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Special session:
It’s budget time in Olympia

Dear friends,

Though the 2015 Legislature adjourned Sine Die on April 23, some of us remain in Olympia in a special session to negotiate the state’s operating, capital and transportation budgets — as well as a major transportation revenue package to address our state’s growing backlog of projects to keep our highways and bridges safe, our traffic flowing, and our commute times down despite our steadily increasing population.

As the assistant ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee, I am one of eight lawmakers responsible for reaching agreement on a transportation budget and revenue package that balances the needs of communities across our state. Agreeing on our state’s priorities is only half the challenge. The other half is finding the money to fund the projects — a task complicated by the simultaneous need to secure revenue to fully fund our public schools, which require a historic investment this year.

While we reach agreement on the more finite questions before us, we probably won’t be able to cement a final budget and revenue package until our colleagues have similarly flushed out agreements on the operating and capital budgets. As we perform this delicate balancing act, we face the critical choice of whether funding will come in the form of traditional taxing mechanisms, such as raising the state sales and gas taxes — which place more and more pressure on middle-class households — or more innovative solutions such as a capital gains tax on the wealthiest 1/10th of 1 percent of Washingtonians, or a tax on the state’s 130 biggest polluters.

For my part, I believe our middle-class households already pay far more than their fair share of our state’s taxes. That’s why I will be pushing for solutions that reduce the notoriously regressive structure of our tax system and ask those with greater means to begin paying their fair share.

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Top-priority bills signed into law

Though we remain in Olympia for as long as it will take to reach agreement on the state’s operating, capital and transportation budgets, my two priority bills for this year have passed the Legislature and been signed into law by Gov. Inslee.

Senate Bill 5591 will help communities reduce non-urgent 911 calls, avoid unnecessary but costly 911 trips, and free up responders to get to real emergencies. Last year I was approached by our local paramedics and Snohomish County Fire District 1 about the success they were having with their “community paramedic” program. Instead of repeatedly responding to emergency calls from the same people, they focus on preventing the medical emergencies in the first place. In one case, a community paramedic was able to reduce the 911 calls from his 72 patients from 268 to 169, a 37-percent drop, just by making preventative visits to those who most frequently need services. Two-thirds of them wound up using emergency medical services less often and half of them made fewer emergency room visits. This leads not only to less costly emergency responses but to healthier lifestyles for some of our most vulnerable citizens. One more thing: this successful program was operating in a gray area and could not offer certain services on these non-emergency visits such as make minor medical interventions. This bill fixes that and will allow the program to serve our community to its fullest potential.

SB 5907 will reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities by convening a pedestrian safety advisory council to review statewide data for trends and ways to improve statutes, ordinances and policies to increase pedestrian safety. Thousands of Americans die needlessly, and tens of thousands more are injured, while simply walking on our streets every year; this council should help us reverse that horrible trend.

 

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with another periodic update, including what I hope will be good news on the transportation front.

Liias(Marko)-sig SMALLEST

 

Evaluating the Senate Budget: Needs Improvement

Dear friends,

With two weeks left in the 2015 legislative session, the end game is starting to take shape as Senate and House budget leaders begin to negotiate the differences between two very different budget proposals. From where I sit, some differences are minor and some are quite stark.

My biggest concern is that the Senate budget ignores a vote of the people to reduce class sizes. Our state is 47th in the nation when it comes to class size, and that’s a statistic we need to reverse; our kids deserve the individualized time and attention that a smaller class provides. To find out more, you can check out a short video I made earlier this session.

Beyond the impacts on our kids’ education, ignoring the full cost of reducing class size requires the passing of a referendum that asks voters to reverse their vote to reduce class size. There is no reason to expect voters to change their mind, especially since our classes are so large. If this risky and ill-advised strategy to cancel the initiative fails, the Legislature would be forced back into special session immediately to rebalance the budget. That’s why I would prefer we listen to the people and fund smaller classes for our kids.

