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Nelson visits Food Lifeline meal program for kids

August 22nd, 2016|

A message from Sen. Nelson following a visit to a Food Lifeline meal stop in the 34th district:

This summer, Food Lifeline, a King County non-profit with 17 county-wide locations, has partnered with the Seattle Public Library System and the United Way to bring Food Lifeline Delridgehealthy and kid-friendly meals to where kids in need already live, learn and play.
I had the honor of visiting one of these sites last week, where they said one of their biggest hurdles is getting the word out that these programs exist. Because more than 300,000 children in Western Washington don’t have access to school meals during the summer, this leaves kids and families in a difficult situation.
I saw firsthand how Food Lifeline is making sure kids who receive free or reduced lunches during the school year aren’t going hungry during the summer months. Meals and activities are available to all youth under 18 years of age, so please stop by the Seattle Public Library in Delridge or visit www.foodlifeline.org to learn more.

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    Nelson: Lack of progress means “there is going to be a reckoning in 2017”

Nelson: Lack of progress means “there is going to be a reckoning in 2017”

March 29th, 2016|

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson on Tuesday issued the statement below following the passage of the supplemental operating budget and the completion of the 2016 legislative session:

“From day one, Senate Democrats laid out their priorities – education funding, ending the cycle of poverty and homelessness for thousands of Washingtonians and building a Washington that works for all.

“By staying focused on these priorities we were able to make significant strides to close the educational opportunity gap, block Senate Republican attempts to cut mental health programs and services to the elderly, blind and disabled, and ensure there were increased funds for state hospital staff, mobile crisis teams and additional mental health treatment beds.

“What is disappointing however, is that our work took too long – and really it is far from done. Since Republicans took over the Senate, we have averaged an extra 47 days to do the one task the Legislature is required to do – write a budget. Ideology has too often trumped compromise, and as a result it has taken far more effort than it should to do the work Washingtonians sent us here to do.

“I am proud of how hard Democrats fought for top priorities in this year’s budget. I am proud of how focused we stayed on these priorities, even as Senate Republicans used precious time on political grandstanding, including staging a public firing of the state’s top transportation official and mismanaging an expensive investigation that quickly lost credibility.

“We did some good work in 2016. But frankly we had an opportunity to lay the groundwork for real progress in advance of what will be a very difficult session next year – there is going to be a reckoning in 2017.”

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    Nelson: Pleased GOP has backed away from “irresponsible” budget demands

Nelson: Pleased GOP has backed away from “irresponsible” budget demands

March 11th, 2016|

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson on Friday issued the statement below following the decision by Senate Republicans to back away from the cuts and cost shifts that riddled their previous attempt at a supplemental operating budget:

“I’m pleased to see that Senate Republicans have now agreed with us.

“They have agreed with us that it is irresponsible to balance a budget by cutting mental health.

“They’ve agreed with us that it is irresponsible to make ends meet by raiding pensions dedicated to retired police, fire fighters and teachers.

“They have agreed with us that it makes no sense to raid other critical programs to pay for wildfires when the state’s Rainy Day Fund exists for these exact moments.

“Democrats in the House, Senate and the Governor have said from the start we would not support a budget written in such an irresponsible manner. Now Senate Republicans have finally come around.

“There are still disappointments in this budget. We must keep our promises to child care providers, and to the most vulnerable Washingtonians. We must do more for education and more to help our state’s homeless.

“We also must continue to negotiate in good faith. I have to ask, why wasn’t this offer made three days ago? Why did Senate Republicans go silent on Tuesday only to re-emerge late last night with an announcement that Ways and Means would meet today?

“The Senate Republicans were the only ones who knew anything about this budget until just a few hours ago – that is not transparent government.

“I hope the Senate Republicans will now work with us to finish our business.”

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    Senate Republicans block yet another opportunity to prevent massive schools cut

Senate Republicans block yet another opportunity to prevent massive schools cut

March 10th, 2016|

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson released the statement below following yet another Senate Republican rejection of a bill to prevent a $462 million cut to Washington’s public schools:

“I wish I knew why Senate Republicans continue to reject the idea of giving Washington’s one million school kids and their teachers the certainty that they won’t face a massive funding cut?

