the long summer months. I hope you have been able to enjoy this fabulous sunny summer weather and maybe even a few days of vacation. We have had many important issues come forward this summer.

Minimum Wage Victory for SeaTac Airport Workers

Most of you have probably heard that the state Supreme Court has finally, after more than 14 months of deliberation, issued a decision on the SeaTac initiative to raise the minimum wage. Voters passed the Prop 1 measure in November of 2013. Private sector airport related businesses — the big hotels and car parking facilities — increased their employees’ wages to $15 an hour in January of 2014. Despite some employer protests, these airport-related businesses are still busy and several are even expanding.

But the Port of Seattle and several businesses on port property argued that the voters had no right to establish any wage and benefit standards on airport property. The Supreme Court disagreed and found that the law exempting public ports from any local ordinances only related to actual airport operations, not to wage and benefit standards. Frankly, I found the Port of Seattle commissioners’ failure to lead on this basic issue of establishing a living wage and providing paid sick leave to be extremely disappointing. No one in this rich country who works hard at a full time job and plays by the rules should be trapped in endless poverty. We should have higher standards than that, especially in the public sector.

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The immediate effect of the court’s ruling should be that incomes for about 4,600 employees who work as baggage handlers, ramp workers, restaurant and retail workers will increase. But there is still some uncertainty about exactly when these workers will see an increase in their take-home pay. Also unknown is when the retroactive pay — since the initiative’s effective date was January, 2014 — will be paid. I am researching possible options for the state to take if there is continued resistance from employers to pay these employees the full pay they earned.

Court Finds State’s Education Effort ‘Too Little, Too Late’

As many of you know, the state Supreme Court has once again found that, despite our seemingly endless extra sessions, the Legislature has still failed to agree on a plan to fully fund basic education by 2018. The court has levied a fine for failing to provide an adequate plan, with the dollars directed into an education fund. In my opinion, the court’s action was too little, too late. The daily $100,000 fine will add up to about $14 million by January, when the next session normally starts. That is a lot of money, but when compared to what we already spend on K-12 education, the fine hardly seems strong enough.

Our Republican colleagues, at least 19 of them in the Senate, have sent a five-page letter full of legal citations that proposes a narrow legalistic argument that the court’s action is a threat to the institution of the Legislature. It is rumored that they might even undertake impeachment proceedings! I think the real threat here is not to the institution of the Legislature but to our schools and students who are not getting the adequate, equitable funding they deserve. I do not think it is productive to threaten to take legal action to challenge the court’s authority. It is a waste of both time and money, in my opinion.

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Nevertheless, we must keep trying to find an agreement to address this funding failure. Most proposed solutions add up to an additional annual cost of about $1.5 billion more a year. At this point, we have no agreement on where to find those additional dollars. Our economic growth continues to be strong, but it does not generate that much revenue. That leaves three choices — cut $1.5 billion (or $3 billion from our two-year budget), raise an additional $1.5 billion a year in new revenue, or a combination of cuts and revenue to raise the dollars. Stand by for further developments … but no one expects a quick fix.

Kent Teachers Crisis Averted

I was alarmed to hear that some 200 Kent school teachers were going to be forced to pay for and take another test prove they should be classified as “highly qualified” teachers after, the school district failed to file the correct forms with the state to endorse the teachers’ classification. I heard from several teachers in our district who were distressed that they were having to spend time studying for a test that they shouldn’t have to take when they should be preparing lesson plans for the new school year. The Kent school district is undergoing a transition to a new administration, and the newly hired Superintendent had just taken office a few days before this news broke.

Within a few days, I was able to talk to both state Superintendent Randy Dorn and Kent Superintendent Dr. Calvin J. Watts.

Dr. Watts assured me that he would take swift action to ensure no teacher would be financially penalized if the bureaucratic snafu could not be undone. Superintendent Dorn told me he was personally speaking with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to arrange a waiver. Just three days later, I was thrilled to hear that, in fact, the Kent teachers would not be forced to spend the next few weeks preparing to take an unnecessary test to prove their qualifications. It’s nice to win one occasionally!

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I recently had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Matthew Messerschmidt, the director of a new Hepatitis C clinic in Renton. The clinic is part of the HealthPoint system, so any it receives referrals from throughout the HealthPoint network. The occasion was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Medicare, and Congressman Adam Smith was also able to join the celebration.

Woodmont Community Vents Concerns at Des Moines Town Hall

About 200 people recently spent several hours in the Woodmont Elementary School gym on a hot August night to express their concerns, and sometimes to vent their anger, about a proposed mental health facility on Pacific Highway South, near S. 272nd St. The City of Des Moines had granted a conditional use permit for the facility last spring after some six months of hearings and public meetings. Only 17 individuals testified during those public meetings. All property owners within 600 feet of the perimeter of the facility were sent notices, and the city web site has had all meetings and agendas available for anyone to read.

Many of those who spoke most loudly at the Town Hall expressed their frustration about problems with city policing. They complained that drug addicts and dangerous strangers are already inhabiting the area, especially the area around the Woodmont Library. Indeed, many people said they were afraid to go to the library at night. Several speakers asked city officials how they could manage to police a new mental health facility when they can’t clean up the current drug problems and prostitution that already exists.

Those concerns need to be addressed, and I have scheduled a meeting with the Des Moines Police chief to discuss how we can address these citizen concerns. Community policing efforts and block watch programs may be able to restore the sense of security and safety that the Woodmont neighborhood deserves.

As to the project itself, the non-profit Valley Cities Counseling proposes to build a 16-bed evaluation and treatment center and an eight-bed voluntary commitment center on the old Rose’s Diner property south of Woodmont library. Contrary to the fears expressed, it is not adjacent or even close to Woodmont Elementary school. This small, 24-bed facility would be a locked, 24/7 secure community mental health facility. Many spoke about the pressing need for community based mental health services, and opposition did not seem so strong to this phase of the Woodmont Recovery Center campus.

What most of the citizens seemed most upset about was the potential of a future drug treatment “methadone clinic.” The CEO of Valley Counseling, Ken Taylor, tried to explain that handing out methadone at a clinic is no longer a preferred practice, but more information needs to be developed and shared with the neighborhood about this is part of the proposed project. CEO Taylor offered to work with neighbors to develop a “good neighbor” agreement to ensure the safety and security of the neighborhood, and has pledged to have Valley Counseling cover the cost of that security.

This year, Valley Counseling is celebrating its 50th anniversary of providing critical mental health services, and the agency has a earned a sterling reputation. Its Woodmont campus proposal also includes building a new three-story administration headquarters office building for the entire organization, which now has six separate administrative offices. Taylor estimates the campus will generate some 250 jobs for our community.

There is still much work to be done before the first shovel of dirt is dug for this project. I pledge to work with the city, the police department, the agency and the citizens to resolve issues and concerns so that we can ensure decent services to those in need of them, and provide safety and security to our neighborhoods. I am confident we can do both.

As always, if you have questions or concerns about any of these developments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 7/10/2015

Dear Neighbors,

Finally! After 175 days of legislative session — the longest in the entire history of the state of Washington — we have adjourned with a balanced budget, a new transportation package that will transform our district, and major capital investments in our schools and communities. It was a long time coming, but the final product was worth the effort.

I have detailed in earlier newsletters much of the work done on the capital budget, because as the ranking member I spent endless hours negotiating it. In the end, I simply want to say that we have increased funding for education in this construction budget from less than 30 percent of the budget to 46 percent. That was one of my main goals that we achieved. A second main goal was to increase community based mental health facilities, and I am thrilled that we appropriated $32 million for new evaluation and treatment, crisis triage, and clinic facilities. It was also a wonderful achievement to provide substantial support for the Housing Trust Fund, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, our state parks and alternative energy programs. Many observers told me it was the best capital budget in more than a decade, and I was thrilled to be a leader in helping shape our state’s future. The construction projects will also create tens of thousands of jobs over the next two years.

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Major transportation improvements are coming to our region

A second big piece of this year’s session was the final approval, that came just today, of a huge investment in transportation — which will also create some 200,000 jobs over the next ten years. The megaprojects in our neighborhood will include a fix on the most congested interchange in the state — the Highway 167/I-405 interchange will stop being a big chokepoint for thousands of commuters. The entire Highway 167 corridor through the Kent Valley will be upgraded all the way to Tacoma. A second huge megaproject for our district is the long-sought connection of the dead-end Highway 509 that dumps into South 188th Street in SeaTac. It will now be extended to connect with I-5. This is a freight mobility project that will help move trucks from the Port of Seattle and will help commuters seeking an alternative to the daily I-5 traffic jams.

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The transportation plan also includes a new interchange off of Highway 518, at the request of Burien, where a new commercial development has long been planned in “NERA” — the northeast redevelopment area. Last but not least, a major concession was won to allow Sound Transit to plan further expansions of light rail and to complete the line through Des Moines and Federal Way. Hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation improvements will directly benefit the commuters, ports, businesses and citizens of our district with these investments. They won’t suddenly appear overnight, of course, but over the course of the next decade. Drivers will see a modest increase in the gas tax over the next few years to fund these huge investments.

Finally, the biennial budget was signed into law by Gov. Inslee just an hour before the fiscal cliff that would have shut down much of government on July 1st. A final problem then emerged after the budget was signed, because for that budget to balance, it assumed the suspension of Initiative 1351, the class size reduction initiative that was passed by the voters last November. But the necessary 2/3rds vote to suspend I-1351 failed on July 1, raising anxieties and triggering some partisan hysteria with all kinds of ridiculous accusations. One in particular came from a Republican member in the House who accused Senate Democrats of being “inebriated” during negotiations. I want to assure you that was a despicable lie. Although we worked through the wee hours, not a wee drop was available or offered.

In the final hours, we made sure 2,000 students can graduate

The final deal was reached just two days ago, when Republicans agreed to allow a bill to pass that would roll back the high-stakes biology test for two years. Some 2,000 Washington seniors were not going to graduate this year if we did not suspend this exam. In the Highline School District, we had 56 students who had passed all of their required courses and exams except for the biology test. And for that one exam result, the student would not be able to go on to college, or get a decent job. With passage of the suspension, we opened the doors to the future for those graduates. The bill is retroactive to the class of 2015 and will apply as well to the class of 2016.

Initiative bargain offers hope of finally reducing all class sizes

We Democrats had to provide the nine votes the Republicans needed to suspend Initiative 1351 as part of the final deal. It was a painful experience for some of us who were asked to provide one of the nine votes. I was one of the nine.   I take some solace in the legal opinion of several experts that the components of the bill suspending Initiative I-1351 actually will end up being considered part of basic education. The staffing levels detailed in I-1351 may well be frozen into our basic education law, and legal arguments can be made that the suspension will actually improve the chance that reduced class sizes will be required in the near future. I am not a lawyer, but the lawyers I discussed this with explained that the bill language setting forth the education policy in the intent section of HB 2266 will invoke the principal of collateral estoppel, or the doctrine that prevents someone from re-litigating an issue. Stand by for further court action on this important issue.

I look forward to getting back home to the real world and meeting up with my friends and neighbors for what remains of this glorious summer. I hope you are enjoying these days as well. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my Legislative Assistant Tara Jo Heinecke if you have concerns or questions. But for the next couple of weeks, I plan to take some time off.

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 7/2/2015

Dear Neighbors,

First and most importantly—I want to wish all of you have a wonderful, “safe and sane” Fourth of July holiday. These hot, dry days of summer have increased fire danger in all areas, so please be careful to avoid setting off any sparks this year. We have wonderful city sponsored professional fireworks displays for all to enjoy!

Second — it was my pleasure to join Des Moines city and King county leaders to cut the ribbon for the re-opening of the Des Moines Creek park dining hall this week. This historic structure was designed by Marvel Johnson, one of the first female graduates from the UW School of Architecture in 1934.

