Monthly Archives: August 2019

2019 Session Review: Justice for sexual assault victims

August 19th, 2019|

Thanks to the work and leadership of many survivors of sexual assault in our state, the Legislature took action this year to make it easier for survivors to seek and achieve justice. I am grateful for the courage survivors demonstrated in telling their stories before the Senate Law & Justice Committee, and hopeful these new laws will empower victims and show them that their government wants justice for them.

Ending backlog of untested rape kits

More than 10,000 untested sexual assault kits currently languish in police custody, according to the Washington State Patrol. House Bill 1166 established a Survivor Bill of Rights, setting a firm deadline of December 2021 for the state to eliminate the backlog. Starting in 2022, the patrol will have 45 days to process any new rape kits. The bill will also require law enforcement to undergo specialized, trauma-informed training and prohibit the destruction of rape kits. This builds on legislation passed in 2015, which mandated testing of all current and backlogged rape kits and established the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Legislative Task Force. In 2016, Washington became the first state in the nation to create an online statewide tracking system for survivors to check the testing status of a kit.

More time to report sexual assault

Our society is starting to recognize the major cultural shift that will be necessary to reduce sexual assault. During the legislative session, we heard from victims, prosecutors, public defenders and advocates about how our current statutes of limitation prevent justice from being done. For example, if an adult victim does not report a rape within one year, then prosecutors have only three years to bring charges.

Senate Bill 5649 eliminates the statutes of limitation for child rape and child sexual molestation, recognizing the reality that many of these survivors do not even appreciate what happened to them for decades. It also eliminates the distinction for reported and unreported sexual assaults on adults, and lengthens the statute of limitations to 20 years (for Rape 1 and 2) and 10 years (for Rape 3), giving survivors more time to process their experience and more control of the decision about how and when to seek justice. Finally, the bill will change the definition of Rape 3 to remove the requirement that a victim express a lack of consent. We had compelling testimony that some people simply freeze; their inability to object to sex should not be mistaken for consent.

2019 Session Review: Expanding access to higher education

August 12th, 2019|

For decades, our state has struggled to guarantee financial assistance for all low-income college students in the state who qualify. Nearly 18,000 people met the requirements for Washington’s State Need Grant last year, for instance, but could not access tuition assistance to pursue a degree or certification because of a lack of funding. With landmark legislation passed earlier this year, that wait list is expected to disappear over the next two years.

Workforce Education Investment Act

The Workforce Education Investment Act, E2SHB 2158, will make college tuition free for families making up to 55 percent of the state’s median family income, or up to $50,400 for a family of four. The program – renamed the “Washington College Grant” – will provide access to higher education for an estimated 100,000 students in our state.

Equally important, the act makes a $60.8 million investment in high-demand program faculty at the community and technical colleges and a $62.3 million investment in foundational support for both public four-year colleges and community and technical colleges.  It also restores foundational core support for the University of Washington.

The act also invests in preparing Washington students for Washington jobs by expanding the successful Guided Pathways program at the state’s community and technical colleges and expands high-demand degree programs across the state in fields such as nursing, engineering and computer science.

To fund these new investments, the Legislature created a dedicated account for college and workforce-education investments, paid for by an increase in taxes on high-tech companies and professional service businesses that depend on the higher education system to produce the professionals who work for them.

Our state is expected to add nearly 750,000 jobs over the next five years, and many will require higher skills and degrees. This new funding package is the result of great collaboration between statewide education and business leaders and promises to provide more opportunity and prosperity for students, families, and our state’s economy. 

2019 Session Review: Improving K-12 education

August 5th, 2019|

The next school year starts in less than a month for public school students here in Seattle. My kids are excited to get back into their classrooms at Stevens Elementary, Thurgood Marshall Elementary, and Meany Middle School. Although work remains, our state has made substantial progress over the last few years on school funding, teacher pay, and closing the opportunity gap.

Stevens Elementary School

This year, the Legislature continued the critical work on what the state constitution identifies as our “paramount duty.” These new investments and policy changes should continue to improve the quality of education and opportunities our kids receive.

Levy flexibility and education funding

Although state funding for K-12 education has increased dramatically in the last six years, the 2017 education funding reform substantially reduced the ability of school districts to ask their voters for funding to meet local needs such as nurses, counselors, and librarians. As Seattle legislators warned at the time, this led to a substantial projected shortfall for Seattle Public Schools in the 2019-20 school year and beyond. I worked this session with my Seattle delegation colleagues to insist that our final budget deal include increased flexibility for Seattle voters to fund their public schools. As a result, Seattle Public Schools can collect more of the taxes that voters approved last fall and avoid the cuts they had announced in the spring.

For its part, the state will continue to fund all-day kindergarten, lower class sizes in K-3, higher teacher salaries, student transportation, and maintenance, supplies and operating costs. In addition, the 2019-21 capital budget includes $1 billion for school construction to modernize our facilities and give our kids more room to learn. Seattle legislators secured an additional $20 million in state capital funding to accelerate three projects that will reduce overcrowding.

Increasing support for special education

The Legislature took some small steps toward funding the actual cost of special education services for students with disabilities. The new budget includes a $155 million increase in special education over the next four years. This will help reduce the amount funded through local levies but is not adequate to meet the needs of our students. I will continue to use my positions on the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and the Senate Ways & Means Committee to fight for full funding of this critical component of our education system.

Graduation pathways

We are continually striving to provide all students with a challenging learning environment and access to a meaningful diploma. At the same time, lawmakers recognize that students learn in different ways and have different goals. HB 1599 provides additional alternatives to standardized tests as high school graduation requirements. Students graduating in 2020 and later will be able to demonstrate career and college readiness through one of eight graduation pathways that align with their plans for high school and beyond. One of these pathways remains the standardized test for students who choose to use it. Other pathways include completing a sequence of career and technical education courses, meeting standards in the armed services vocational aptitude battery, or passing AP, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge International courses.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, climate change, orca recovery, behavioral health, or housing, you can read those here.

Best wishes,
Jamie

Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District
Jamie.Pedersen@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7628