“The idea we are trying to pass originated with a Republican-sponsored bill.

“The House bill received nearly unanimous support in that chamber and was passed out of the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee on an 8-1 vote on Feb. 25.

“During the operating budget debate on Feb. 26, an amendment to include this idea in the budget received 25 votes, but failed because of a Senate Republican rule requiring 60 percent to pass a budget amendment.

“Where were those 25 votes today? Where was the original sponsor who originally supported this idea? Where were the four Republicans who voted this out of committee or the three that voted for this idea just 16 days ago?

“We spent a lot of time today talking about education in the context of charter schools. I hope that the bill passed by the Senate today helps these kids.

“It is time for us to talk about Washington’s one million school kids. It is well past time for us to address their needs, their schools and their education.”

Nelson: We must act now to end homelessness

February 4th, 2016|

Communities throughout Washington are reporting a spike in their homeless population. What has long been a problem is quickly becoming a crisis.

Because of the urgency of this growing issue, Senate Democrats are sponsoring the Bring Washington Home Act, a plan to make targeted investments in programs aimed at breaking the cycle of homelessness and help the less fortunate get off the streets.

“Homelessness is not just a problem in cities. It isn’t just a problem in King County or Western Washington. Homelessness impacts every community and it’s getting worse,” said Sen. Sharon Nelson, the bill’s prime sponsor. “We must act now and we must act decisively to combat this problem.”

Numbers from last week’s One Night Count are starting to come in. Homelessness is up 19 percent in King County and it’s up a devastating 54 percent in Snohomish County. OSPI just reported that more than 35,000 Washington students don’t have a safe and consistent place to sleep at night.

Senate Bill 6647 will tap into the state’s Rainy Day Fund which is money set aside to be used for emergencies. One percent of existing tax dollars are put into the Rainy Day Fund annually. The fund is projected to be at over $700 million by June of 2017 and over a billion dollars in 2019.

“We can attack this problem at the source and do it in a way that doesn’t raise taxes,” Nelson said. “There is a homelessness crisis in our state. Issues like this is why we have a Rainy Day fund. For the thousands of Washingtonians living on our streets it’s pouring and we can help them.

“We must act now. Inaction only makes the problem worse.”

Nelson was joined by other leaders who voiced support for the plan. Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, Vancouver City Councilwoman Alishia Topper and Julio Cortes, the public relations manager at Cocoon House, a non-profit that provides access to short- and long-term housing for homeless youth in Everett, also spoke for the need to address the homeless crisis in their communities.

Also in attendance were many of the 23 Senate Democrats who signed onto the bill.

The Bring Washington Home Act will make targeted investments in the following programs:

• $18.455 million targeted toward services such as rapid rehousing for people who are mentally ill, chemically dependent and/or chronically homeless.

• $4.625 million targeted for homeless youth; including HOPE beds, the Street Youth program, and funding for the homeless student stability and opportunity gap act (SB 6298 sponsored by Sen. David Frockt)

• $3 million for consolidated homeless grants

• $60 million toward shelter and support services for the homeless and families at risk of becoming homeless

• $95 million toward the Housing Trust Fund for building supportive or other housing, and $5 million for maintenance and operations for housing stock. This $95 million will drive $190 million in housing investments, when those funds are combined with other resources (donations, grant money, tax credits, local funding) used in conjunction with the Housing Trust Fund.

Nelson named 2015 ‘Champion for Children’

September 14th, 2015|

OLYMPIA – Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, was named a 2015 “Champion for Children” for her work on restoring funding for essential food and family assistance in the 2015 Budget, which was cut during the Great Recession.

Nelson, who was central to the 2015 budget negotiations, fought to ensure an increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding, and supported an amendment that would have restored the full 15 percent that was cut during the recession. The final budget restored 9 percent of what was lost in the recession years.