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As a former church camp, the park has many fond memories to former Covenant Church campers, some of whom were able to join in the celebration. Former city council member Carmen Scott passed away recently but her work, including lovely painted signs in the original Swedish style, is featured throughout the building.

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The state capital budget has funded a significant part of the project, which encompasses more than $5 million in projects over the last five years to repair and restore the hall after a flood of Des Moines Creek, which flows under the hall, created major damage. The dining hall has a new foundation which raised the building three feet and the Creek has been widened to avoid potential damage to the building from future flooding.   I am also happy to report that the new capital budget just passed this week in Olympia includes funding to repair the adjacent picnic shelter and restrooms.

It was a great relief to get the state’s operating budget and capital budget passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor just minutes before midnight on June 30. We were facing a July 1 deadline when the state’s fiscal year ends and the new budgets needed to be passed into law or face possible default and a statewide government shutdown. We have never defaulted, and this current “new normal” of the last two budgets with endless special sessions threatening a government shutdown is just unacceptable.

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Speaking on the Senate floor this week with Sen. Bruce Dammeier, left, and Sen. Jim Honeyford, right, with whom I negotiated the capital budget.

It is also unacceptable to hold us hostage as members into the dead of night. We began what should have been the last day at 11 a.m. Tuesday and did not adjourn until 6 a.m. the next day! Since I have been dealing with a serious eye infection for the last week, the 19-hour session was difficult and painful. Driving home in morning rush hour after that was a real challenge!

But despite the difficulties, I want to report that our communities will benefit greatly by the capital budget that I was thrilled to see pass on a 44-1 vote! Here’s what our budget will do for our area:

  • New health professions building for Puget Sound Skills Center, SeaTac: $19 million
  • Highline College Health and Life Sciences building: $2.9 million
  • Vantage Point Senior Apartments, Kent: $2 million
  • Woodmont Recovery Center, Des Moines: $5 million
  • Russell Road & Levee floodplains by design project, Kent: $.4.9 million
  • International Marketplace, SeaTac: $1,25 million
  • Local parks, Des Moines/Kent: $793,000
  • South 228th St, inter-urban bike trail: $500,000

I was also pleased to find funding to fix the Redondo Boardwalk, support the Auburn Youth Services project, fund the Kent east hill YMCA and get a start on developing the Renton Sunset neighborhood project.

The capital budget is an often overlooked resource for our communities, and I am very happy that we were able to spend 46 percent of the capital budget this year on needed facilities for our schools, colleges and universities.   In past years, the capital budget spent about 30 percent of its funds on education. This year we were also able to fund more local parks and trails than ever before in our history. Finally, we were able to find the resources needed to protect our natural resources, through the WWRP and the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration programs. It was a tremendous experience to help negotiate the capital budget and I look forward to seeing the results of these decisions to invest in our communities over the next few years.

Happy 4th of July to you all!

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 6/12/2015

Dear Neighbors,

While the “inside baseball” of budget negotiations continue on a daily basis, this week we have finally introduced a bipartisan plan in the Senate to address the state Supreme Court’s mandate under its McCleary decision that requires the state to fully fund basic education. Senate Bill 6130 was heard Thursday in the Ways & Means Committee and sets forth a step-by-step pathway to achieve full state funding of basic education.

SB 6130 proposes the first step be implemented in the 2017-18 school year and the final step be completed in the 2022-23 school year. The two big pieces of this plan involve a new state salary allocation model for education employees that replaces the current complicated salary matrix and a reduction in local property taxes in most districts by limiting local school levy rates.

The impact on every district of SB 6130 would be slightly different, just as all 295 school districts in our state have different salaries and school levy rates now. For example, currently teachers in the Federal Way school district earn more than $10,000 less than teachers in the Auburn school district. Teachers in the Highline school district earn almost $10,000 a year less than teachers in the Seattle school district. Under the compressed salary model in SB 6130, the state-paid salary for teachers would be equalized based on experience and education factors. By complete implementation in 2021, average salaries between districts would be very similar. Local bargaining would create supplemental contracts for teachers to pay for additional services and time beyond basic education.

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One of the visitors to my Olympia office recently was Tone Haugland, a foreign exchange student from Norway who is here for the summer to study American vaccination issues — a topic on which I have acquired a fair amount of knowledge as a longtime member of the Senate Health Care Committee.

The major impact of the levy limitation in SB 6130 would result in a property tax reduction for most taxpayers in South King County. Our state’s existing overreliance on local levies has been one of the key objections from the state Supreme Court. The bill proposes that local levies be limited to $1 per $1,000 of property value to raise at least $1,500 per student. If the $1 levy limit does not raise $1,500, the levy may increase to $1.50 per $1,000 of property value. For our local school districts, here’s how that new levy limit would compare to current levy tax rates:

  • Federal Way school district:   $4.43 per $1,000 of property value
  • Highline school district:          $3.74 per $1,000 of property value
  • Kent school district                $3.75 per $1,000 of property value
  • Auburn school district            $3.97 per $1,000 of property value
  • Tukwila school district            $3.50 per $1,000 of property value
  • Renton school district            $2.49 per $1,000 of property value

To illustrate the impact of what’s called “property rich” school districts, the Seattle school district property tax is only $1.31 per $1,000 of value.

This property tax reduction and the state education salary responsibility means the state must find the funds to pay for the state’s constitutional duty. The total bill is big — but relative to a $38 billion dollar budget, it isn’t overwhelming. For the first step, the cost would be $404,254. The cost would increase to $3.5 billion as the full transition to a fully funded basic education state system is implemented. It’s a lot of money and it pays for more than a million of our kids in the thousands of classrooms all over this state.

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 5/28/2015

Dear Neighbors,

Well, the first Special Session ends, and the second Special Session begins. Because of the impasse on the big operating budget, we must keep working to find a final agreement. But we have passed a couple of important components.

Today we passed a “maintenance” transportation budget that continues current projects but does nothing to address the need for improved transportation. Back in January, we passed a transportation revenue package to the House that provided funding to fix many of our huge South King County traffic chokepoints, but so far that package remains stalled. The capital budget too remains contingent on reaching agreement on the operating budget. The latest Senate operating budget takes some steps in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.

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The one major area I want to applaud the Legislature for is mental health — both in policy and funding. The following bills have been passed and signed into law by the governor:

  • Joel’s Law, SB 5269, a bill named for a Seattle man who struggled with mental illness. His family could not get him detained because of the law on involuntary commitment, and in 2013 he was killed after an eight-hour standoff with the police. Now families will be able to appeal to a judge for intervention if a family member is denied treatment under the Involuntary Treatment Act.
  • The Douglas M. Ostling Act, SB 5311, re-instates required crisis intervention training for all police officers. The requirement of eight hours initial training and two additional hours each year in crisis intervention techniques was eliminated to save money during the Great Recession. Douglas Ostling was a Bainbridge Island resident who was tragically killed by police in his home while having a crisis, a conflict that might have been resolved peacefully had the officers had sufficient training.
  • The Sheena Henderson Act, SB 5381, arose from another tragic event, this time in Spokane involving a man with mental illness and violent tendencies. During an incident with police, his gun was taken, but since he was not detained under the Involuntary Treatment act, his gun was returned. Less than 24 hours later, he killed his wife and committed suicide. This bill requires police agencies to notify family members 72 hours before a gun is returned by police.
  • Psychiatric Boarding, SB 5649, is a bill that addresses the critical shortage of beds for evaluation and treatment that has resulted in mentally ill patients being kept in hospital emergency rooms for several days. The bill holds providers accountable for providing an adequate number of beds to ensure patients have access to treatment.
  • Providing Outpatient Treatment, HB 1450, enables people to receive treatment earlier through an assisted outpatient protocol rather than inpatient commitment to a mental health hospital. The bill sets standards for less restrictive alternative treatment services.
  • SB 5177 has passed the Senate and needs only the governor’s signature to be enacted into law. It will ensure that criminal defendants receive competency evaluations within no more than seven days after an arrest, satisfying a federal court order requiring timely services for jail inmates.

We are also expanding our mental health facilities

I have also been working on the capital construction side of this issue, to provide adequate funding to build, remodel and open facilities to provide expanded mental health and forensic services. The Senate capital budget provides $30 million for these new community based facilities plus another $15 million for state facilities at Western State Hospital, Echo Glen, Green Hill School and the likely reopening of Maple Lane. The House budget provides about $25 million.

These multiple actions should significantly improve both our laws and funding for mental health issues and services, and that is a major accomplishment for this Legislature.

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 5/22/2015

Dear Neighbors,

The budget impasse is a tale of two states, two Washingtons. The question is what kind of Washington do we want to live in?

In one Washington, foster kids and abused kids are protected and cared for.  Elderly folks who want to stay in their own homes, rather than a nursing home, are helped to remain as independent as possible.  Adults with developmental disabilities have a home and medical care in our communities, and families with children with disabilities get services to help them maintain the care they give.

Currently in our state of Washington, one in five kids go to school hungry. The state survey found 30,000 school-age kids without a stable home.

Hundreds of developmentally disabled adults live in our communities in supported living arrangements, but more than 200 others are on a waiting list and can’t find a place to live because we pay such poor vendor rates that our supported living providers can’t find caregivers to provide 24/7 care for minimum wages.

Group homes for foster children are closing because they have not had a rate increase since 2008, and the state has lost lawsuits for moving foster kids from place to place year after year.

Individual providers who care for the elderly or disabled in their own homes, and who have worked as providers for years, can’t afford to retire. Their contract providing for a 23-cent-an-hour contribution to a retirement plan is not currently funded. As the Daily Olympian newspaper agreed: “Workers who tend to the bathing, cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping needs of our elderly and disabled people in the Medicaid program deserve a retirement benefit.”  But the current Senate budget specifically prohibits any retirement benefit for independent providers.

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Last year I shadowed Earline Webster for a day as she went about her work caring for a 31-year-old man in the late stages of multiple sclerosis. It is not an easy job. Earline, a Des Moines resident, handles all his daily maintenance — dressing, bathing catheter changes, medication and grooming — yet cannot even hope of ever retiring because the Senate budget prohibits a retirement benefit for home care providers.

The House budget not only includes this modest start for a retirement benefit for 40,000 independent providers, it also restores $9.6 million to our state food banks and another $16.5 million to help homeless kids and their families get back to work and school.

The Senate budget does not provide a vendor rate increase for the supported living providers, and it doesn’t provide funding to increase the number of child protective services (CPS) caseworkers who now face mountains of case work that grows by the day.

Years of budget cuts have left our safety net in tatters.  Since the Great Recession is officially over, I say it’s past time to restore those cuts and re-build the kind of state we can be proud of.

This week the updated revenue forecast gives us some room to hope that we will be able to again have the kind of Washington state we want to live in, where the most vulnerable can count on help when they are in need. That’s the state of Washington I imagine most of you would like to have again, too.

Next week, I expect serious budget action to get into high gear.  After the Memorial Day holiday, the schedule will get intense and we’ll see how far we can get.  So far this year, we have spent a great deal of time and attention on the basic education funding dispute, but it’s important to keep in mind that so many children and vulnerable adults also depend on our state’s safety net.  In the meantime, I hope we all enjoy a lovely spring Memorial Day weekend.

Always,

Keiser

 

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 5/18/2015

Dear Neighbors,

In response to the nonpartisan Citizens Salary Commission decision to increase legislators’ salaries, I have decided to donate my salary increase to charity until the state budget funds the overdue salary and cost-of-living increases for our state’s public and education employees. Like these hardworking public employees, legislators have not had a salary increase since 2008. But I just don’t think it is fair to receive a salary increase before our teachers, paraprofessionals, state employees and long-term care workers receive one, too.

