Sen. Pedersen Newsroom

Promoting diversity and equity

Earlier this year, we had a legislative session and did some amazing work. Most of those accomplishments were eclipsed by news of the pandemic, the recession, and protests against police violence. Over the next few months, I will be reviewing some of the changes that we made that you may have missed.

This newsletter will focus on a few of those policies that will help make Washington a more inclusive, welcoming place to live and work.

Menstrual equity

As of July 1, menstrual products are now tax-free in Washington. Senate Bill 5147 passed thanks to the persistent advocacy of many people—including students—from around the state. On my most recent visit to Roosevelt High School last fall, this was the first question I was asked by a group of women students. People who menstruate (including women and some transgender men) pay hundreds of dollars in sales tax on feminine hygiene products over the course of their lifetime—even though these products are medically necessary. I was happy to see a bipartisan effort in Olympia this year to alleviate this burden by permanently eliminating the sales tax on these products.

Representation matters

There is no shortage of women qualified to serve on corporate boards, but a lack of diversity remains a problem due to complex and consistent barriers for women to join the boards of publicly-traded companies. Senate Bill 6037 will require publicly-traded corporations organized under Washington law to have 25% of their board members identify as women, or else the corporation must explain why not and what efforts it is taking to increase diversity on its board.

A voice for LGBTQ veterans

Senate Bill 5900 creates the position of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer coordinator within the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs. LGBTQ veterans face many obstacles—many received an other-than-honorable discharge under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because of whom they love or because of their identities. This bill has the potential to change those discharges, recognizing their service and allowing those veterans and their families to access benefits.

Outlawing so-called panic defenses

Being surprised by a person’s gender identity should never be a justification for violence. I was proud to shepherd House Bill 1687 through the Senate Law & Justice Committee this year. The bill will prohibit a criminal defendant from using so-called panic defenses upon discovering a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation. It is also known as the “Nikki Kuhnhausen Act,” named for a transgender teen from Vancouver who was murdered last year in an attack police believe occurred after her killer learned of her gender identity.

New Office of Equity

HB 1783 will eventually help reduce systemic disparities in Washington state government by establishing the nation’s first statewide Office of Equity within the Governor’s Office. While the funding for this new office has been delayed due to the economic impact on the state budget from the COVID-19 pandemic, I know lawmakers are determined to see this new office make an impact in the coming years.

Thanks for taking time to read this newsletter. I’ll continue to share updates this summer about our work in the 2020 session. I hope you are all doing your best to take care of yourself and loved ones during this difficult time. The latest information on the state’s response to Covid-19 is always available at https://coronavirus.wa.gov/.

Stay safe and healthy.

Jamie

July 16th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Dismantling Racism in Policing

A colleague of mine recently quipped that in 2020, we have been living simultaneously through 1918, 1932, and 1968. It has indeed been an unsettled and unsettling year, causing me to reflect on the profound challenges we face and inspiring me to make change.

Dismantling Racism in Policing

Like many in our community, I’ve been heartsick over the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, and a long list of other Black people at the hands of police. It is painful to admit our failure to recognize and actively oppose the oppression of our neighbors. And yet I am filled with hope as I see people open their hearts and minds to listen and learn about the effects of centuries of systemic racism. I am one of those people.

I watched with grave disappointment how officers from the Seattle Police Department have responded to what have largely been peaceful protests near my home on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Seattle. I am deeply troubled by the aggressive and militarized response to these protests, and by the contrast between the police response to these protesters and the largely white and armed crowds of protesters that oppose the public health measures our government has taken during the pandemic.

I am sorry that it has taken me so long to appreciate the scale of this problem. As chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, I am committed to doing my best to addressing it. The Legislature adjourned for the year on March 12 and is not scheduled to reconvene until January 2021.  But in the interim, I have asked my committee staff to work on ideas for potential legislation in a special session later this summer, if we convene, or in the 2021 session, including the following:

  • Prohibiting the use of chokeholds.
  • Prohibiting law enforcement agencies in our state from accepting surplus military equipment.
  • Requiring the use of body cameras statewide.
  • Prohibiting law enforcement officers from covering their badge numbers while on duty.
  • Requiring state collection of data on police use of force.
  • Strengthening de-escalation and anti-bias training for law enforcement officers.
  • Strengthening the decertification process so that law enforcement officers who are found to have used excessive force lose the ability to work in law enforcement.

I am also using this time to listen to communities of color, constituents, and other stakeholders and to their suggestions for change in our law enforcement culture and doing my best to advance all worthy ideas for change. Earlier this week, Gov. Inslee announced a task force to provide recommendations for legislation on independent investigations involving police use of force. I look forward to working closely with this group and with my colleagues in the House to pass new laws to ensure that every member of our community is treated with dignity and respect. You can read more about my thoughts on police accountability in this piece in the Stranger.

Celebrating Pride

Celebrating the passage of SB 5356 in 2019 with other LGBTQ members of the Senate.

June is officially LGBTQ Month in Washington, thanks to a bill passed by the Legislature last year. In the last two decades, we’ve made incredible progress establishing and protecting the rights of LGBTQ people. Just last week, we celebrated another victory when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that workplace civil-rights protections extend to gay and transgender people. I was happy to offer my perspective to the Seattle Times on the historic decision.

Masks save lives

I’ve been proud to see most of my neighbors and friends on Capitol Hill, First Hill, and downtown wearing masks. Unfortunately, the practice is most effective at stopping the spread of the virus if nearly everyone participates. To that end, this week Governor Inslee announced that masks will be mandatory in public to help address the increase in cases in our state. People with health conditions are exempt and people outside who can maintain a distance of at least six feet from others are not required to wear masks. But thank you to everyone who is willing to endure this inconvenience to protect more vulnerable members of our community.