In their award announcement, the Children’s Alliance cited Nelson’s tireless efforts to ensure food assistance funding be restored, saying “Her impassioned speech [on TANF funding restoration] signaled her strong support for the food assistance program, which she described as critically important to her district and to the state.”

While the state and nation move further from the Great Recession, that recovery is still not being felt by many who were hit the hardest by it. There are over 30,000 homeless school aged children in Washington, and one in five kids in this state lives in a household that struggles to put food on the table. One in six Washingtonians – half of whom are children – relies on the federal food assistance program (SNAP) to help with meals for their family. And despite an improving economy statewide, restoration of recession era cuts to TANF have been extremely difficult to pass in the Legislature.

Studies show hunger has long-lasting and negative effects on children, including being linked to increased hospitalizations, developmental problems, headaches, stomachaches and even colds. Children who come from food-insecure homes are more likely to struggle in school and are 90% more likely to have their overall health reported as “fair/poor” rather than “excellent/good” than kids from food-secure homes.

 

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    Middle ground, compromise solution can end the threat of a shutdown

Middle ground, compromise solution can end the threat of a shutdown

June 23rd, 2015|

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson issued the statement below following a House Democratic proposal to avoid a state government shutdown:

“The House Democrats have presented in clear detail a compromise plan.

“Their baseline budget outlines what programs and priorities for our citizens can be funded based on current revenues.  Clearly, this is a “go home” budget which avoids the consequences and costs of a government shutdown.   

“The House’s investment plan represents a reasonable budget solution to fund other critical priorities. The plan will close tax loopholes to fund things such as early learning, a college tuition freeze and other priorities that require new revenue to fully fund.

“It is irresponsible to fund these or any priority for that matter through fund shifts and gimmicks. This plan relies on real money.

“The House Democrats have shown we have time to prevent a shutdown that would hurt millions of families across our state and our recovering economy, but we need to act fast. This is a middle ground, compromise solution. This can end the threat of a shutdown.”

 

End of Session Legislative Update

May 1st, 2015|

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

It is hard to believe another legislative session has come to a close. It has been a long road since we started in January, with positives, negatives and many ongoing challenges.

Capitol in Early SummerI am happy to report there were some important measures passed during the regular 2015 legislative session, including meaningful steps toward reforming the unregulated medical marijuana industry in Washington, and a measure to increase the safety of oil transportation along rail lines in our state.

Adjourning under the governor’s order to return this week for the start of a special session however, didn’t feel like much of an ending. I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on what has happened so far, and take a look at what the coming weeks may bring.

End of Session Update

As I mentioned in my first e-newsletter, the Legislature had a few significant tasks to complete in the 2015 legislative session:

1)    Writing the state budget for the next two years;

2)    Fulfilling our obligation to fully fund education; and

3)    Passing a transportation revenue package.

We are making progress on the transportation revenue package, but the split Legislature – with the House of Representatives and Governor’s office controlled by Democrats, and the Senate controlled by Republicans – has made passing the operating budget and agreeing on education funding difficult.

The House Democrats proposed a budget (about $38 billion), as did the Senate Republicans (about $37 billion). Both had similar funding for reductions in K-3 class sizes, classroom materials and voter approved teacher Cost of Living Adjustments. But there were many differences in funding levels for mental health, parks, foster care and other important state responsibilities.

And as you can see from the chart below, there are also significant differences in where the funding comes from.

Budget Comparison

As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Further funding cuts to foster care, mental health and food assistance for working families is not an acceptable solution. Neither are unsustainable one-time funds shifts and budgetary gimmicks. The Senate Republican budget also disregarded previously bargained contracts for state employees. Not only do they not have the legal authority to do this, they have taken it upon themselves to deny modest wage increases for employees, like prison guards and mental health workers, who work in difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs and have not had a raise in seven years.

When it comes down to it, I think we need to ask ourselves – are most Washingtonians paying enough of their income in taxes already? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is a resounding yes. People making poverty wages pay about 17% of their income in taxes, middle income families pay over 10%, while people making over $1 million pay less than 2.5% of their income in taxes.