State law does not allow legislators to reject or change a salary increase decision; we have no option but to accept it and pay the standard payroll taxes on the increase. Some legislators who face financial hardships may need to accept this increase, and I support them in their individual decisions. We must not devolve into a House of Lords made up of only those who are so wealthy that a middle-class pay raise means nothing to them.

Except for a handful of lawmakers in House and Senate leadership positions, state legislators receive a salary of $42,106 a year plus per diem when the Legislature is in session.

Public employees have gone too long without a pay increase

I have always advocated for fair pay for public employees. During the Great Recession that began in 2009, we were forced by the budget crisis to suspend regular cost-of-living increases and even require unpaid furlough days of state employees. Legislators’ salaries were also frozen at that time. This year, I have pushed our budget writers to return to normal budget standards that include cost-of-living increases. The Great Recession is over, and it’s time to look to the future.

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I remain concerned that wage increases in the private sector have been quite low, with exceptions for high-demand occupations such as technology and health care. That is why I have always supported efforts to increase the minimum wage, in SeaTac as well as throughout our state. At this point, the economic data is clear that increased wages produce stronger economies and stronger communities.

There’s another important reason we need to restore cost-of-living increases for public employees: Public service — whether in civil service, education or legislative positions — needs to attract and retain the best and the brightest. It worries me when our universities report that we are seeing a significant drop in the number of students going into teaching. It worries me when our state personnel office reports unfilled positions and a lack of candidates for critical technical and information technology jobs. It worries me when I see that the number of women legislative candidates and officeholders in our state has dropped from more than 40 percent to less than a third of officeholders.

We need a government that attracts and retains policy makers and public servants who reflect our population. When we fail to attract people from diverse cultures and backgrounds as well as the most highly trained, government services and efficiencies suffer. Whether it is protecting our environment with the best science, educating our kids with the best teaching, helping our citizens with the best solutions to problems or passing the best public policies to create a better future, our government does its best when it has the best people.

Democracy is messy, but the alternatives are worse …

Cynicism and anti-government rhetoric over the last 20 years has eroded the public’s respect for the very government that works to serve them — a slippery slope indeed. If not an elected representative democracy, what form of governance would the public choose today? Corporate leadership? Royal families? Military dictatorship? Look around the world and see what other countries have tried. The most successful, stable and healthy countries come with a representative democracy.

we the people

That doesn’t mean I think our healthy American skepticism towards public officials should be suspended. As President Harry Truman famously remarked, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” Personally, I like to cook. And there is much truth to the adage that making legislation is like making sausage. The squeamish might prefer a different recipe or order takeout.

Back to the legislative session at hand: Negotiations on the operating budget appear to still be stalled, and we have no floor sessions scheduled this week. The capital budget negotiators continue meeting this week, where we are working in a bipartisan fashion to find agreements. But until the operating budget decisions are made, our final capital and transportation budgets remain in limbo.

The Special Session must end by May 28 and, at this point, I do not see an agreement being reached before then. New budgets must be passed by July 1 or the state government will shut down. That has not happened before in our state, and hopefully it won’t happen this year. Two years ago, we reached agreement just a few days before July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year. That’s pushing it. It would be smart to agree on budgets sooner than that this year. But unless real give-and-take negotiations get serious soon, a state shutdown is a sobering possibility.

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 5/8/2015

Dear Neighbors,

So far in this “Special Session,” we have had three face-to-face sessions between the House and Senate capital budget lead negotiators, of which I am one.  These sessions have been helpful to clarify intentions and goals.  But we are already stymied because unfortunately the capital budget cannot be finalized because the size of it depends on decisions on the operating budget that haven’t been made yet.  In fact, the operating budget lead negotiators for the House and the Senate have met only once, and that was just for informational purposes.  So we are stuck for now.

One of the key sticking points is the Senate operating budget’s “sweep” of $200 million from the capital budget that was supposed to pay for projects already underway in the state Public Works Assistance Account.  By taking that $200 million from the public works program, the capital budget “backfills” the obligation to public works projects with bonds—which is government debt on which we pay 4 percent interest!   This is a terrible fiscal “bait and switch” that should not be allowed.

Sadly, this is one of several such “sweeps” in the Senate budget.  Indeed, nearly every dedicated fund for all kinds of programs, from tobacco taxes for public health smoking cessation programs to liquor taxes that were supposed to help local governments police private liquor sales, have been swept into the general fund.  That’s one of the big problems we are facing in trying to reconcile the House and Senate budgets.  You can see the problem for yourself in the graphic below.

Apple_R__budget

We can help make government work for you

A lot of the work we lawmakers do involves not legislation or budgets but directly helping constituents navigate the best way to solve a tricky problem. A good example is the call my office received recently from Cali, a 20-year-old student who ran into problems acquiring a state ID simply because she did not have an original birth certificate from her native Texas and she was unable to track down her birth parents.

Without that all-important ID, Cali could not take important nursing exams, get a state driver’s license, be awarded a diploma or accept a summer job offer.  She’d compiled all kinds of proof of her identity — a copy of her birth certificate, a Social Security card, a copy of her biological mother’s birth certificate, parents’ marriage license, mother’s Social Security number and grandfather’s state ID and more — but lacked the original birth certificate required by DOL.

In this case, a call from my office to DOL was able to navigate the red tape and hook Cali up with the DOL training and technical services staff who could find a way to make the process work for her.

From where I sit, this is what our job — and that of other public servants — is all about. Every day, people like Cali are able to conquer frustrating obstacles because you have a government in place to help them.  Solving some of these constituent problems with state agencies is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.  And I’m not exaggerating to say that Washington’s state government and Legislature is one of the most responsive in the nation.

And now for a very personal note …

On a personal note, sometimes legislation has huge impacts on individuals.  Last year, my seatmate, Rep. Tina Orwall, sponsored a bill to help adoptees find their birth parents.  I helped get the bill passed in the Senate and was proud to see it signed into law.  This spring, my oldest son decided to search for his birth mother, and he was thrilled to find her in just two weeks!  He has also discovered he has two half-brothers and is able to answer nagging questions about his health and heritage.   This year we are all going to be celebrating Mother’s Day together.  That’s another good thing!

I hope you and your family have a lovely Mother’s Day too.

Always,

Keiser

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 4/30/2015

Dear Neighbors,

Well we’re back … sort of. The governor called the Legislature into “Special Session” on May 29th for up to 30 days. The goal is to negotiate the state’s budgets — Transportation, Operations and Capital — by the end of the state’s fiscal year that ends June 30th. After that, unless we pass the budgets, the state could face a government shutdown. But I am an optimist, so I do not think it will come to that.

Personally, I have been back in Olympia since Tuesday working on the Capital Budget, meeting with Treasurer McIntyre, Speaker Chopp and whoever else can help achieve agreements on major Capital Budget items. We have another round of face-to-face negotiations this afternoon and will be meeting next week as well.

Relief for hundreds of nursing homes across the state

Yesterday we had a Senate Ways & Means Committee session to consider and pass out a new version of an important bill establishing a new approach to nursing home rates, SB 5152.   Our nursing homes have not had a rate “rebase” – a cost of living adjustment — since 2009.   Our most vulnerable, frail and elderly citizens are in some 240 nursing homes serving about 10,000 Medicaid eligible clients in our state that are struggling to manage increase costs. This is a huge budget item for our state, costing about $300 million a year, with the prospect of ever-increasing costs, unless we can contain the rates in a well-managed system.

It is a complicated situation that we are working on in a bipartisan fashion. We have had several meetings involving representatives of both nursing home associations, the long-term care ombudsman, and advocates for nursing home employees, and have reached a delicate agreement to move this bill forward. Our goal is to develop a new, simplified rate structure that is price-based and encourages nursing homes to care for higher-acuity patients. If this bill succeeds, we will implement a new rating system next year with enough temporary mitigation to help nursing homes with rates higher than we can pay.

A long-overdue cost-of-living adjustment for schoolteachers

Another group that hasn’t seen a cost-of-living adjustment since 2009 is our public school education employees. We had a very large and enthusiastic rally on the steps of the capital last Saturday, with thousands of teachers calling for fair pay and less unnecessary testing.

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It was a beautiful day for a big rally with thousands of teachers, paraprofessionals and supporters of education. I was happy to participate, too, and saw many teachers from Kent, Federal Way and the Highline School District, including Highline Education President Sue McCabe. 

One of the biggest budget battles we’ve had this session has been on the issue of education funding. So far, the Senate Republicans still oppose a teacher cost-of-living increase. They are opposing all of the collective bargaining agreements, including those for independent providers that care for people in their homes and help keep them out of nursing homes. So you can see, all the budget items are connected in Olympia.

I look forward to productive negotiations and will continue to report to you any new developments that occur in your state Legislature.   Happy May Day!

Always,

Keiser

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 4/24/2015

Dear Neighbors,

I can’t believe it, but the Legislature is adjourning two days early without completing its job. Frankly, this entire session has seen an unprecedented lack of serious effort under the leadership of the Senate Republicans; indeed, we haven’t had even one Saturday session. Out of our 105-day session, we had 35 days with no committee meetings or floor action, almost one third of the time available. In nearly 20 years of legislative sessions, I have never seen such a session!

I already reported my concern about the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee leadership with numerous his absences and cancelled committee hearings. That required the hearings that were held to be incredibly rushed, limiting testimony from the public on complicated issues to just one minute in many instances. That was unacceptable procedure, in my opinion, but given that the majority has its own agenda, there’s nothing much that can be done. Nevertheless, the citizens of my district at least should know what the current majority has done with the opportunity it was given to provide leadership and direction.

Gov. Inslee has called us back into “Special Session” next week, and it is my hope that the Senate majority will get serious about negotiating the state’s three big budgets. We are close to agreement on the transportation and capital budgets, but the operating budget remains the big stumbling block. We are in pretty good alignment on what we want to fund: increased K-12 funding, mental health funding and early education and higher education funding.

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What remains in dispute is how to pay for the increased funding. The Senate majority has held onto its “no new taxes” pledge and instead has shifted money from other services vital to middle-class Washingtonians in communities across our state. I am not alone in this view — every major newspaper editorial on the budget has the same criticism. Here are some excerpts:

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“It is full of as yet unexamined budget complexities but one thing is obvious: It balances the books too heavily on the backs of state employees. … Lawmakers would be wise to follow the lead of House Democrats whose budget plan, like that of Inslee, fully funds the contracts.” — The Olympian, 4/3/15

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“The tax increases proposed [by Democrats] are fair and allow the state to begin making up for past losses to programs and employee compensation.” — The Everett Herald, 4/3/15

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“The Senate budget does it with no new taxes, relies on likely unsustainable gimmicks and fund transfers.” — Seattle Times, 4/4/15

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“It would be shamelessly irresponsible to abandon I-502’s explicit commitment to help Washington’s youth avoid marijuana. … With millions of dollars now rolling into the marijuana trust fund, Washington ought to be leading the nation in finding creative ways to discourage adolescent pot use. Instead, lawmakers are looking for creative ways to make the fund disappear. — Tacoma News Tribune, 4/4/15

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“In their quest to cling to “no new taxes,” Senate Republicans are employing smoke-and-mirrors budgeting techniques. Transferring funds from other programs will lead to cuts in those programs, and while Senate leaders can chalk this up to prioritizing, they cannot ignore the fact that it would have real-world consequences.” — The Columbian, 4/5/15

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“And the Senate is asking the voters to make the call on whether I-1351 is changed. That’s ridiculous. If the voters reject the fixes to I-1351, the budget doesn’t balance.” — Walla Walla Union Bulletin, 4/8/15

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“Senate leaders were determined to craft a budget that did not raise taxes, which always sounds appealing… It’s quite a gamble to count on voters changing their minds, and the reliance on marijuana sales is an undependable revenue source. In addition, the Senate plan also takes money from other agencies in order to meet the legal requirements of funding K-12 education.” — Tri City Herald, 4/12/15

So now we will all take a deep breath and a short pause and return next week to hopefully find the compromise we need to achieve our state’s balanced budget that fully funds education and fulfills our responsibilities.

