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Scholarships now available for Senate Page Program

October 24th, 2017|

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed SB 5346, creating the Gina Grant Bull Memorial Legislative Page Scholarship program. The scholarship’s goal is to ensure lower income families have the opportunity to participate in the Senate Page Program by helping to offset the expenses of traveling to, and staying in, Olympia the week their child pages. Scholarships are available for the 2018 session.

Who are pages, and what do they do?

Senate pages assist in floor activity, make deliveries around the Capitol campus and go to the Senate Page School where they write bills and participate in mock committee. Pages must be residents of Washington who are at least 14 years of age and have not reached their 17th birthday. Application information can be found here.

Scholarship qualifications:
The scholarship is based on the 2017 federal guidelines for free and reduced lunches. For verification purposes, applicants must supply a copy of the letter of approval issued by the school district when submitting their application. Students in foster care are automatically eligible.

How much is the scholarship amount?
Students selected for a scholarship receive $150 to assist with housing, food, clothing or coverage of daily commuting costs. Additional scholarship funds are available to help defray travel costs; this can range up to $125 depending on where the student lives. Scholarship pages, like all pages, will earn the traditional $35/day stipend.

More details about the scholarship program can be found here. The page scholarship application form can be found here.

Legislative Update: Budget passes, but it’s not over yet

July 10th, 2017|

Nelson banner 2017

Note from Sharon banner

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Budgets show our true values, and the priorities advocated for by the two parties in the budget this year are clear: Democrats committed to fully funding schools and protecting the safety net, Republicans committed to a statewide property tax. In a way both parties got what they were after when the budget passed late last week – a Democratic budget with Republican funding.

In this newsletter I will share with you some details of both the $43.7 billion state operating budget – which I voted for – and the education funding bill, which I unfortunately could not vote for.

Despite the challenges of the session there is undoubtedly a great amount of good that will come from the work done these past months. I am extremely disappointed by the way our schools are funded, but I am encouraged to know that amply funding public education is the best investment we can make in our state’s future. We live to fight another day, and I will not give up working to make our state more affordable and fair for all Washingtonians.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update and stay in touch.

Take care,


Captiol in the evening

A Democratic budget with Republican taxes

Budget highlights include:

  • Additional funding for a number of essential programs that help struggling families, including Working Connections Childcare (which helps low-income parents have affordable care for their children) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
  • Additional funding for mental health and homelessness services.
  • More funding for early childhood education
  • A new department that will better serve foster kids and other vulnerable children and families in our state.

Democratic negotiators were also able to beat back many damaging proposals put forward by Republicans, including devastating cuts to essential services, programs that help homeless youth, veterans and the elderly, and a significant cut to family planning.

I voted for the budget because it reflects the values we hold here in the 34th Legislative District – those of good government and protecting the vulnerable.

School kids

Yes for education, no for regressive funding

I am in strong support of the vast majority of the policy included in the education funding bill, as well as the $7.3 billion of new revenue that will go into Washington schools over the next four years. Unfortunately, I had to vote against it because of the reliance on revenue from a Republican property tax that hits communities like ours especially hard.

Numerous progressive revenue options proposed by Democrats, including a capital gains tax on the sale of high-value stocks and bonds and a progressive real estate excise tax, were flatly refused by Republicans. We managed to close several tax loopholes, including on bottled water, big oil and the out-of-state internet sales tax. But in a state that has the most unfair tax system in the nation these steps forward were simply not enough.

Despite my no vote, the education bill did pass.

Budget graphic

Here are some key things to know:

  • Our district will not receive less funding. Vashon Island School District will get an estimated 33% increase in state funding over the 2016-17 school year by full phase-in of the bill in 2021.
  • High cost-of-living districts, like Vashon, will receive “regionalized” pay. That means base salaries for school staff are allocated at a higher rate.
  • Local levies are still allowed for enhancements to basic education, and changes to levies do not take effect until 2019.
  • More money will go into our schools, but we will see an increase in property taxes. I encourage you to go to the Department of Revenue website as there are a number of property tax reductions and exemptions you may qualify for (here).
Mom and kid

Paid Family and Medical Leave passes!