From a political standpoint, it is clear that each side needs to be realistic and be willing to compromise. But Washington has the most unfair tax system in the nation, and we cannot afford to continue as we are if we want to have a strong economy where everyone has the chance to succeed.

I am ready and willing to compromise, but we need sustainable revenue in order to meet our education, infrastructure and state operating needs – and that shouldn’t come at the expense of those already paying their fair share.

Capitol DomeGood Bills, Good Laws

In addition to making strides toward reforming unregulated medical marijuana markets and making oil transportation by rail safer, there are a few other good policy bills we can put in the ‘win’ column for this session:

  • Joel’s Law (SB 5269): This will give family members of seriously mentally ill individuals the tools to help their loved ones receive treatment.
  • Washington Tribal History Curriculum (SB 5433): Requires schools to include curriculum that teaches our students about the rich history, laws and sovereignty of Washington’s 29 federated tribes.
  • Forage Fish (SB 5166): Small species of forage fish, like smelt and herring, play a big role as indicators of the overall health of the Puget Sound and the health of salmon, orcas and other marine animal populations, including birds. This bill gives the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife the ability to study why these fish populations have declined dramatically, and what we can do to reverse the trend.

We still have many needs to address that were left out this year, and some continued work around legislation that did pass. However, these bills both make Washington a better place, and stand as a testament to the good work that can be done through bipartisanship – something I hope to see more of as we finalize state budgets.

Special Session: What is it, and why do we need one?

A special legislative session is called for by the governor when critical business of the state needs to be done. In this case, Gov. Jay Inslee called for a special session to finalize the state budgets.

Each special session can go for up to thirty days, although you might recall that in 2013 the Legislature went into two special sessions, with the budget being signed on June 29 – just two days before a government shutdown (a budget must be agreed to and signed before July 1).

Although most budget negotiations right now have come to a standstill, I remain optimistic that we will be able to come to an agreement. The majority of lawmakers, community groups and newspapers around the state believe it is clear that, contrary to what Senate Republicans are saying, we need more revenue to meet our obligations to our kids and our citizens. And I think we need to get this revenue in an honest way that doesn’t fall onto more taxes for working families – and doesn’t land us back in the same gridlock year in and year out.

Elementary Kids ReadingEducation Update

It is for good reason our state constitution calls education our “paramount duty” – we all rely on a qualified and educated workforce to ensure we have a strong economy and healthy infrastructure. And I believe a quality public education for all students is the best investment we can make toward that goal.

We have many great schools and educators in Washington. However, the state has long been underfunding facets of basic education like materials, transportation and educator compensation – creating inequity between districts that can afford higher levies and those that cannot.

The state is currently in contempt of court for not coming up with a plan to address this and fully fund basic education, as required under the court case known as McCleary. In an effort to get out of contempt and push forward on meeting our funding needs, my colleagues Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, and Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, proposed a comprehensive McCleary plan (SB 6104), levy equalization plan (SB 6103) and a funding mechanism through capital gains tax (SB 6102), respectively.

Senate Republicans also came up with a levy plan, although rather than using a tax that affects only the richest 7,500 Washingtonians, they use property taxes to leverage against local levies.

LR

While the plan put forward by the Senate Democrats doesn’t have to be the last word, I believe the first word in any discussion regarding budgets needs to be “fairness”. To say property rich districts can afford to pay more in property taxes completely misses the point that property rich is not the same thing as personally rich. For many people, their homes are their only major asset, and young families or those on a fixed income cannot afford to pay for all our state’s education needs with higher property taxes.

Education funding will be central to talks in special session, and I will continue to update you as conversations progress. To read more about the Senate Democrats’ plan, please click here.

Your Call

We are elected to serve you – and it is you who makes the final call about how this state moves forward. I encourage you to be in contact with me and my colleagues to let us know what you think about the budgets and how to proceed. You can find contact information for all state senators here, and representatives here.

As always, thank you for subscribing to my newsletter, and I will continue to update you on the budget as special session gets underway.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Regards,

Signature

 

Nelson, McCoy: ‘This is poisoned politics at its worst’

April 1st, 2015|

OLYMPIA – Bipartisan legislation to address toxic chemicals in children’s and household goods is in jeopardy following a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee.

