(360) 786-7640|Marko.Liias@leg.wa.gov

News Release

Liias sponsors slate of bills expanding access to college

January 31st, 2020|

OLYMPIA – Continuing his efforts to make the college dream a reality for more students across the state, State Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood) is sponsoring several bills during the 2020 legislative session designed to remove barriers and expand access to college.

“Obtaining a post-secondary education has become increasingly important for getting a high-paying, in-demand job in this 21st century global economy,” Liias said. “We need to look at more ways to help Washington students get into and pay for college.”

Washington “Next Step” Pilot Program

Senate Bill 6542 would open more doors for Washington students looking to continue their education after high school by moving Washington toward adoption of a “Next Step” program modeled after a similar program in Idaho.

“For too many people, a college education can seem like a dream that’s out of reach,” said Liias. “The reality is anyone who wants to go to college should have that opportunity. For some people, getting that acceptance letter from a local college could be the nudge they need to take that next step.” 

Idaho has seen growth in student enrollment under its Next Step Program, which automatically admits high school seniors to public colleges and universities. Students receive a letter listing the institutions that have accepted them and giving them information about state and federal financial aid options.

SB 6542 creates a pilot program for two school districts – one from each side of the Cascades – to help students navigate existing automatic admissions programs at institutions in Washington and study the impact on enrollment. It also brings together an advisory committee to develop a statewide automatic admissions policy.

Statewide Child Savings Accounts

College savings plans like Washington’s GET and DreamAhead programs help families save for future college expenses for their kids. However, for many families, the financial commitments for these existing programs can seem out of reach.

Several states have enacted programs that automatically enroll children born in the state into a savings account program to help families save for college. Research shows that low-income and moderate-income students who have children’s educational savings accounts are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate college.

SB 6577 calls for a study of ways to create a child college savings program in Washington. The study would examine issues like automatic enrollment, initial seed deposits, progressive incentive structures, resources for foster youth, and collaboration with philanthropic and private-sector organizations.

“The growing body of research on child savings accounts tells a powerful story of the positive impacts we can have on educational and health outcomes through a small investment,” said Jennifer Tran of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center. “SB 6577 moves us forward in creating a strong and equitable statewide program that will impact kids’ lifelong trajectory and generate lasting benefits for kids and families.”

 Undocumented Student Support Loan Program

In 2014, the Legislature enacted the Washington State Dream Act, opening the doors to a college education for thousands of undocumented Washington state students by making them eligible for state financial aid. Undocumented students are typically not eligible for federal student financial aid.

SB 6561 would complement the 2014 act by creating a state-funded and state-administered student loan program to help undocumented students who are ineligible for federal financial aid programs cover the full cost of a degree.

“We know that our undocumented students want to pursue the same opportunities and want to help the state meet the degree attainment goals we’ve set for ourselves,” said Liias in his public testimony in support of SB 6561. “But there are critical barriers to them in the way. We’ve done work as a state to clear our state-based barriers, but one big barrier that still exists is a lack of access to student loans.” [Click here for MP3 audio link]

SBs 6542, 6577 and 6561 had a public hearing in the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee on Thursday.

SB 6142 – A Common Application for All Public Colleges and Universities

In an effort to reduce of the complexities facing teens, young adults, and other potential applicants trying to get into college, SB 6142 would direct the Washington State Student Achievement Council to create a common application for admission to Washington’s public colleges and universities.

SB 6142 had a public hearing in the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee on Jan. 16.

A “companion” bill sponsored by Rep. Mari Leavitt (D-University Place), HB 2514, is expected to receive a vote next week in the House Committee on College & Workforce Development.

All bills have until Feb. 7 to be approved by their respective committees to be eligible for further consideration this session.

The 2020 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn for the year on March 12.

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Liias bill encourages healthier beverage options for kids

January 22nd, 2020|

OLYMPIA – The Senate Health and Long Term Care committee held a public hearing today on a bill from State Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, that would require restaurants to offer healthier drink options for any children’s meal on the menu that includes a beverage.

SB 6455 would require the default beverage that comes with a children’s meal offered in a restaurant to be either:

  • Water, sparkling water, or flavored water with no added natural or artificial sweeteners;
  • Unflavored milk; or
  • Any other non-dairy alternative that contains fewer than 130 calories per container or serving.

“Kids learn a lot at a young age,” said Liias. “If we can teach them healthier habits when they’re young, they’re much more likely to make healthier choices when they become adults.” [Click here for MP3 audio file]

Liias introduced the bill as an effort to reduce child obesity rates and address a steadily worsening public health issue.