Resolution honors Kent’s 125th anniversary, rich history

On a lighter note, I was happy to sponsor a resolution this week to honor the 125th anniversary of the city of Kent. Mayor Suzette Cooke and her team was able to attend the floor session where I present the resolution which took note of the city’s agrarian beginnings, current economic strength and our incredible cultural diversity.

You can read the resolution here.

New laws will help autistic children and alert home buyers

Finally, I am very pleased to report that the Governor will be signing my Senate Bill 5488 to establish the Applied Behavior Analyst license for ABA practitioners who work with autistic children tomorrow, along with my Senate Bill 5156 to alert home buyers about potential elevator and stair lift mechanical problems during his bill-signing ceremony tomorrow. These are both “good little bills” in a session that hasn’t seen much major policy progress.

Michael Lantz: From session aide to law school student

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I am sad to see my terrific session aide, Michael Lantz, leave my office next week, since the session aide job ends when the regular session is over. Michael will be going to law school next fall, and I am sure we will see him again in the future! He has been a great assistant who’s helped handle hundreds of emails, hotmail and letters from constituents.

After we convene the special session next Wednesday, I will continue to send a weekly update of our progress. It is my belief that we can get the work completed in a week or two if the hard-core partisans will relent a bit. Let’s hope for the best!

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 4/16/2015

Dear Neighbors,

We have taken some big steps this week in Olympia. On Tuesday, we finally passed the Senate capital budget, with a strong bipartisan vote of 39 yeas and 10 nays.

Passed in combination with Senate Bill 6080, which reforms the state’s formula for constructing classrooms, the capital budget would reduce classroom overcrowding and create thousands of new jobs in communities across the state.

These two pieces of legislation would direct the construction of more than 2,100 classrooms for grades K-3 over the next six years at a cost of nearly $1 billion. The plan would create more than 11,000 jobs, 4,000 in the first biennium alone.

Initial funding for the school construction plan comes in the capital budget, which contains $280 million to launch the K-3 construction program.

school sign

This plan invests heavily to reduce class sizes in grades K-3, where smaller class sizes do the greatest good. Of course, when we reduce class size, that means we need more classrooms for our students. This school construction program makes it possible to us to achieve our goal of reducing classes to 17 students and putting a quality teacher in every classroom.

At the same time, the plan reforms the state’s antiquated Eisenhower-era formula for allocating classrooms to better address the needs of today’s communities. Under the existing formula, a school district’s poverty level is not considered; the new formula for the first time includes at least a partial inclusion of free and reduced lunch rates as a part of calculating how much state construction assistance is allocated. The new formula also factors in the space needed to reduce Kindergarten to 3rd grade classes to no more than 17 students to make sure the state’s money is spent where it’s needed the most.

Energy proposals require further negotiations with the House

We still have many issues to resolve with the House, including funding for the Clean Energy Fund, which provides major grants to utilities to upgrade their smart grid technologies, and battery storage technology. We also need to find funding for continuing Energy Efficiency programs.

In our 33rd District, this program has provided the funds to convert more than 2,500 street lights in Kent to LED lights which will reduce Kent’s energy bill by some $235,000 a year. It also provided for made-in-Washington solar modules at the Kent Regional Fire Authority’s fire station and shop, which will provide more than half the electricity needed by these facilities.

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Here’s how we hope to fully fund K-12 education

I also want to share some new ideas on school funding. Our Senate Democratic Caucus proposal for full McCleary court compliance and funding the operation of our schools is a three-pronged solution:

SB 6104, a new compensation system for all public education staff, with a 6-year phase in and a cap on locally funded salary enhancements. This will enable schools to recruit and retain the teachers they need to provide the top quality education our students need to succeed in this ever-competitive digital age.

SB 6102, creating a funding source for the new education salary schedule, with a capital gains tax on profits of more than $500,000 per couple from the sales of stock or other assets (excluding homes or retirement accounts). This new 7-percent tax would apply to only about 5,000 of the wealthiest households, affecting less than 1 percent of the state’s population.

SB 6103 reduces local school levies and shifts reliance to the revenue generated by the new capital gains tax. As the new state salary schedule is implemented, local school levies would be reduced on a dollar for dollar basis. Local levy dollars must not be spent on salaries for basic education.

The net result of this legislation is that taxes on capital gains by the wealthiest one-tenth of 1 percent of Washingtonians would rise slightly while property taxes for 98 percent of Washingtonians would be reduced.

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The Republicans have a new proposal as well, known as a “levy swap” which would lower local school levies while increasing the state property tax levy by the same amount. Personally, I do not see how this “revenue neutral” approach will address the needs of our schools. These competing proposals will be heard in the Senate Ways & Means Committee in the coming week.

Stand by for new developments!

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 4/10/2015

Dear Neighbors,

What an interesting week we’ve had in Olympia! The week began with a vigorous floor debate on the operating budget, which was eventually passed on a straight party line vote. The budget is based on faulty assumptions and what I called “magical thinking” because it sends the reduced-class-size initiative back to the ballot for possible repeal by the voters. But if voters don’t repeal it, we will suddenly have a $2 billion dollar deficit in the budget. That’s just not a responsible way to govern.

On the Capital Budget side, I have worked in a bipartisan manner to present a budget that funds critical education, higher education and local community projects. It is not sufficient for either energy or environmental programs, in my opinion. But we passed the proposed capital budget out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee yesterday with just two no votes. It now heads to the Senate floor on Monday.

Here’s what the Senate Capital Budget funds in our legislative district:

  • $19.4 million for a new building at the Puget Sound Skills Center in SeaTac to provide medical and dental programs for students who come from Highline, Federal Way and Kent high schools.
  • $2.9 million for Highline College’s design of a major health and life sciences building remodel project on campus in Des Moines.
  • $5 million towards the proposed Woodmont Recovery Center on Pacific Highway S.to be built near the new Healthpoint clinic.
  • $2 million for Vantage Point senior apartments, a project of the King County Housing Authority to provide affordable homes for seniors in the Renton/Kent area.
  • $500,000 for the inter-urban trail connector along South 228th street in Kent, which will complete a bike access trail accessing the REI headquarters.
  • $750,000 for the SeaTac International Marketplace project, to develop a local market with an international flair.
  • $2 million to complete the Navos Lake Burien Children’s Center.

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Consulting on the Senate floor with Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, who was a big help in negotiating the Capital Budget.

I was also able to find funding for the repair of the Des Moines Beach Park restrooms and picnic shelter, the Redondo boardwalk, the Kent expansion of Van Doren’s Landing park and the conversion of Russell Road athletic fields.

All of these projects are key to providing the level of services our citizens deserve. The south end of King County has been treated as a poor stepchild for years, and we have had to deal with a shortage of needed services, parks and health facilities. One of the wonderful benefits of working in the Legislature as the Democratic Senate caucus lead on the Capital Budget is to ensure the poorest part of King county is treated more equitably than in the past, and that will remain my priority in future budgets as well.

Honoring the man behind the ‘best Mexican food in Kent’

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I was also pleased to be able to sponsor a resolution on the floor this week, along with Sen. Joe Fain who also represents parts of Kent, to honor 71-year-old Roberto Gonzalez and celebrate the 40th anniversary next year of his famous “best Mexican food in Kent” restaurant, Mexico Lindo. Roberto and his family and friends joined Joe and me, along with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, at the Senate podium after the resolution was adopted.

Two terrific pages and a big help to our office

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Shyam and Mauricio enjoying a moment of down time with my dog, Chipper.

It was also a pleasure this week to sponsor two fine young men as Senate pages: Mauricio Ayon, a student at Aviation High School, and Shyam Rabadia, a student at Highline High School. Mauricio and Shyam were both tremendously helpful to me and to my staff, pitching in in numerous ways and making it easy for all of us to be at our best. Mauricio and Shyam got to know each other well and also participated in page school, where they drafted their own mock bills. Mauricio’s bill would have imposed later start times in schools and Shyam’s bill would have abolished the death penalty. I was impressed by the intelligence and curiosity of both of these two young pages and heartened by their determination to learn more about their state legislature.

Always,

Keiser

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 4/6/2015

Dear Neighbors,

Today the Senate passed its operating budget, and on the surface the budget does some important things. It reduces the cost of college tuition, which is critical to students across our state, and it begins to pay some of the costs of fulfilling the state’s constitutional obligation to fully fund K-12 education.

So on the surface it looks pretty nice. But beneath that surface is a foundation that is rife with problems. This is a budget based on broken promises and broken trust.

How can anyone — whether they are negotiating a labor contract with the state, or supporting a dedicated fund in the state — put any faith or trust in a Senate that turns its back on past assurances to achieve the false promise of no new taxes?

Watch out for hidden taxes

Believe me, this budget has plenty of new taxes! They’re just hidden from public view:

  • This budget has a new tax on retirees who will face a $40 a month cut in their Medicare benefits.
  • It will mean a new tax on citizens in local water and sewer districts that will have to find a way to repay $200 million in public works assistance funds that have been swept away.
  • It has a new tax on the hospitals in our state, where the so-called bed tax had been negotiated in good faith, to be ignored for a grab of another $47 million in quality assurance fees.

No, this isn’t a no-tax budget — it’s a hide-the-tax budget. Sort of like the Easter egg hunts a lot of children enjoyed this past week. Except on this hunt, you won’t find eggs — you’ll find all kinds of new taxes you’ll have to pay.

Civil servants will probably pay the biggest hidden tax. The contracts they bargained with the state in good faith are unilaterally cast aside in this budget and replaced with a small pot of chump change.

After this, how can anyone put any faith in any agreements or past practice? With this Senate budget, it all gets swept away, ignored and discarded when it’s convenient.

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Now, you might say it’s been done before, this is no big deal. Yes, dedicated accounts were swept when we were in the depths of the “Great Recession,” but that was done with the promise that when the economy regained its strength, we would restore those borrowed funds. We asked state employees to take unpaid furloughs with the assurance that when the economy improved, we would make things right.

But that promise is broken now, too.

These actions create cynicism and mistrust that is corrosive to our democracy.

This budget is built on a ‘House of Cards’ that can easily collapse overnight

To top it all off, this budget is built on magical thinking … like a veritable “House of Cards.” This budget relies on a very expensive roll of the dice; it sends Initiative 1351 back to the voters for a repeal vote. If the voters suddenly decide they actually don’t want smaller class sizes after all, we can magically balance this House of Cards budget — at least for a few months.

But what if the voters say no? What if they tell us “Hell no, do your job and lower class sizes”? Then this entire House of Cards budget will collapse overnight. And our constituents will draw the obvious conclusion that the cynicism and broken promises of that House of Cards on that TV series isn’t just another fictional story.

It’s become a real story unfolding here in Olympia’s state Senate. This isn’t your average biennial budget melodrama. This is a deal breaker for everyone who voted us into office to represent their interests.

Breaking trust, rejecting contracts, ignoring promises is corrosive to this institution and to our very democracy. That’s what this budget does.

For our part, as this budget moves through the Legislature, we Democrats will be doing our best to fix it — and replace all the hidden taxes with transparent, sustainable funding mechanisms that will spread the cost of funding education fairly instead of singling out the middle class and those who can afford it the least.

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 4/3/2015

Dear Neighbors,

I cannot remember the last time I pulled an “all-nighter,” but yesterday showed I’m still up for it! The day started with an important capital budget meeting at 8 a.m., then we went into Senate floor action at 9 a.m. We adjourned at about 4:30 a.m.   As I reported to you last week, we are in the midst of budget-making now. Budgets are the biggest and most important bills in a Legislature. The work all day yesterday was on the Senate operating budget.