At the end of session the Legislature passed the nation’s strongest Paid Family and Medical Leave law. Washington is now the 5th state in the nation to pass such a program, but this bill – supported by business, labor and family advocates – will likely serve as a model for other states looking to pass similar legislation. Senate Bill 5975 is a huge win for new parents and those caring for elderly family members.

PFML wins graphic

PFML benefits graphic


High-stakes testing

The Legislature also passed a bill to address high-stakes testing for high school seniors that ensures thousands of hard-working students graduate.

House Bill 2224 delays the use of the state science test as a graduation requirement until the graduating class of 2021 (retroactively applies to class of 2017), and provides an appeal process for graduates of 2014-2018 who failed to pass math or English assessments.

Stop sign Capitol

What is the hold up?

Like many of you, I am frustrated at how long the session is taking and how little public scrutiny was allowed before the final vote on the budget.

Because Senate Republicans refused to come to the negotiating table for two months, they brought our state to the brink of the fiscal cliff and shut the public out in the process. Sadly, this is not the first time – every budget cycle since Republicans took over the Senate has gone down to the wire.

The Legislature remains in session because they continue to obstruct passage of the critical capital budget – which passed the House 92-1 – over their unwillingness to compromise on a water rights issue. This is no way to govern, and a real disservice to the people of this state.

Call lawmakers at


to share your views on the capital budget.

July 10, 2017

Hand with mouse click here

Budget Information

Nonpartisan budget summary here.

State agency detail here.

Property tax impact information here.

Summary of K-12 funding here.

Nelson on floor of the senate applause

Contact Me

Phone: (360) 786-7667



Legislative Update: Ferries, budgets and more

May 31st, 2017|

Nelson banner 2017
MV Chimacum

Traveling the Triangle Route

As many of you know, the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route was reduced to a two-boat schedule over the weekend and the Seattle/Bremerton route was running at reduced capacity, with the smaller Sealth.

Anticipating a busy holiday weekend, Washington State Ferries (WSF) asked the crew of the newest ferry, Chimacum, if they were prepared to safely operate the vessel for a limited time. After an extraordinary amount of work by the vessel’s crew and support staff, WSF decided to have the Chimacum temporarily start service last Wednesday. I stayed in close contact with WSF officials as they worked out how to best deliver customers to their destinations.

I am so appreciative of the efforts of everyone involved at WSF, and for the patience of islanders and ferry-riders.

Education Funding Update

Education funding map

Democrats and Republicans have endorsed competing plans to fund education and satisfy the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Both sides agree additional revenue sources are needed to meet the state’s obligations to our students and teachers.

But the two plans vary greatly in the total amount of new investments going to schools and impacts on taxpayers.

Statewide, the Democratic plan would invest $8.5 billion additional state and local dollars into K-12 schools over the next four years. By comparison, the Republican plan would invest only $4.5 billion over the same time according to House nonpartisan committee staff analysis.

On the tax side of the debate, Senate Republicans are erroneously claiming 83 percent of taxpayers will see a property tax cut under their plan. This claim has been debunked by nonpartisan analysis.

Click on the Google Map above to see the school investment and taxpayer impact differences for school districts throughout the state.

For more information on the differences in revenue and policy of the two plans, please click here.

Senate Pages from the

34th Legislative District

Van Dusen photo

I have had the pleasure of hosting a number of pages throughout session, including Zachary Van Dusen, an 8th grader at McMurray Middle School (pictured left) and Cameron Bedard, a freshman at Vashon High School (pictured below). The Senate Page Program is a wonderful opportunity for students between the ages of 14 and 17 to come to Olympia and participate in the legislative process. Pages assist senators and staff, attend lectures with guest speakers, and go to page school where they create their own bills in a mock committee setting.

For more information, please click here.

Bedard page

College Junior or Senior in 2018?

Intern announcement

Applications are now being accepted for internships with the Washington State Senate for the 2018 legislative session. Partisan and nonpartisan positions are available in areas of policy and communications. Get credit, get paid and get firsthand experience working in your state government. For more information or to apply, please click here.