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Speaking of Evaluations …

One-size-fits-all statewide tests are no way to evaluate the effectiveness of our teachers

This week’s Washington White Board focuses on why it doesn’t makes sense to use statewide student test results to evaluate our teachers, and why Washington’s existing evaluation process makes far more sense. Take a look by clicking here or on the icon below:

 

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Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with another periodic update.

Liias(Marko)-sig SMALLEST

Progress on a transportation package

Dear friends,

Now that we’ve passed the cut-off date for non-fiscal bills in this legislative session, I thought it would be a good time to talk about progress on two important fronts for our district and our state. Both involve transportation, but the impact of the second applies far beyond transportation.

After two years of gridlock in the Republican-controlled Senate, we finally passed a transportation package to address critical transportation needs in communities across our state. This is a big step forward, but it’s also just the first step. Moving a transportation package out of the Senate opens the door to serious negotiations with the House, which passed a proposal two years ago that was unfortunately ignored by the Senate’s Republican majority.

At the same time, you should know that the Senate proposal is far from perfect. I can speak to that firsthand, because as the assistant ranking member of the Senate Transportation Committee, I helped negotiate it. I also fought against several components that nevertheless wound up in the proposal, such as the shell game of shifting sales tax from the general fund, where it creates a massive budget hole at a time when we’re trying to find additional money to adequately fund K-12 education. Another problem is the Republicans’ insistence on a partisan poison pill that shifts funding from transit if the governor should choose to require low carbon fuel standards to protect the air we breathe and other vital aspects of the environment. A third major problem is that the package relies heavily on gas tax instead of a polluters tax; in a state with the most regressive tax system in the country, I don’t think we should put the onus for future taxes on middle class households instead of 130 big polluters who are fouling our air and water and contaminating our land.

I voted for the package not because I support everything in it — clearly, I do not — but because it is critical we move it forward where House Democrats can further negotiate its makeup and, it is my intention, fix the parts that don’t work. Our state needs a transportation package that truly serves our needs, not an ideological mechanism for partisan Republican goals.

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Conferring with my good colleague, Sen. Curtis King, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The other important action linked to the transportation package was a key ruling by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the Senate. On the first day of the 2015 legislative session, Republicans passed a controversial procedural tax rule on new types of taxes with 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. Lt. Gov. Owen rightly ruled that requiring a two-thirds vote to move a bill involving a new tax to the floor gives a minority of senators the ability to overrule the will of the majority, a clear violation of our state constitution.

This is important for many reasons, but two stand out in my mind. First, majority rule is the most basic of democratic principles; requiring a two-thirds or supermajority gives control to the minority, which is tyranny, not democracy. Second, our existing tax system is notoriously the most regressive in the country. A two-thirds requirement on bills involving new types of taxes, such as a polluters tax or a millionaires tax, would have ensured that any future tax increases would fall increasingly on middle-class households instead of on those who are not paying their fair share.

When the going gets tough(er), the solution is Sound Transit

This week’s Washington White Board is the first of two segments that will examine our increasing traffic congestion and the ways Sound Transit 3 can alleviate the gridlock slowing our commutes. In today’s segment, we compare the projections for increased population and motorists on our steadily more crowded roads and how congestion can be reduced by extending light rail from Seattle to Everett. Take a look:

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Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with another periodic update.

Liias(Marko)-sig SMALLEST

 

Your mid-point session update 3/12/2015

Dear Friends,

Now that we’ve passed the cut-off deadline for non-fiscal bills to make it out of their chamber of origin, it’s a good time to update where things stand halfway through the 2015 legislative session. Non-fiscal bills that failed to pass are now dead, while bills that passed the Senate now go to the House for consideration and bills that passed the House come to the Senate for consideration. When all was said and done, I wound up with seven bills still winding their way through this rigorous process. Here are details on three of the more interesting bills.