According to the CDC, adult obesity medical costs were estimated at $147 billion in 2008. Medical costs for people who have obesity are $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

Liias stressed that his legislation does not prohibit restaurants from providing less healthy beverages with children’s meals upon request.

“I wanted to make that very clear in the bill. This isn’t an attempt to force restaurants to sell one product over another. There are no heavy mandates here,” said Liias. “But with obesity rates trending in the wrong direction, all ideas need to be on the table to address this serious public health issue.” [Click here for MP3 audio file]

SB 6455 was referred to the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee where it will receive a public hearing at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 24. An identical (companion) bill — HB 2383, sponsored by Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver) — was introduced in the House of Representatives.

The bills have until Feb. 7 to be approved by their respective committees to be eligible for further consideration this session.

The 2020 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn for the year on March 12.

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Obesity facts for the U.S.

 

* Updated 1/24/20 to reflect Sen. Liias was unable to testify at the public hearing due to a scheduling conflict.

VOTE Act aims to boost turnout among young voters

January 15th, 2020|

OLYMPIA – At a time when several states are making concerted efforts to restrict the voting rights of residents, lawmakers in Washington state are once again focused on expanding access to democracy to as many eligible voters as possible.

This week state Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, introduced Senate Bill 6313 – the Voting Opportunities Through Education (VOTE) Act, a measure aimed at increasing voter participation among young adults.

“Every voice needs to be heard to maintain a strong democracy,” said Liias. “Getting more young people engaged in our democracy is critical to reaching this goal. While other states are installing unfair and unnecessary barriers to voting, here in Washington we are working hard to remove barriers and empower voter participation for everyone.” [Link to MP3 audio file]

During the 2018 legislative session, Washington lawmakers enacted automatic voter registration for those 18 years and older as well as a law allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. However, the youth pre-registration is an opt-in process.

The VOTE Act will change that to an opt-out process, making registration automatic unless they choose to not register. It will also allow young voters to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 and are otherwise eligible to vote before the next general election, which had previously been permitted for the presidential caucuses before the adoption of the presidential primary law in 2019.

The legislation attempts to address voting barriers facing younger adults such as frequently changing their address, becoming eligible right after an election, and limits on voter registration access on college campuses.

The VOTE Act creates “Voter Empowerment Centers” at the state’s public four-year colleges and universities. These voter empowerment centers will make it easier for college students to cast their ballots if they have last-minute challenges that would otherwise be a barrier to voting. For example, the empowerment center can help an individual take advantage of the state’s new same-day voter registration law in the final days before the election as well as ballot printing.

“A strong democracy is one that gets as many eligible voters to participate as possible — and that includes young people,” said Danny Villars, field director at the Washington Bus and member of the Washington Voting Justice Coalition. “For students balancing a big life transition, course loads, jobs and other commitments, finding a drop box or voting center near them can get complicated. On-campus Engagement Centers will help students get voting on their schedules and make their voices heard.”

After regaining the Senate majority in 2018, Democrats in the Washington State Legislature enacted several polices expanding access to voting including same-day voter registration, automatic voter registration, the Washington Voting Rights Act, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

In 2019, the Democratic-led majorities enacted the Native American Voting Rights Act and increased transparency with political ad campaign contributions.

SB 6313 was referred to the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee for consideration.

The 2020 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn for the year on March 12.

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    Senate approves legislation providing relief for student debtors

Senate approves legislation providing relief for student debtors

March 6th, 2019|

In an effort to address the growing student loan debt crisis, the Senate today passed legislation to establish new student debt refinancing options coordinated by the state and to offer alternatives to conventional student loans.

Sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood), the Student Loan Relief and Reform Act would permit the Washington Student Achievement Council to contract with up to five private financial institutions to negotiate more favorable interest rates on student loan debt.

“With over 800,000 students owing more than $24 billion dollars on student loans, we must take seriously the potential ramifications on our economy and the livelihoods of hardworking Washingtonians,” said Liias. “This legislation takes a multifaceted approach in addressing existing debt and the need for innovative financing options that might help avoid excessive debt to begin with.”

Refinancing would only be available if the new agreement offers better terms than the original student loan contract.

The act would also create a pilot program for Income Sharing Agreements, which would designate a percentage of post-graduation income as a form of repayment rather than a conventional student loan structure.

“The burden of student debt post-graduation can be daunting, especially in your first years on the job market with the looming threat of late payments and defaults,” said Liias. “These agreements are an innovative way to merge the interests of students and colleges by incentivizing high-paying employment for all parties.”

Senate Bill 5774 passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 40-8 and now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.