Here’s the story: Two weeks ago the Republican majority informed our Democratic negotiators that they were no longer needed at the budget negotiating table. Since 2010 we have negotiated together, both Democrats and Republicans. Nothing this complex is unanimous, but we had been able to reach substantial agreement over the last three biennial budgets. This year was different!

For the first time in anyone’s memory, both the Senate and House debated the budget on the floor of our respective chambers on the same day. The two budgets reflect different assumptions and perspectives, in fact it’s a bit like a parallel universe.   Since I was busily focused on the Senate budget, I have not had time to digest the House approach. But I can tell you that the Senate budget is quite a piece of work!

No respect for the work of our civil servants

The single biggest difference is that the Senate budget rejects all collective bargaining agreements made for the next two years. This means that for the different unions who negotiated with the governor in good faith representing state employees, community college employees, independent home health care aides, fish and wildlife agents, transportation engineers,the Washington state patrol and working people throughout our state, Senate Republicans simply brushed aside these contracts without regard to the needs of all the middle-class employees affected.

This is deeply disrespectful of the employees who have worked so hard as civil servants for the state over the past six years without even one cost of living adjustment, with unpaid furloughs and with increased health insurance premiums. These are people who can typically earn higher wages in the private sector but choose civil service because they believe in working to help others. Good management knows that the most valuable asset of any organization is its people and the service they provide. And these folks provide the extraordinary effort it often takes to solve problems and provide service to citizens in need of assistance. With the unilateral moves in this budget, these dedicated servants can only feel disrespected and unfairly treated.

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Arguing against some of the cuts in services during this week’s budget debate.

Another big difference in this budget is that it uses just about every trick in the book to shift money from all the wrong places. For example:

It cuts the retired teacher and school employees’ benefit for Medicare by $40 a month — in effect, creating a $480 “tax” on retirees living on fixed incomes.

  • It sweeps $200 million from the Public Works Assistance Account, which is where all our smaller water and sewer districts repay their loans to build and repair clean, safe water and sewer systems in our towns and cities.   By sweeping the cash flow, the account has to be backfilled with state bonds that will cost us millions in interest payments over the next 25 years. This is another case of robbing Peter to pay Paul and slapping taxpayers with what amounts to a new, hidden tax.
  • It takes $7.5 million out of the state’s high risk pool, a special health care program for individuals with expensive chronic diseases such as kidney failure, Multiple Schlerosis, HIV-Aids, and other conditions that require extraordinarily expensive treatments.
  • The state’s hospitals will be “taxed” by another $47 million, with an excessive “safety net assessment.” Here again, the majority party discarded and disrespected a previously agreed-on level for the assessment, and hiked costs by $23.5 million a year over the hospital association’s protests.
  • The state’s health care exchange was established two years ago and now provides “Obamacare” for more than 700,000 citizens in our state. Here the majority party sweeps $29 million in insurance premium revenue that funds the Health Benefit Exchange that helps people access affordable health care and puts it in the general fund.
  • Local cities and towns will continue to lose $24 million in liquor excise tax distributions that were diverted during the Great Recession and should be restored so that they can better police liquor thefts and organized crime created by the new private liquor market.
  • $20 million was swept from the state Treasurer’s service account, where small funds have been dedicated such as the flood control assistance account which was cut in half.
  • $67 million was taken from the Life Science Discovery Fund, which has helped medical researchers and entrepreneurs to develop new biomedical breakthroughs. This fund is now empty.

A ‘House of Cards’ with a built-in, $2 billion deficit

There is more, but this gives you a picture of its general approach. Though the Republicans  claim it solves budget problems, what it really does is create new problems. To top it off, this “House of Cards” is built on a foundation of repealing the school class size initiative that was passed by the voters last fall, I-1351. The Senate budget sends the initiative back to the voters for possible repeal. But if the voters don’t repeal it in November, this budget will immediately face a TWO BILLION DOLLAR deficit! That will not stand; this “house” will collapse because it has been constructed on a rotten foundation.

We will return to Olympia on Monday to vote on whether to pass this budget off the Senate floor. I imagine you can tell from my comments that I will be a “No” vote on this budget. I know the Republicans will keep up their solid party-line vote record and pass their proposal to the House. Next week, budget negotiations between the House and Senate will commence. Stand by then for next chapter in this year’s biennial budget drama.   The question is, if this were a TV show, what would you call it?

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 3/26/2015

Dear Neighbors,

This week we “follow the money,” meaning that the state’s biennial budgets will be released by the Legislature’s two chambers, the Senate and the House, in the next few days. We actually have six different budgets to reconcile.

The biggest budget is the operating budget. The House operating budget is expected to be released tomorrow. The Senate operating budget is likely to be released on Monday. The budgets will likely be quite different. Here are some of the big questions to watch for:

  • How much funding is dedicated to public schools? The Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling to adequately fund K-12 education is driving an effort to increase school funding by anywhere from $800 million to $2 billion.
  • Teachers, schools employees and state employees have not had a wage increase, or even a cost of living increase (COLA) in six years. Providing a COLA is vital to recruiting and retaining the best teachers for our kids, which is our priority.
  • How are the mentally ill treated in the budget? Do they have adequate access to evaluation and treatment, and avoid the cost of being “boarded” in emergency rooms? This is a high-cost need that the state has failed to fund for the past several years.
  • Are tuitions for higher education frozen or is funding for higher education financial aid increased significantly?
  • Is there new funding to enhance early learning of children ages 3-5?
  • Are social and health services for seniors, children and the disabled maintained or cut?
  • Are the collective bargaining agreements for individual health care providers, state employees, state patrol and other bargaining units funded?
  • Are there any new revenues proposed and, if so, are they spread broadly so everybody pays or are they targeted towards those who can afford to pay more?

Will transportation tax the middle class or 130 big polluters?

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The second budget we have to find agreement on is the Transportation Budget. The Senate passed our transportation budget in the early days of the session. I voted against that budget because I expected the House budget would include more transit and no “poison pills” threatening transit funding if the governor takes executive action to reduce carbon pollution such as was included in the Senate proposal. It will be very interesting to see if the House passes a Transportation Budget that relies on an increased gas tax, which would hit lower- and middle-class taxpayers, or on a carbon tax paid by 130 big polluters. The Senate version depends entirely on an increased gas tax.

Capital budget could boost construction of school buildings

The third budget is the capital budget, which is the one I have spent the session working on in the Senate. The House capital budget is also likely to be released tomorrow. The Senate capital budget will likely be released a week later. The Senate budget will include my proposal to expand school construction by almost a $900 million over the next six years. Other key components to watch in the capital budget include:

  • Housing, including housing for seniors, veterans, the homeless and working families.
  • Local and state parks, boating and recreational facilities.
  • Funding to clean up toxic waste and local contamination sites.
  • Funding for droughts, flooding, drinking water and local public works projects.
  • Maintaining the Public Works Assistance Account, which has been diverted in recent years into the general fund.
  • Puget Sound restoration and salmon restoration funding.
  • Higher education and community college campus buildings and renovations.

Many of these projects are multi-year construction programs that create jobs. We use the state’s bonding authority to fund much of the capital budget.

Stay tuned for more details as the budgets are rolled out and revealed over the upcoming week. It should be very interesting to see what the two chambers agree on or where they are a far distance apart.

Fourth member of Beal family serves as Legislative page

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This week, I want to welcome Rachel Beal, who is in the 10th grade at Mt. Rainier High School. This is a family tradition for the Beal children, all four of whom have now served as a page for a week in the Washington State Legislature. Any student in our 33rd district from ages 14-16 who is interested in applying to become a page should contact our office to sign up. It’s a great opportunity to learn about your government and to meet kids from all over the state who come to Olympia for the week as a page.

Telephone town hall draws thoughtful questions

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I was so happy to join my seatmates, Reps. Tina Orwall and Mia Gregerson, to engage our neighbors in a wide-ranging conversation this week. We dialed up hundreds of folks and were able to field nearly two dozen questions on all kinds of issues — from oil trains traveling through the Kent Valley to tax reform and school reform. Between the three of us, I think we had a good balance of experience and expertise to answer the various questions. If you didn’t have a chance to participate, you are invited to have a listen by clicking here.

I hope you have a chance to enjoy the wonderful spring weather!

Always,

Keiser

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 3/19/2015

Dear Neighbors,

In this second half of the regular legislative session, we “switch houses,” so the Senate hears the bills that have passed the House and the House hears the bills that have passed the Senate.   So far, the pace has been pretty slow. That is especially the case in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee. We have three scheduled meetings this week, but the chair cancelled the first two meetings entirely.

But then he put together a schedule for a two-hour public hearing Friday to “hear” 17 bills! It’s an astounding number of bills for a policy committee hearing, more than I have ever seen scheduled for a single hearing. At the most, that will allow an average of seven minutes per bill, which is hardly enough time to read the summary and hear from the bill’s sponsor, much less listen to the viewpoints of advocates and opponents. I am deeply troubled by the lack of respect this kind of schedule conveys, not to mention the obvious failure to exercise due diligence on any legislation that comes before us.

In contrast, our Health Care Committee has been moving at a slow and steady pace working through the bills from the House. The proposals before this committee are mostly non-controversial and achieve modest progress on various health professional issues.

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A lighter moment on the Senate floor.

I am very pleased to say that the House has already held public hearings on nearly all of the bills I prime sponsored, so that is encouraging progress. My proposal on school construction is being heard in the Senate Ways & Means committee this week, and I was happy to have the Seattle Times accept a column from Sen. Bruce Dammeier and me on the proposal we have developed for improving the state’s formula for building the classrooms our schools need. You can read our plan for reforming the formula here.

Budget negotiations continue but there have been no significant breakthroughs. I have heard that the House proposed budget may be delayed, and if that is in fact the case, it means our Senate counterproposal will likely also be delayed. It’s a “wait and see” time.

So let me take this opportunity to thank my terrific office staff for all their effort! My session intern, Lynne Randall, is leaving Olympia this week to return to school. She is finishing her junior year at the Highline College campus of Central Washington University. Lynne has been an eager learner and quick study of the legislative process and issues. It was a joy to have her in our office. My session aide, Michael Lantz, is pleased to have been accepted to law school next year, and my legislative aide, Tara Jo Heinecke, has been busy meeting with visitors when I have been unavailable.

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Michael, Lynne, me, and Tara Jo

So far this session, our team has responded to about 2,000 emails, hotline calls and letters from constituents and made appointments and arrangements for countless in-person meetings. Their work has made my office both responsive and effective for the citizens of the 33rd Legislative District. Please join me in thanking them for their great work!

Always,

Keiser

 

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 3/13/2015

Dear Neighbors,

Hallelujah, we have crossed the halfway point in Olympia!

I am very pleased to report that we reached the cut-off deadline in the Senate without any major derailments. Let me give you a short update on the bills I have prime sponsored that were passed by the Senate and are awaiting House action.

Essential Infrastructure, Senate Bill 5624, creates a way for public jurisdictions such as water and sewer districts to pool their bonding authority in the state Treasurer’s office and will give these districts an alternative financing tool. By pooling their bonding authority they can raise funds at lower interest and with less administration. This bill passed unanimously.   The companion measure, Senate Joint Resolution 8204 is actually a constitutional amendment to allow the state to use its “full faith and credit” backing for the bonds. It does not affect the state’s debt or bond limit. If passed by the House, SJR 8204 will be on the November ballot. If voters approve, our smaller local public jurisdictions will have better access to financing essential infrastructure projects.   It will also create jobs!