I sponsored Senate Bill 5591 to help communities reduce non-urgent 911 calls, avoid unnecessary but costly 911 trips and free up responders to get to real emergencies. The legislation will enable fire departments or providers of emergency medical services to develop education and referral programs that steer non-urgent callers to more appropriate health care providers, low-cost medication programs and social services.

I sponsored SB 5957 to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities by convening a pedestrian safety advisory council to review statewide data for trends and ways to improve statutes, ordinances and policies to improve pedestrian safety.

I sponsored SB 5870 to protect children by prohibiting inappropriate and harmful aversion therapies by health care providers. While I’m not entirely happy with this bill in its current form, I am happy to see it moving forward and hopeful it can be improved in the House.

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Responding to a question during our telephone town hall last night.

I hope you can attend our town hall meeting this Saturday in Lynnwood

Last night I co-hosted a telephone town hall meeting with my 21st District seatmates, Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, and Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds. I always enjoy hearing what’s on everyone’s minds — the more I know, the better I can represent your interests in Olympia — and last night was no exception.

I anticipate a similar robust exchange and hope I’ll see you in person when the three of us host a face-to-face town hall meeting from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday at Great Hall 6002 at the Meadowdale High School at 168th St. in Lynnwood. Nothing beats a lively, back-and-forth discussion in real time.

When starting teachers qualify for public assistance, it’s time to raise their pay

My third and final White Board segment on teacher pay focuses on the extent to which our students’ teachers struggle to make ends meet on today’s starting pay. I think you’ll agree that that’s no way to recruit or retain the teachers we need for the kind of quality education our kids deserve. Take a look:

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Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with another periodic update.

Liias(Marko)-sig SMALLEST

 

Your path to smoother travel, transit 2/16/2015

Dear friends,

Here’s a quick update on what’s been happening as we hit week six in the 2015 legislative session in Olympia.

When the Senate proposed a transportation package to address nagging problems across our state last week, it marked one more step up a steep hill I have been walking for more than two years.

In 2013, when I was a member of the House, my vote helped pass a transportation package out of that body. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to pass a package of its own or even let the House package come to the Senate floor for a vote.

Last year, as a member of the Senate, I worked long hours with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to negotiate a Senate transportation package, again to no avail in the Republican-controlled Senate.

So the mere fact that we now finally have a proposal in the Senate is a critical step forward. The proposal not perfect, with critics on both sides, and it’s certain to evolve as it moves through the Legislature — but it’s a long-overdue start.

Among the hundreds of projects in the package, here’s what it would do for those of us in the 21st District:

  1. Improvements to the train crossing on the Edmonds waterfront would solve serious vehicular, pedestrian and public safety issues and conflicts caused by at-grade railroad crossings at Main and Dayton streets. As we all know, the current rail configuration blocks access to thousands of commuters, residents, employees and visitors and prevents timely delivery of emergency services.
  2. Building a new multimodal terminal in Mukilteo would launch a revitalization of the waterfront, setting us on a course to boost economic growth and prosperity for decades to come.
  3. Improvements on SR 99 in Edmonds would improve access to bus and transit stops, bike and pedestrian trail access, reduce congestion by adding capacity, and upgrade sidewalks and street lighting.

How do we attract the teachers our students need?

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In the first of my White Board videos this session, I look at the ways our top college students choose which career paths to pursue and the extent to which we attract top students to undertake teaching careers versus the methods of the top-performing nations. I think you’ll see we can do a lot better than we’re doing. For a speedy look at the contrast between our approaches, click here.

Helping homeless students succeed in the classroom

Every year, the Superintendent of Public Instruction conducts a survey to identify and count the homeless students in our education system. The January 2015 study found 32,494 homeless students in Washington — a distressingly high number, and nearly double the number in 2008.

As we work to improve our education system and close the opportunity gap that too many children face, ending homelessness among students must be a top priority. These children face a far more difficult path to success in school and life, and are often cold, hungry, less healthy, and without stability in housing or at school. How can students be expected to succeed at homework when they don’t have homes?