Priority Deadline: 11:59 p.m. Oct. 10, 2017

Final Deadline: 8:00 p.m. Oct. 18, 2017

May 31, 2017

WSF logo

VesselWatch: Know Before You Go

Washington State Ferries has critical information on its website for all ferry-goers. Click here for cameras, drive-on space availability, and estimated wait-times. You can view travel alerts here.

Capitol at sunset

Contact Me

Phone: (360) 786-7667


Website: www

Calling all students ages 14-18!

May 23rd, 2017|

Do you know a student who has a passion for politics or an interest in the legislative process? Then I hope you will encourage them to apply to be on the Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC)! Applications are now open for all youth (ages 14-18) interested in serving on the 2017-18 council.

LYAC is composed of 22 dedicated young people from across the state. Their mission is to ensure the interests and opinions of Washington teens are heard and considered by state lawmakers.

When the Legislature is not in session, LYAC works as a liaison with youth organizations in Washington communities to educate the public on civic engagement opportunities for young people throughout the state. They are looking for a diverse group of voices to speak on behalf of Washington’s youth.

Applications are due no later than June 1st, 2017 at 11 PM, and can be found by clicking here.

Nelson: Senate Democrats resolute against fear and division

November 17th, 2016|

State Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, released the following statement in response to recent actions by members of the Senate Republican Caucus following the presidential election:

“In the last week, we have seen behavior from Senate Republicans that a vast majority of Washington residents would find disturbing. Since the presidential election, members of the Senate Republican Caucus have used words and actions to create division and instill fear among members of our communities.

“We have already seen an unconstitutional proposal that would undermine our right to free speech and heard divisive and false language about immigrants in a Senate committee. At the same time, we are seeing a dramatic and alarming rise in hate crimes and increased fear in our communities of color.

“Senate Republicans may be successful in generating headlines, but they will not be successful in their attempt to bring ugly, Trump-style campaign rhetoric inside the Capitol in Olympia.

“It’s imperative that Senate Republican leaders immediately and forcefully rebuke these actions and statements.

“Washington is known for embracing diversity and rejecting the politics of bigotry and resentment. Senate Democrats will stand by our shared values of fairness and opportunity and lead the fight to resist division and fear.”

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    Nelson: Passing of Sen. Hill a tremendously sad day for our state

Nelson: Passing of Sen. Hill a tremendously sad day for our state

November 1st, 2016|

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson issued the statement below following the news of the passing of Sen. Andy Hill:

“Today’s news leaves us all with heavy hearts. We are devastated to learn of Senator Hill’s passing. He was a tireless advocate for his community and despite our political differences, I always respected his willingness to work across party lines.

“Throughout his career he stayed focused on serving his district and state and did so with pride and distinction.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. This is a tremendously sad day for our state.”


Sen. Nelson’s Oct. 14 E-Newsletter

October 22nd, 2013|


The fight against toxic flame retardants in your couch

June 21st, 2013|

This article appeared in the July 2013 print edition of Seattle Magazine:

The Fight Against Toxic Flame Retardants in Your Couch

A pioneering Seattle coalition wages a battle against toxic flame retardants, one couch at a time

By: Susan McGrath | July 2013

Washington state Senator Sharon Nelson loved the comfy brown loveseat she bought for her office in Olympia. The couch gave her Statehouse digs a cozy feel. And curling up on it with her laptop for a precious half-hour now and then provided respite from the long hours at her desk and in her chair on the Senate floor.

Or it did until Laurie Valeriano came to town.

Valeriano is the executive director of the Seattle-based Washington Toxics Coalition. This spring, she traveled to Olympia toting a portable laboratory in a black, hard-shell case. Her instruments consisted mainly of a ray-gun-like device called an XRF and a sturdy pair of kitchen shears. Valeriano snipped a cupcake-size chunk of yellow foam from inside one of Nelson’s sofa cushions, stood the chunk of foam on a table, steadied the business end of the XRF up to it and pulled the trigger. Nelson held her breath.

Valeriano’s quarry was flame retardants. A dozen years ago, researchers began to link flame retardant chemicals, called PBDEs, to immune disorders, neurological deficits and impaired fertility. On this day, Valeriano was manning the portable test lab for the coalition’s science director, Erika Schreder, who became involved in the research 10 years ago and has worked doggedly against considerable industry opposition to get the poisons banned. “That’s when my hair turned white,” says Schreder, indicating, with a laugh, her shoulder-length, white mane.