SB 5418 allows our state worker’s compensation system to pilot a project to improve the care and outcomes for catastrophically injured worker. About 80 individuals every year suffer terrible trauma and catastrophic injury on the job. A recent L & I study showed that the care of these folks have too many gaps, and interruptions. This new pilot will coordinate care with the aim of achieving better outcomes and improved quality of life for these injured workers.

SB 5488 creates a new license for Applied Behavior Analysts. ABA is the only evidenced based therapy that appears to help children with autism. Currently these therapists have no oversight or standards, and the profession is supporting this licensing process as a path to improve the quality and standards for this promising therapy. Autism is a terribly difficult diagnosis and we need to find better ways to provide effective treatments. This is a small step forward that I hope will become law this year.

Two of my bills that were passed by the Senate earlier are moving forward in the House, too, so I am happy to declare this a successful first half.

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Health care, long-term care and construction budgets loom

Now my attention will focus on budget issues. I am working on the budgets for health care and long-term care and am the leader for my caucus on the capital construction budget. This week, my efforts on school construction funding was introduced as Senate Bill 6080. This “reform of the formula” of state school construction funding would provide matching funds for up to 2,200 classrooms for our crowded schools. I am particularly concerned about meeting the needs of students in schools such as those in the Highline School District.

Under SB 6080, Highline schools would see its state match ratio increase from 58 percent to 88 percent, and the local match is flexible and need not come from bonds. Kent would see its match ratio increase from 46 percent to 77 percent state funds. I hope we will have a hearing on this in the Senate Ways & Means Committee next week. For now, though, here is an explanation of why this legislation is needed and how it would work:

It’s time to reform the formula for funding classrooms

With more than a million children in our public schools, many of our school districts are struggling with overcrowded classrooms, growing student populations and aging school buildings. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimates that across our state we need more than 10,000 new classrooms, and nearly 75 percent of them would be for Kindergarten through 3rd grade. A growing body of evidence shows that K-3 students learn better in smaller classes.

When we funded all-day kindergarten and voters passed Initiative 1351 to reduce overcrowding, most folks didn’t consider the pressure it would create for additional classrooms. But adding classrooms is more complicated than just parking a few more portables in the school yard. And we need to find a way to pay for the additional classrooms.

Our state’s formula for determining school space needs dates back to the Eisenhower era, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. Our current SCAP — School Construction Assistance Program — is based on several faulty elements, including unrealistic square-footage-per-student allocations, unrealistic construction costs, and a state funding match dependent on passage of a super-majority bond measure.

Clearly, we need to “reform the formula.” My solution, Senate Bill 6080, calls for a temporary six-year program to address our schools’ most pressing needs — a Super SCAP, if you will.

Today, for example, wealthier districts are able to support additional school facilities while poorer districts, especially those experiencing rapid growth, are left out. My new Super SCAP approach would include, for the first time, a poverty rate increment in the state matching formula. Districts with higher rates of students with free and reduced-cost lunches would receive a higher match than districts with lower poverty rates. The old formula is only pegged to property values, not poverty rates, and does not reflect the actual needs of the students.

This first step would also allow school districts to decide if they needed to build an entire new school or to simply add just a couple of classrooms to an existing school. Under Super SCAP, the use of modern modular and durable portables would, for the first time, be eligible for state matching funds.

The best way to tackle a challenge of this scope is with fully thought-out steps. Super SCAP’s temporary capital grant program would build 2,200 additional classrooms over a six-year period at a cost of $240 a biennium — a reasonable approach. It is well under our debt limit and preserves our state’s triple A bond rating. As an addition to our usual SCAP program, it adds real capacity for our schools and helps our kids escape crowded K-3 classrooms.

As Ben Franklin famously observed, “An investment in knowledge always gives the best return.” This is an investment that will pay off for generations of students across our state. I can’t imagine a more important investment.

I hope to hear from you at my telephone town hall meeting March 25

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The midpoint in the legislative session is always a useful time to reconnect with you and hear you questions and concerns. To that end, I’ll be hosting a telephone town hall meeting with my 33rd District seatmates, Rep. Tina Orwall and Rep. Mia Gregerson, from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 25.

At that time, constituents in the areas of Kent, SeaTac, Normandy Park, Des Moines, Burien and Renton will receive a phone call inviting them to stay on the line to participate in the town hall.

If you do not automatically receive a call but would like to participate all the same, you may dial a toll-free participant number to listen in on the event and ask questions. That number is (877) 229-8493, ID code 18646#.

Always,

Keiser

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 3/6/2015

Dear Neighbors,

It is a pleasure to report some positive news from Olympia this week. I have become increasingly concerned about the state’s troubled mental health system and lack of community based services for mentally ill Washingtonians for quite some time. We have the highest rate of teen suicide in the nation and, in one rating, our state ranks 48th in providing treatment for severe mental illness.

This week, your state Senate was able to pass several important measures to deal with this terrible problem. They were all bipartisan efforts sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, and all received nearly unanimous votes and now go to the House for consideration. Here are quick descriptions of what each does:

Petitions for involuntary treatment

SB 5269, known as Joel’s Law, allows family members or friends to directly petition a court in support of, or opposition to, an initial detention of up to 180 days. Currently such detention is limited to 60 days, and family members cannot directly petition the court. This bill stems from the case of Joel Reuter, who was killed in Seattle in 2013 weeks after being discharged from a hospital without any follow-up mental health treatment. Many families testified in committee that their efforts to seek help for a son or daughter they felt needed involuntary treatment were futile under the current system. They said Joel’s law would be a good step in the right direction.

Involuntary outpatient treatment

SB 5649 establishes a new approach to mental health by allowing involuntary outpatient treatment. This model of treatment was developed in New York and is known as Kendra’s Law after a 32-year old journalist who was murdered in New York City by someone diagnosed with schizophrenia.   Outpatient treatment is less restrictive and less expensive and can provide the right treatment at the right place and time for people who need it. While voluntary treatment is always preferred, some individuals with mental illness can regain their health with involuntary treatment. Involuntary outpatient treatment is available only to someone with a mental disorder who has been committed for inpatient treatment at least twice in the last 36 months and is unlikely to voluntarily “take his meds.”   The commitment for outpatient treatment can extend up to 180 days.

 

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Speedier competency evaluations

SB 5177 requires faster action in the process of competency evaluation and restoration. When a mentally ill person is arrested, sometimes for misdemeanors and sometimes for violent crimes, a process of evaluation and restoration of competency is supposed to ensue and must be completed before the defendant can stand trial. But currently the process only occurs at our overcrowded mental health hospitals, where space often is not available in a timely manner. This bill directs the state to develop alternative locations for competency restoration treatment and creates a centralized Office of Forensic Mental Health to ensure that mentally ill prisoners are not kept locked up in jail without treatment for weeks at a time.

Time limits for competency services

SB 5889 sets time limits for competency services. The state faces a class action suit over lengthy wait times, with some defendants now waiting months in a jail cell, locked up for 23 hours a day, with no treatment. This bill establishes a maximum time limit of 14 days to be phased in over the next year.

Reimbursement for competency services

SB 5403 is another approach to providing competency services that has been working well in Pierce County, where the state reimburses the cost of appointing an expert to complete a competency evaluation rather than wait until a staff person is available. This approach has shortened the wait time in more than 250 cases, and other counties are eager to adopt the program.   This bill allows the approach statewide.

A visit from a courageous civil rights pioneer and UN ambassador

An inspiring highlight of this week was the opportunity to meet with former civil rights legend and UN Ambassador Andrew Young. He spoke to us about the critical need to address poverty and about a test case underway in India. There the government has created a unique ID card, called the Aadhaar card, as a secure way to provide citizens with basic economic access, a new concept none of us had heard about before.

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It was an honor to join a number of my colleagues in a discussion this week with Andrew Young, second from right.

The battle for voting rights, then and now

Also this week, we were pleased to pass a resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Ambassador Young, a participant in that fateful march, described it to us as a horrific event that no one had foreseen. The march calling for voting rights became known as “Bloody Sunday” for the violent beatings bestowed by Montgomery police, and the civil rights movement was mobilized to help pass the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1964.

Now, 50 years later, Senate Democrats also tried to pull a long-stalled, state Voting Rights Act bill from committee this week where it has languished all session, as well as for the past two years, to the Senate floor for a vote. Unfortunately, because we remain in the minority our motion failed on a party-line 23-26 vote. But the example of Andrew Young’s long and tenacious journey gives us all hope of a better tomorrow.

Always,

Keiser

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 2/27/2015

Dear Neighbors,

This week much of the activity around the Senate Republicans’ proposed transportation package centered on divisive ideological elements Republicans stuck in as “poison pills.” But the package itself merits serious consideration because for the first time in three years, we finally have a proposal to address our traffic congestion from the Senate Republicans. Over the last two years, a transportation package passed by the House with both Democratic and Republican votes was ignored by Senate Republicans who, in turn, failed to pass a proposal of their own.

We nearly passed the proposal out of the Senate today but it stalled due to a snag imposed by a controversial procedural tax vote rule that Republicans passed earlier this session on a party line vote over our objections. We warned them at the time that the rule would be problematic at best and unconstitutional at worst, and today our warnings were borne out on the floor. I have little doubt that we would have passed the package off the floor today if not for the rule change. Now it looks like the package is out of play until at least Monday, if not longer.

In any case, the fact that something is finally being proposed in the Senate is still an improvement over the gridlock of the past two years. In the meantime, I’d like to offer a heads up on what the package includes.

What the transportation package looks like

Here are the revenue details:

  • A gas tax increase of 5 cents a gallon in 2016, 4.2 cents a gallon in 2017 and 2.5 cents a gallon in 2018, for a total increase of 11.7 cents a gallon.
  • An $8 increase in the gross weight fee on trucks over 10,000 pounds.
  • A weight fee for light trucks and passenger vehicles of $35 in 2016 and an additional $8 in 2022.
  • A freight project fee on large trucks of 15 percent of the license fee.
  • A $5 studded tire fee added to the sale of each new studded tire.
  • Electric vehicle fees expanded to include plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.

Two other major revenue sources include transferring sales tax revenue on transportation construction from the operating budget and into the transportation budget. This would reduce the operating budget — the budget that pays for schools, prisons, healthcare, higher education and community services — by about a billion dollars a year. And a transfer of part of the toxic waste fee account known as ELSA would mean another $104 million loss to the capital budget — that’s the budget that pays for environmental clean-up projects now funded by ELSA.

This is a big, ambitious package to build major highway, freeway and transit projects over the next 16 years. It would create up to 200,000 well-paid construction jobs over the next 16 years as well.

What’s at stake for our 33rd Legislative District

For our 33rd District, here is a list of the projects:

  • $1.3 billion to rebuild the Highway 167 – Interstate 405 interchange and expand capacity, fixing a huge chokepoint in our regional transportation grid.
  • $1.88 billion to complete the Highway 509 connection to I-5.
  • $15 million to build a grade separation in Kent on S. 228th and the Union Pacific railroad.
  • $12.2 million for interchange improvements along Buriens Highway 518.
  • $8 million for Rapidride expansion service from Burien.
  • Sound Transit phase 3 package to go to voters.

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Conferring on the Senate floor with my Democratic colleague, Sen. Marko Liias, one of our lead negotiators on the transportation package.

Of the total $15.138 billion dollar package, $3.22 billion in transportation improvements would be built in our district. That is a very large dedication of funds for South King County projects.

But here are my concerns:

At a time when we face a major challenge to find the money to fully fund basic education, estimated to cost $2 billion, the diversion of sales tax from the operating budget makes that job a billion dollars more difficult.

Relying mostly on a hike in the gas tax makes this tax burden harder on the middle-class Washingtonians who are already struggling to make ends meet. If we passed a “polluters pay” tax instead of increased gas taxes, the 130 biggest polluters in our state would pay instead of middle-class households.