Two bills are being considered by the Legislature. One would streamline the process for banning toxic flame retardants common to furniture and children’s products (House Bill 1174). The other would encourage manufacturers to use alternatives to harmful chemicals through a collaborative process with the state Department of Ecology (House Bill 1472).

A striking amendment proposed by the Republican committee chair would combine these measures, removing their original intent and making it even more difficult to ban these toxic chemicals in Washington.

“The chair’s approach substantially weakens the bill and would undermine our ability to clean up our water, protect human health and keep harmful chemicals out of our environment,” said Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

“While everyone is preoccupied with state budget proposals being rolled out this week, legislation that protects our children, first responders and the environment was steamrolled in committee,” said Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. “The state’s citizens, advocates and largest newspapers are calling on the chair to pass these bills as is. Instead, the interests of chemical companies were secured for years to come.”

Both bills passed the House of Representatives in their original form with wide bipartisan support, HB 1174 passing 95-3 and HB 1472 passing 63-35.

“This is poisoned politics at its worst,” McCoy added. “These bills went successfully through the public process – we could see the finish line – and now we’re faced with passing bad policy or no policy at all.”

 

 

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    Attorney General, Nelson renew call for strong payday lending regulations

Attorney General, Nelson renew call for strong payday lending regulations

March 31st, 2015|

From the Office of the Washington State Attorney General

March 31, 2015

AG renews call to reject payday lending bill

Applauds President Obama’s push for federal reforms

SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today applauded President Obama’s recent push on a proposal to reform federal payday lending rules, while encouraging state legislators to reject a bill that purports to do the same thing.

Last week, Obama announced the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s proposals to crack down on payday lending that results in “debt traps.” The proposals would require lenders to do more to verify a borrower’s ability to pay or implement restrictions to foster affordability, as well as regulate collection practices.

“I’m glad to see a strong push at the federal level to reform a system that, in many instances, unfairly preys upon those in need,” Ferguson said. “Here in Washington, I encourage our legislators to kill the proposal before them now that, however well intentioned, will hurt the people it purports to help.”

Washington’s existing payday lending system already contains important safeguards for consumers, including the option for installment payments, which would be lost if the proposal — House Bill 1922 and Senate Bill 5899 — is adopted.

“In a time when our state and the nation are experiencing record income inequality, I cannot understand why we would seek out ways to aggravate the struggles of those trying to make ends meet,” Sen. Sharon Nelson said. “This industry is called predatory for a reason. They take someone’s moment of crisis and turn it into an opportunity to trap them in cycles of debt for their own profit. The system we have in Washington now is working — it is a model for other states, and it is exactly the kind of common sense consumer protections the president called for last week. In this case I say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

In a Feb. 26 public letter to lawmakers, Ferguson expressed his opposition to the pending legislation and pointed out some of its shortcomings for consumers.

Simply put, the bill would make taking out these loans more expensive for most consumers. Only borrowers who proactively pay the entire debt before the second installment is due would save any money on the maximum $700 loan.

A borrower in Washington already has the option to convert his or her payday loan into an installment loan. Lenders are required to inform borrowers of this option, and the Department of Financial Institutions reports almost 15 percent of borrowers convert their payday loans into installments.

When a traditional “balloon payment” is due, a borrower can request an installment plan, and the lender must allow a plan of up to 180 days.

Importantly, the lender cannot add any additional fees or charges to the debt.

As an example, under the current system, a borrower taking out a $700 payday loan would pay a maximum origination fee of $95. If they request an installment plan, giving them up to six months to pay, their repayment would remain $795.

The proposed system before the Legislature would add other costs and fees. On the same $700 loan for six months, the borrower would pay 36 percent interest, a 15 percent origination fee and a 7.5 percent monthly maintenance fee.

If the borrower took the entire six months to pay, he or she could be on the hook for more than $1,195 — $400 more than they would pay today.

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the State of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

CONTACT:

Communications Director Peter Lavallee, (360) 586-0725, PeterL@atg.wa.gov