Six years ago, Washington became the first state in the nation to prohibit the use of PBDEs. Other states followed Washington’s lead, and the industry eventually agreed to phase them out. PBDEs will linger among us for decades, nevertheless, Schreder says, leaching from our old sofas, infant seats and easy chairs, drifting inexorably into our house dust, our bodies, our babies, our wastewater, our wildlife and our food supply.

But Washington’s pioneering legislation had an Achilles heel: Although it banned PBDEs, it stopped short of stipulating that PBDE replacements be safer than their predecessors. And so, perhaps inevitably, the newer flame-retardant chemicals are not.

Two of the replacement chemicals are TCEP and TDCPP—collectively known as Tris. TCEP is linked to kidney and liver cancer, infertility and neurotoxicity of the brain. TDCPP causes testicular cancer and is toxic to developing brain cells, which can lead to learning disabilities. Under the monstrous eunuch of a regulation that is the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, it’s perfectly legal for manufacturers to produce known carcinogens like these and to incorporate them into consumer products as intimate as nursing pillows and crib mattresses.

And that’s why the coalition was back in Olympia this year with the XRF and scissors mutilating Nelson’s post-PBDE-era couch. Senator Nelson (D-Seattle) has introduced a bill in the Senate to ban Tris; Representative Kevin Van de Wege (D-Sequim) has introduced a similar bill in the House.

Van de Wege speaks with special authority when it comes to flame retardants. He’s a 14-year veteran of the Sequim Fire Department. Firefighters have sky-high rates of multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and testicular, skin, brain, prostate, stomach and colon cancers. When brain cancer killed Kent firefighter Bob Schmidt earlier this year, the Kent Fire Department considered it a death in the line of duty.

Says Van de Wege, “Almost anytime something catches on fire, we’re dealing with flame retardants.” Since the chemicals change the way objects burn, the fires produce more lethal smoke and gases. Smoke inhalation is the killer in accidental fires—and it keeps on killing long after flames have been snuffed out.

The more subtly devastating effects of flame-retardant chemicals on developing fetuses and children are harder to quantify, Schreder says. But upholstery doesn’t need to burn or rip open to release its toxic contents. With aging and regular wear, the chemicals escape from foam and settle in dust. Toddlers suck dust off their fists and toys. There’s a correlation between toxin levels in a child’s body and the toxin levels in the house dust within that child’s home.

Given the toxicity of most flame-retardant chemicals, is there an urgent need to load them into upholstered products, especially ones designed for babies? Probably not. Our sofas and nursing pillows were never that dangerous to begin with it, it turns out. Hijacked by the tobacco industry decades ago, these housewares became pawns in an unrelated battle.

It began in the 1970s and 1980s, when too many smokers were nodding off on their sofas with lit cigarettes, igniting murderous house fires. The surgeon general called for fire-safe cigarettes that would go out if a smoker wasn’t taking frequent puffs. But smokers didn’t want cigarettes apt to go out mid-smoke. So the tobacco industry launched a stealth campaign, instead, and successfully deflected the focus from “ignition sources”—i.e., lit cigarettes—to “fuel sources”—our overstuffed sofas and chairs. (The campaign was outed last year by reporters at the Chicago Tribune.)

The resulting demand for flame retardants created a lucrative market for chemical manufacturers, who borrowed from tobacco’s playbook. In 2011, Tris manufacturers created a California-based front group, Citizens for Fire Safety, which hired third-party spokespeople to use scare tactics on the chemicals’ behalf, including Dr. David Heimbach, the retired chief of the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center here in Seattle. Without acknowledging his paid status, Heimbach showed the Legislature graphic photos of a badly burned baby—the victim, he claimed, of a lit candle knocked into her crib. Tribune reporters discovered there was no such incident.

The outing of its dirty tricks prompted Citizens for Fire Safety to close its doors. But the scandal doesn’t seem to have changed the minds of legislators in Olympia who continue to oppose this regulation. One frequently offered objection to the state bill is that regulation should not happen as patchwork (state by state), but whole cloth, at the federal level—although the industry pours millions into fighting it there, too.