We don’t have Democrat or Republican roads, and our transportation package shouldn’t be packed with divisive, ideological policy on issues like apprenticeship utilization, prevailing wage standards or exemptions to state environmental standards.

The biggest hurdle is the gauntlet thrown down at Gov. Inslee, threatening to hijack any spending for transit if the governor enacts executive actions to reduce carbon pollution. This injects divisive partisan ideology in what has traditionally been a bipartisan process.

No one disagrees that our state needs to make serious improvements in our transportation system. It was recently documented that the average Puget Sound commuter who goes to work full time loses 97 hours a year stuck in traffic jams. Restoring two-and-a-half work weeks of lost time every year to spend with family or friends, or just having some quality-of-life time would be a wonderful gift for everyone.

I have been bombarded with lobbyists this week representing many commercial interests asking for my support of this proposal. At this point, I cannot support it. But I am confident that further negotiations will occur to achieve our shared goals. Negotiations are always most difficult before an agreement breakthrough occurs. Let’s all hope that those talks create a real bipartisan transportation package we can all vote for.

There is much work ahead!

Always,

Keiser

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 2/23/2015

Dear Neighbors,

This is “cut-off” week in the legislative session, a time when non-fiscal bills must either pass out of the committees in which they were introduced or die. It’s an important hurdle for all but budget bills. I wrote and introduced 20 bills this session, and it appears seven will make it out of committee this week. To say I am disappointed is an understatement.

But the Senate’s Republican majority has control, and they don’t want to allow progress on many important household issues such as increased minimum wage, paid sick days or family and medical leave. I am also sorry to report that my modest “pay it forward” student loan proposal for nurse educators was killed in committee after strong testimony in support from nurses and students.

Another victim of Republican control and the cut-off is, Senate Bill 5151, my legislation to have medical providers receive education about the unique health risks for different cultural and ethnic populations.

The Republican majority also killed SB 5287, my bill to allow the successful Medicaid fraud program to continue. The law was passed three years ago and has recovered more than $37 million already, but it also had a sunset clause that needed to be lifted for the program to continue. Our state Attorney General has successfully prosecuted several cases of fraud of the Medicaid system and recovered millions of dollars in fraudulent payments. One might think that both reducing fraud and generating revenue would be considered a “win-win,” but unfortunately not by my Republican colleagues on the Senate Health Committee.

I am hoping that the House companion bill will survive so we can continue this fight another day. With the big expansion of the Medicaid program under health reform, large, the opportunities for fraud on the part of unscrupulous medical and pharmaceutical companies will be greater than ever — and taxpayers will pay for their fraud without the protections provided by this common-sense legislation.

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I had a nice visit this week with members of the Faith Action Network, Marilyn Hoff and Clem Winbush to my right and Foster Stockwell to my left.

One helpful step

One proposal that remains alive is my bill on behalf of Wesley Homes in Des Moines to improve our state’s Certificate of Need (CON) process. Currently, health and long-term care facilities must apply for and receive a Certificate of Need to establish or expand a facility. But current law allows competitors to appeal any CON that is granted, which could place a costly roadblock in the way of the project. Deep-pocket competitors have been known to spend thousands of dollars on their appeals to stall and discourage applicants. Wesley Homes recently had a case that cost it $15,000 to defend their Certificate. My bill, SB 5149, would require opponents to pay all costs if their appeal of a certificate is denied.

The anti-Labor Committee and its anti-labor chairman  

In the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee this session, dozens of Republican bills to cut wages and benefits for working people have eaten up most of our committee hearings. The committee is chaired by a Spokane senator who, oddly enough, often doesn’t show up to actually chair the hearings. Though the committee is supposed to meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for instance, the chair has been missing on six of the 10 Mondays and Fridays over the past five weeks; sometimes he has his vice-chair fill in, and sometimes he cancels the hearings altogether. I guess I should credit him for being here at least one full week so far. But I find it more than a bit ironic that the chair who shows up to chair his committee only part-time during session is spending most of his attention on bills to cut the income and benefits of hard-working people who show up for work every day.

Here’s an interesting issue that we had in committee this week:  

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Most of you probably have heard about the Seattle Thunderbirds, a Western Hockey League team whose hundreds of die-hard fans turn out to cheer when they play at the ShoWare Center in Kent. They are one of four junior hockey teams that play in our state and are among the teams that feed the National Hockey League. The amateur athletes who play on the team are 16 to 20 years old and live off modest stipends with local host families. Most are in high school and earn a year of fully-paid college scholarship for every year they play on the team. But the controversy develops because a Canadian attorney alleges the athletes are actually employees and are subject to minimum wage and child labor laws.

Now Senate Bill 5893 is attempting to change the law to make it clear that amateur athletes are not employees. But the bill is quite broad and might apply to other venues in ways that would violate employment rights. We attempted to amend the bill in committee to clarify the employee exemption definition could apply only to the amateur athletes of the junior hockey teams. That amendment was not accepted due to lack of time to consider all the possibilities. The unamended bill did pass out of committee and we will likely see this issue again on the floor of the Senate.

I would be interested in knowing your feelings on this issue:

____ Yes, I support exempting all amateur athletes from wage and work standards.

_____No, I think a strict definition should limit any wage and work standards to Western Hockey League junior hockey team players only.

_____No, I don’t think there should be any exemption for amateur athletes. They should be covered by child labor and minimum wage standards.

 

Next week the Legislature will begin serious work on the three budgets being developed for state operating costs, capital construction and transportation. There’s much work to be done!

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Our office enjoyed a stirring visit this week from 33rd District Democrats. From left are Carol Anne Maiers, Al Alpert, my Legislative Session Aide Michael Frantz, Don Bennett and Sea-Tac City Councilmember Kathryn Campbell.

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 2/12/2015

Dear Neighbors,

First, I want to extend my sympathies to the students, teachers, employees and parents of our Highline school district on the failure of the school construction bond proposal this week. I will do whatever possible to assist the district in addressing the problems of crowded classrooms and substandard classroom facilities.

On a happier note, I want to share some wonderful news about the success of our state’s Early Childhood Assistance Program, known as ECEAP. We provided this comprehensive, state-funded preschool program to 10,000 kids last year. Most are 4 year olds, and school readiness is the focus for both the child and family. Two thirds of the kids are in impoverished families, averaging an annual income of just $18,840 for a family of four. It turns out that kids in ECEAP enjoy significantly better outcomes when they get to school. Checking 5th grade test scores for both reading and math, we found that ECEAP kids achieved much better test scores.

In fact, predictions based on current outcomes project that a net program cost of about $7,000 a year for each child will amount to more than $33,000 in benefits per child over a lifetime.   These benefits include higher earnings, lower health care costs, and reduced special education and grade repetition costs.

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I had the pleasure of cheering the good results with an office full of ECEAP teachers, parents and students this week.

One especially encouraging sign on the benefits of early learning is the fact that although the vast majority of ECEAP kids are able to participate only on a part-time basis, the improved learning and lifetime benefits are likely to be even greater if we can expand the hours of early learning.

Base funding for these early education services costs state taxpayers $76 million a year. Gov. Inslee’s proposed budget would increase funding by $72 million which would provide early education services to another 7,000 kids a year. Over the next four years, if we continue with that increase, we will be able to provide services to 80 percent of eligible 4 year olds and 57 percent of eligible 3 years olds. That may seem like a lot of money to spend, but the benefits will greatly outweigh the costs, and we will all be better off if the next generation is more successful in school and work.

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Wednesday’s floor action this week began with a salute to all the Navy service members whose home ports are in Washington.

Budget Negotiations Get Serious

I also want to report that the legislature has passed a supplemental budget to pay for some of the emergency costs that arose over the last year. The wildfire season last summer was especially disastrous, as the Carlton Complex fire was the biggest wildfire in state history. Emergency fire services cost the state nearly $80 million last year.

Another cost we had to cover was for mental health beds and psychiatric services needed because the state Supreme Court ruled against the practice of “psychiatric boarding” of patients in mental health crisis in hospital emergency rooms, a practice that was good for neither the patients not the hospitals. The state now must transfer patients to evaluation and treatment facilities as soon as possible, which is far better for all concerned, but these new mental health requirements amounted to another $50 million in unexpected budget costs.

We also have word that the Senate Republicans are proposing a transportation project package proposal today. Details are still unconfirmed, but I have made requests that any proposed package address the disastrous traffic bottleneck between I-405 and Highway 167, and the long-sought goal to complete the Highway 509 connection to I-5 in our region. Both megaprojects would have great impact on our neighbors — commuters, transit customers, businesses and our communities – and I am optimistic they will be included. Stay tuned for more details on a possible agreement.

I hope you all have a great week and a happy Valentine’s Day!

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 2/5/2015

Dear Neighbors,

It’s always terrific when constituents can visit me in Olympia during session, but it was a special treat to meet the energetic, informed students from SeaTac’s senior class of ACE high school within Tyee High School. They asked me to step out of a committee hearing so that they could share their concerns.

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My impromptu but highly informative discussion with ACE seniors from Tyee High School.

The issue for these students is the biology test that’s now required in order to graduate. Seniors took this class two years ago, and the curriculum has changed since they took it, but the biology exam requirement doesn’t apparently take those changes into consideration.

Efforts are underway to make an adjustment and remove this graduation requirement. SB 5825 is one of several bills introduced at the request of the State Board of Education that would eliminate this test as a requirement.

Last year, I had another constituent who had a daughter in the International Baccalaureat (IB) program at Thomas Jefferson High School who took physics instead of biology; she still was required to take the test to graduate even though she had not had a biology class. Fortunately, we were able to develop a waiver for IB students. Nevertheless, it appears to me that this high school science assessment is another example of how testing is becoming more important than learning. I am hopeful this year one of the bills eliminating the biology bar to graduation will become law.

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Lynne Randall, my session intern, discusses the problem at length with students from ACE.

A sad day for bipartisanship in the Senate Health Care Committee

The work of the Senate Health Care Committee this year appears decidedly one-sided. So far, we have heard or are scheduled to hear this week 43 proposed bills. Of those, only eight are sponsored by Senate Democrats. The other 35 are “primed” by Senate Republicans.

This is an unfortunate turn of partisan favoritism that did not occur when I was the Democratic chair of this committee. I always made every effort to hear bills by both Republicans and Democrats, especially when they were sponsored by members of the committee. Of course, the lopsided membership of the committee was a bit of a tip-off that the playing field had tilted. The committee has eight Republican members and just five Democrats, so the odds are stacked.

Fighting to protect the middle class from cuts in wages and benefits

The other policy committee I serve on, the Senate Commerce and Labor has a less lopsided membership, but most of the labor bills being proposed by the chair and vice-chair are bills that would reduce middle-class wages and benefits on a wide range of fronts.

Examples are bills to reduce the minimum wage for teenagers, bills to encourage more union decertification filings and bills to privatize our worker’s compensation system. Most of the bills are the brainchildren of the secretive “Freedom Foundation,” a right-wing think tank will deep-pocket donors.

Tune into my updates for further developments, but in the meantime this clip will give you a momentary glimpse into the give and take of the hearings. After several speakers cited a need to compete with Idaho for cheap wages, I felt obliged to point out the blatant illogic of this notion. You can hear my brief comments by clicking on this icon:

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We should not balance the budget on the backs of the middle class

On the big budget issues, I am paying close attention to health care programs and services and watching out for attempts to cut services on which many of our households rely. Our major budget challenge this session is to find adequate funding for K-12 education. The Supreme Court “McCleary” decision requires us to find at least another $2 billion dollars, in my opinion, but I am not willing to find that money by cutting health care programs and other essential programs for Washingtonians. Robbing Peter to pay Paul merely shifts the problem to someone else.

