Progress blocked by a divided Legislature

April 2nd, 2014|

Published in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, April 2, 2014

by Senator Sharon Nelson

It is now a couple of weeks since the end of the 2014 legislative session, and I look back on the flurried and brief 60 days with mixed feelings. There are many bills, small and great, that I am proud passed. Possibly none more important than the Dream Act, which ensures all hard-working Washington students can apply for the State Need Grant, regardless of where they were born.

Children of immigrants, who often have little or no memory of any home other than Washington, will no longer be disqualified from essential financial aid simply because of their parents’ immigration status. In the Senate, all of the 23 Democrats were joined by 12 Republican colleagues to pass this landmark legislation. And as the governor signed the Dream Act into law, we were joined by hundreds of kids who had lobbied tirelessly for this legislation and worked so hard for its passage.

On too many other fronts, however, 2014 was a session of missed opportunities. Two years into a Republican-controlled Senate, essential legislation, from women’s reproductive health to the Voting Rights Act, continued to be blocked.

The first example of this is the Senate Republicans’ failure to bring forward a compromise transportation package. The funding from this badly needed package is what keeps our roads, bridges and ferries safe so we can go to work, our kids can go to school and our economy can keep rolling. The governor, House members and Senate Democrats attempted time and again to broker an agreement. Yet instead of reaching a compromise, the Senate majority brought forward a package with only two Republican signatures — not nearly enough to bring it to the floor for a vote. Had a funding package passed, Washington would have gained 10,000 jobs this year. But those jobs are now lost, along with funding for necessary projects.

Another major missed opportunity for jobs across Washington was having no capital budget. Funding for projects, ranging from increasing access to the arts to fixing dams, relies on a capital budget. The House of Representatives passed one with broad bipartisan support, but on the final day of session, the Senate Republican majority voted against it and the investments it makes to family-wage jobs for Washingtonians. It is an unfortunate reality that such a key piece of legislation can fail despite 115 legislators voting in favor and only 30 voting opposed — four in the House and all 26 members of the Republican majority in the Senate.

Progress toward improving education, both basic K-12 and higher education, was another struggle. There were a few key steps made, including some extra funding for basic necessities in classrooms, as well as the passage of a critical bill to make high school seniors more college and career ready (SB 6552). Higher education tuition was again frozen, and the Dream Act, of course, was a big win for our students. But the Legislature, with the Republican control in the Senate, did not develop a meaningful deal on funding basic education, per the Supreme Court’s April 30 deadline to do so. We also did not do enough to close the opportunity gap so that work — and not wealth — is the deciding factor in whether or not our kids go to college.

And finally, something that seems to be a perennial disappointment is the languishing of the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act. Many of you know about this effort I’ve been engaged in for years with parents, nurses, firefighters and scientists. Unfortunately, we are up against generations of thought that give the benefit of the doubt to industries that pretend to have consumers’ best interests at heart. It is an ongoing effort to get the word out that chemical companies are adding toxic and cancer-causing chemicals to our furniture, under the guise of fire protection. Babies and firefighters are at greatest risk for exposure. Though awareness is increasing, every year without a bill to address this is another year that sees first responders die of cancer and children exposed to developmentally damaging toxic chemicals.

This synopsis of 2014 may sound a bit glum, but being home reminds me of the battles we’ve fought right here and won. And that, at least, gives me confidence for a better future for all of us — a feeling I’m happy to say is not mixed at all.