The Senate passed a watered-down bill in April banning Tris in some children’s products, but not in mattresses and furniture, and failing to give the state Department of Ecology authority to restrict the use of flame retardants if they prove to be harmful.

This last provision has been the biggest sticking point in the legislation, and Van de Wege and others hope to establish the authority to consistently ban chemicals and put an end to the toxic treadmill. As evidence of the need for the provision, advocates point to a recent change by baby-products maker Graco, which, in 2012, pledged to discontinue using Tris in its infant swings, carriers and playpens. Graco did make a switch: from Tris to TBBPA, one of a class of chemicals often called the “worst of the worst.”

In Senate hearings and during floor votes, Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) patiently stated and restated his opposition to giving the state agency power to ban toxic chemicals. The Department of Ecology can come back to the Legislature anytime and ask to get chemicals banned, Ericksen says, as was done with PBDEs and may be done for Tris. Nelson and others hotly disagree: Ericksen’s approach leaves industry unencumbered by regulation and allows it to drag out for years the process of getting any dangerous chemical banned—years during which people are unwittingly buying and stocking their houses, and offices, with poisons they’ll be living with for decades.

Senator Nelson’s sofa being a case in point. With her first grandchild on the way, Nelson was anxious to know just what was in that foam. “Sorry, Senator Nelson,” Valeriano said with a sympathetic grimace, “Tris.”

Nelson’s fantasies of cuddling on the sofa with her grandchild vanished in a flash. “My grandbaby,” she announced, “is going nowhere near that couch.”

Sen. Nelson statement on the House budget proposal

June 5th, 2013|

Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, assistant ranking member on the Senate Ways & Means Committee, released the following statement on the House budget proposal:

“The budget presented today is a budget that reflects democratic values and I believe the values of those in our state. It is a significant compromise to what was originally proposed by both the House and the Senate.

“We heard our Republican colleagues when they called for no new taxes; this budget recognizes their concerns. The proposal laid out today would cut taxes for 144,000 businesses in our state and help fulfill our obligation to two court cases. The Bracken decision requires that we make a technical correction to the way we tax wealthy estates so that money can be allocated to education. We would also make a significant down payment on the McCleary decision and the Legislature’s obligation to invest in basic education. When we invest in our kids, we invest in our future.

“With just six days left before the clock runs out on special session, House Democrats recognized that something must be done to put us on a path toward passing a budget. I would like to thank Gov. Inslee and Lt. Gov. Owen for working with us and encouraging us to move forward in this process.

“I look forward to continuing the budget process to help move our state forward.”

Senate passes watered down bill that does not protect firefighters, kids from toxic flame retardants

April 17th, 2013|

Sen. Sharon Nelson, D- Maury Island, today issued the following statement after ESHB 1294 passed on the Senate floor:

"I am disappointed that the majority of Washington State Senators voted to pass a gutted version of the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act. The changes made to this bill in committee and voted for on the Senate floor removed much-needed protections for our babies, children and families from these harmful flame retardants that are known to cause cancer.

"As passed, the bill bans two versions of the cancer-causing chemical Tris, both of which are already being phased out of use by the industry. The bill did not include a critical provision in the version passed out of the House that would allow the Dept. of Ecology to restrict known and future toxic flame retardants from being used in children’s products and furniture.

"Every time we ban a toxic chemical in Washington, it is soon replaced with an equally or more harmful alternative. Replacing one bad chemical with another does not protect our children. It also does not protect our firefighters, who must breathe in the harmful fumes of flame retardants when they respond to a fire as they work to protect our families.

"It is long past time for our state to get off this toxic treadmill. As a grandma-to-be, I am especially concerned for our children. They are the ones who are most vulnerable to toxic chemicals as they are growing and developing. These chemicals are in our couches and our babies’ car seats, in household dust that children ingest on a daily basis.

"Today, Senate Republicans and two Democrats failed our state by passing a bill supported by the chemical industry. My goal is to ensure that the final legislation provides real protection for our families and firefighters."