I support several pieces of legislation introduced this year to provide targeted help for homeless students. Programs that have been proven to help homeless students have shown that housing stability is key, so it’s critical we help provide better and more stable housing for these students and their families. We know we need teachers and school staff to be better trained to work with homeless students and their unique needs. We know we need to make sure that these students are getting the health care and nutrition they need so they can focus on their studies as best as they can.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with another periodic update.

Liias(Marko)-sig SMALLEST

 

Your 411 on the new 911 2/2/2015

Dear friends,

Here’s a quick update on what’s been happening in Olympia. First off are two bills I’m sponsoring that I think make lots of sense for our community and our state.

Alternative responses to non-urgent 911 calls

Calling 911 should be a last resort, not a first resort, but many people call 911 when they don’t actually have an emergency. That’s not only wasteful, it’s costly — and could be better addressed with an education and referral program that steers non-urgent callers to more appropriate health care providers, low-cost medication programs and social services.

My Senate Bill 5591 would enable fire departments or providers of emergency medical services to develop just such a program, saving money and freeing up our emergency responders to attend to the people who really need it.

Creating an incentive for green buildings and renovations

Another bill of mine, SB 5753, would allow Snohomish County to exempt owners of certified green homes from additional property taxes for up to seven years on the county’s share of property taxes.

In addition, local cities could choose to participate in the county’s program and offer the same discount for their residents. The way it works is that the owners would pay the full taxes for the pre-green value of the home and get the tax break on the added value of the home due to the green building additions.

Snohomish County Councilmember Brian Sullivan and I developed this bill together because we know that certified green buildings typically consume less energy, are made with sustainable products and leave a smaller carbon footprint. That’s a gain for the rest of the community, and in return the homeowner gets a temporary tax break on the cost of upgrading the home.

Other legislation worth watching

In addition to my prime-sponsored bills, here are a couple of other pieces of legislation I am co-sponsoring:

SB 5087 — Improving the safe transportation of oil through our communities. As recently as three years ago, there wasn’t much crude oil being moved by rail through our state. But by 2014, trains were carrying about 7.8 million gallons of crude oil through Washington every day. The risks to our communities and waterways from this volatile Bakken oil are very real, as demonstrated by the deadly spills and explosions in other states and in Canada in recent months. Senate Bill 5087 would enable emergency responders and citizens to know where and what types of oil is moving through local communities at any given time. 

SB 5283 — Making polluters pay for damaging our communities. More than 70 governments across the globe, as well as dozens of jurisdictions and thousands of corporations, have put a price tag on carbon to discourage its release into the environment. In Washington, however, polluters currently pay nothing. The carbon fees imposed by SB 5283 would not only put Washington on track to meet its 2020 goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the state but also create revenue for basic education and transportation projects throughout the state.

Washington White Board: Classroom Overcrowding

With the onset of the legislative session, I am resuming my periodic Washington White Boards, short videos where I tick off the basics of critical issues facing our communities and state.

The first White Board, which you can watch by clicking here, explains the benefits of reducing overcrowding in our classrooms as required by voter Initiative 1351.

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Of Super Bowls, Seahawks and license plates

Though our Seahawks fell heartbreakingly short of repeating as Super Bowl champs on Sunday, they remain champions in my heart.

On Friday, the standard decorum of the Senate floor was relaxed to allow legislators and staff to show their support for the Seahawks’ Super Bowl bid, as you can see in the photo above. But it wasn’t the first time the Legislature has stepped up for our team. In 2013, we passed legislation to create Seahawks license plates to allow fans to display their loyalty on the vehicles we drive every day.

Proceeds from the specialty plates, which display the iconic 12th Man flag, fund programs that help children and veterans. You’ve probably seen some in traffic, and I predict you’ll see lots more in the months and years to come. Here’s an example:

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Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with another periodic update, but until then … go Hawks!

Liias(Marko)-sig SMALLEST