Early discussion on transportation, infrastructure, environment

Talk continues on a possible package of transportation projects for major problem areas across the state, but I have seen no solid movement yet. The governor is deeply involved in the talks to come up with a way to fund improvements. I am also working on a robust capital budget for this year that will address the many needs of our state, communities and schools for investments in infrastructure, buildings toxic cleanup and preservation of natural resources.

I guess we’ll ‘Fund education later…’

Lastly, I want you to know about a major Senate proposal being put together by the Republican majority for significant funding for flood control, irrigation and stormwater improvements. I call it the “Big Water” project, and we have held many meetings, work sessions and a public hearing on the proposal, which is SB 5628.

So far, the bill remains in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The reason I find it especially remarkable is that the bill actually proposes a new fee of $35 a year on most residential and business properties to pay for the “Big Water” projects — this from the caucus that has recited a slogan to “Fund education first!” So while we have a proposal to raise money for water roaring down the tracks, we have not yet seen a single proposal from our friends across the aisle on how to fund basic education adequately.

Always,

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 1/28/2015

Dear Neighbors,

The pace in Olympia is picking up as our committees begin hearings on bills that have been “dropped in the hopper” or introduced to the Legislature. Although much of our work this year will focus on budgets, standing committees are hearing dozens of bill proposals, although only a fraction will ever become law.

Consumer protection on home elevators

I am happy to report that I have already had a hearing and committee passage of my bill, SB 5156, to require notice in real estate transactions if a residential elevator, wheelchair lift or incline stair lift has been installed and permitted. State law requires permits and inspections of these installations, but unfortunately too many have not been inspected and accidents can be devastating, especially when youngsters visit grandparents with this kind of equipment that may not be correctly installed.

We have more than 4,000 incline lifts and about 2,300 residential elevators in homes across Washington, and with the growing senior population, the expectation is that more and more of these machines will be installed. I think it is important to give home buyers notice of potential elevator or lift problems before a real estate transaction is completed.

Better care for catastrophically injured workers

We also have a hearing scheduled Friday on SB 5418, my proposal to undertake a pilot project with the state Department of Labor & Industries to provide better coordinated medical care for catastrophically injured workers. Every year, about 80 to 90 Washingtonians suffer horrible on-the-job accidents that end up with multiple, complicated medical issues.

A typical example is an electrician working on a high power line who suffers severe burns. My goal is to improve health outcomes for these individuals. Too many now end up with permanent pain and disability, and often chronic untreated depression. We can help them fully recover and return to work or, failing that, live less painful and more productive lives.

A new way to fund essential infrastructure

Next Monday, I am looking forward to a hearing on my legislation to create an alternative financing pool for essential infrastructure. SB 5624 would allow water and sewer districts and other public jurisdictions to use their own bonding authority by pooling it in the state Treasurer’s Office.

The state has the ability to issue bond sales for less administrative costs and at lower interest rates than most small jurisdictions are able to access. This financing pool would supplement our current Public Works Trust program, where technical advice and oversight is available.

A brief but eye-opening glimpse of income inequality

We had an unusual event this week in the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee when Sen. Andy Hill, the committee chair, abruptly ended a presentation on state employees’ salaries. It appeared he did not appreciate the finding that 80 percent of state jobs pay below private-sector rates. The presentation by the state Office of Financial Management can be found here.

The fact is the real median salary for state employees has fallen over the last five years, and salaries now account for only 10 percent of our state budget. The highest salaries for state employees are at our four-year colleges and universities to recruit and retain faculty members. The current median salary in the private sector is $52,880, while the median salary in state government is $51,216.   We are seeing turnover rates of more than 10 percent and are running into roadblocks to recruiting for many job classifications, including the State Patrol. This is not smart management of vital state services.

On a broader scale, I am saddened to see that income growth across the country has stalled; although the Great Recession is over, the recovery has disproportionately favored the top 1 percent. Indeed, in our state, all income growth between 2009 and 2012 went to the top 1 percent, according to an analysis of state-by-state IRS data released this week by the Economic Policy Institute. The report shows that between 2009 and 2012, the average income of the bottom 99 percent of Washingtonians fell 3.5 percent while the top 1 percent grew 45 percent. That is not smart economics in a country where we have long relied on a strong middle class for strong, healthy communities and robust consumer sales.

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Here’s how the Senate floor looked after last year’s Super Bowl victory.

Senate relaxes dress code for Seahawks

Finally, this Friday, the usually formal dress code on the Senate floor will be relaxed for members to show their support for the Seahawks. I’m eagerly awaiting a wonderful Sunday Super Bowl, and I hope our community of 12th Man supporters will come back to Olympia Monday with hoarse voices and broad smiles.

Until then….

Keiser

 

Sen. Keiser’s e-newsletter update 1/22/2015

Dear Neighbors,

I am very pleased to report that on Monday the Senate paused to recognize and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as a beacon of hope for equality in our nation. The official Senate Resolution 8603 was passed unanimously, and found the following:

“NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, That the Washington State Senate in recognition of the courageous leadership and legacy of hope demonstrated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., honor his memory by urging all citizens in our state to continue the legacy of Dr. King by treating all people as equal.”

This week, we have spent several committee sessions learning about our state agencies, and how they are performing. Since I am back on the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this year, I was pleased to learn of progress in two important agencies — Employment Security and Labor and Industries. The two agencies create “safety nets” for workers who may be injured on the job or find themselves laid off. Both are insurance programs that pay benefits.

Employment Security is the agency that manages Unemployment Insurance (UI), and in 2014, 250,000 unemployed workers received UI benefits for at least a few weeks. But our unemployment rate has fallen to 6.2 percent, and 86,200 new jobs were added in 2014. In fact, our state has recovered 95,000 more jobs than were lost in the Great Recession.” Different industries have been impacted differently of course, with construction and manufacturing hit the hardest in the recession. The two industries with the largest growth since the recession have been professional and business services and retail sales.

Employment Security also provides job seekers assistance through its WorkSource centers, where about 170,000 unemployed individuals sought assistance in job referrals and job applications. Participants who used the WorkSource system were more likely to find a job and earned an average of $2,000 more per year, according to one study.

Unemployment insurance is paid for with a UI tax paid by employers, and about 75 percent of all employers will pay an equal or lower tax rate this year because unemployment rates have fallen. The average tax rate decreased 1.77 percent in 2014, and will fall 1.66 percent in 2015. Our UI system of taxes and benefits managed to stay stable and predictable throughout the Great Recession,” which is remarkable since the unemployment rate hit double digit rates during 2009 in parts of our state. This is especially important since 36 other states suffered the disaster of having their unemployment insurance programs go bankrupt. Those states had to take out federal loans and now must repay those loans with interest.

The second big state agency, Labor and Industries L&I), touches the lives of 2.5 million workers and about 170,000 employers. It manages states workplace safety standards, wage and hour standards, licensing and registration of contractors, and workers’ compensation. L&I investigates cases of wage theft and, in 2013, recovered and returned to workers $3.3 million in unpaid wages.

Workers’ Comp, also known as industrial insurance, provides benefits and medical care to workers who are injured on the job.

The department is emphasizing workplace safety and accident prevention as the best ways to make progress. On an average day in our state, more than 250 workers are injured on the job. Some injuries are relatively minor, some are catastrophic, and some result in death or permanent disability. Prevention pays off in so many critical ways.

L&I is also trying to improve the rate of returning injured workers to productive employment, preferably with a former employer. In 2011, the department’s Stay at Work program helped 10,000 workers and 2500 employers, and the return on investment was $2 for every $1 spent on the program.

This week I want to introduce you to my session intern this year. Lynne Randall is a student at the Highline Campus of Central Washington University studying psychology. She lives in district and understands the many issues faced by our neighborhoods, communities and families. She does a terrific job researching constituent questions and is a wonderful addition to our office team of Michael Lantz and Tara Jo Heinecke. I am thrilled to have her join me this session!

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Finally, I want to congratulate the Seahawks 12th Man — and note that my Session Aide Michael Lantz was among the governor and others raising the 12th Man flag on the capital campus last week. All the 12th Man support seemed to be effective!

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Always,

Keiser

 

  • Sen. Keiser’s enewsletter update 2/7/2014

Sen. Keiser’s enewsletter update 2/7/2014

Dear Neighbors,

We are fast approaching the midpoint for this year’s legislative session, and I am so pleased to report that we finally achieved an important goal — passage of the Dream Act.  The Dream Act is about making sure that all children have an equal opportunity to graduate from high school, access higher education and reach for the American Dream.   The Dream Act is for undocumented students who have grown up here, gone to school here, paid taxes here and have families who work here and contribute to our economy.

The Senate’s Republican majority caucus finally put politics aside to pass the Dream Act, and joined us in making sure the American Dream is alive for all our kids. The vote was strong, with all 23 members of the Democratic caucus and 10 Republicans, along with the two “MCC” members giving the bill 35 votes.   The bill now returns to the House for concurrence. The House passed the bill to the Senate on Jan. 13, the very first day of the session, so the importance of this milestone should be clear.

A lengthy floor debate earlier this week centered on a proposed Constitutional Amendment to lock in tax loopholes under the guise of limiting tax increases.  The legislature has a history of enacting special interest tax loopholes.  Every year we enact at least a few more tax breaks for business interests.  It has not enacted a state sales tax increase in more than 30 years.  I rose to speak about the unfairness of allowing a small minority of 17 legislators out of 147, to lock in those tax loopholes. You can see and hear my floor speech by clicking here.

I was also deeply disappointed this week to see two other important health care bills I have carried be killed by the committee chair who refused to put them up for a vote.  SB 6233  would have given small business entrepreneurs a B&O tax break if their health care insurance premiums significantly increased this year.  Under the Affordable Care Act, some “group of one” policies were cancelled and were replaced with more expensive policies.  This temporary tax break would have helped several thousand small businesses as they transition to new, hopefully lower cost, plans next year.

The other bill killed by the Health Care Committee chair was SB 6170, my proposal to address health disparities among different ethnic groups with training in cultural competency for medical providers.  Our district has a very diverse population, from Koreans who seem to disproportionately suffer from some stomach cancers to Somalis who are not always able to communicate with providers about their concerns, and many many other communities of color who feel their cultural preferences are not well understood by some in the medical community.  I hope to bring this bill forward again next year.

I am sad to report that, despite my repeated requests, the chair of the Senate Health Committee refused to hear my bill to give the state authority to implement a federal Basic Health Plan. The bill, SB 6231, did not obligate the state to set up the federal BHP; it simply gave the state the flexibility to look at ways to better serve individuals and families who are not able to qualify for Medicaid but not economically strong enough to maintain private health insurance, even with the tax subsidies of our health exchange.

One of my favorites is SB 6214, to create a state Alzheimer’s plan to promote early detection and treatment for the illness and to coordinate existing resources to improve communications and services to patients and their families.  I am very pleased to be able to tell you that this bill passed out of committee with a unanimous vote.

It is also ramp-up time for development of our budgets. As I reported earlier, I have been honored to be elected by my caucus to lead on the state’s capital budget. It is a terrific opportunity to shape the future of our state. We use capital budget funds to build our schools and colleges, public health facilities, housing, prisons, parks and recreation resources.

In past years, I have focused my attention on the operating budget, which pays for operating our schools and colleges, health services, housing services, prisons, parks and recreation resources.  Working on the capital budget side of the equation is a fascinating shift in perspective, and I am learning a lot about financing as well.

Finally, some of you may be aware that I have openly opposed a Republican bill that would eliminate the State Insurance Commissioner position, which is an elective office, and replace it with a board appointed by the Republican and Democratic caucuses.  To hear my take on this subject, you can listen to an interview that aired on KIRO radio last evening by  clicking here.

Until next week, I am hoping that your family is keeping safe and warm during the cold spell!

Keiser