The profound disruption in our lives and routines that 2020 has brought can be overwhelming, but I continue to believe in government’s ability to respond to the needs of people. I recently had a chance to speak with Washington State Wire about tax reform, our state’s budget shortfall, and the real opportunity for positive change in our state.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing updates on other issues the Legislature addressed this year that have been overlooked in the crush of news about the pandemic, the economic collapse, and the movement for racial justice.

Stay safe and healthy and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns. We will make it through this together.

June 25th, 2020|Uncategorized|

State government responds to the pandemic

The last few weeks have been difficult and emotional for people here in Seattle and across the world. Our response to COVID-19 has required us all to alter our lives drastically for a common goal: to reduce the rate of new infections and save lives.

We all feel deep gratitude toward our health care professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. Many other essential workers – from grocery clerks and bus drivers to garbage collectors and plumbers – also continue to do their jobs so that we can weather this crisis.

The 2020 legislative session was unlike any in our state’s history. We started the session with many important priorities to address, including homelessness and housing affordability, preserving our historic gains in access to higher education, responding to the passage of I-976 and the resulting loss of transportation funding, reducing carbon pollution and protecting the environment, and reducing gun violence. My newsletters over the next few months will review the accomplishments of this historic session.

Gov. Inslee is asking everyone to stay home as much as possible to reduce the spread of infection. 

But our conversations in the Legislature quickly shifted in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Before we adjourned for the year on March 12, the Legislature unanimously passed HB 2965 to dedicate $200 million from our state’s “rainy day fund” as a down payment on the many unexpected costs our people and our state and local governments face as a result of the pandemic.

The Legislature and the Governor have also taken action to:

  • Expand unemployment insurance for people who cannot work as a result of the pandemic and waived the one-week waiting period to receive approval.
  • Increase access to health care coverage by opening state Health Exchange enrollment for anyone currently without health insurance.
  • Boost Medicaid primary care rates, support rural health clinics, and increase funding for foundational public health.
  • Support businesses that rehire employees who became unemployed because of the coronavirus emergency.
  • Reimburse nursing homes that aid in the coronavirus response.
  • Allow school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the rest of the school year even if they come up short of required work hours due to this emergency.
  • Adopt a 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions.
  • Encourage utilities to suspend shut-offs and waive late fees for out-of-work customers.
  • Expand investments in affordable housing and new shelters by $160 million.
  • Authorize flexibility in state tax collections and waive late fees on license renewals.
  • Provide flexibility to allow high school seniors to graduate this year if they were on track for graduation before the emergency declaration.
  • Add $153 million to increase access to childcare, strengthen the foster care system, and expand early learning programs so that kids will have support when this crisis is over.

Governor Inslee also accelerated the effective date of last year’s Senate Bill 5641, a measure I sponsored to enable Washington residents to permit remote notarization of documents such as wills and powers of attorney. That means that the notary does not have to be physically present in the room to verify the signature. With many seniors now isolated in nursing homes and other facilities, this change will allow folks to complete estate planning and other documents without endangering their health or safety.

Gov. Inslee shared this chart Thursday showing a glimmer of hope that social distancing may be making a difference already. 

The state has set up a central website with multilingual information related to COVID-19 and I encourage you to sign up for email updates from the Department of Health here.

Stay safe and healthy, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.

Jamie

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

March 27th, 2020|E-News, Uncategorized|

Sen. Pedersen’s legislative update

We passed the halfway mark this week on our 60-day legislative session in Olympia. The pace has been intense as we considered more than 1,800 bills on subjects ranging from homelessness and behavioral health to education and gun violence. We have been busy passing bills on the Senate floor in advance of an important deadline next week to move bills out of the Senate and over to the House for consideration. Here’s a brief update on some of the issues on which I am focusing in 2020.

Opening doors to higher education

Last year the Legislature passed the Workforce Education Investment Act, E2SHB 2158, to 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” – promises to open the doors to our excellent higher education institutions for every kid in our state. In addition, the bill included historic financial support for our community colleges and will strengthen everything from engineering programs at the University of Washington to the new medical school at Washington State University in Spokane.

Since we passed that legislation, a few things happened. First, the demand from students across the state hungry to learn and grow at our colleges and universities was higher than anticipated. Second, the new law created confusion for taxpayers and the state Department of Revenue. To make much-needed improvements to the legislation, I sponsored ESSB 6492, and Gov. Inslee signed it into law this week. Businesses will gain certainty about their tax obligations, more than 70,000 small businesses will be excused from the tax surcharge, and 11,000 others will pay a reduced rate. Our largest technology companies, meanwhile, will pay more. Most importantly, we are keeping our promise to Washington’s students. Read more about the legislation in this Seattle Times story.

Town Hall on Saturday, Feb. 22

I hope that you will join Rep. Frank Chopp, Rep. Nicole Macri, and me for our town hall meeting on Saturday, February 22, at 1:30 p.m. at Seattle First Baptist Church at 1111 Harvard Ave. in Seattle.

Promoting gender diversity on corporate boards

There is no shortage of women qualified to serve on corporate boards, but a lack of diversity remains a problem due to complex and consistent barriers for women to join the boards of publicly-traded companies. That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 6037, which will require publicly-traded Washington corporations to have 25% of their board members be women or to explain why and what efforts they are taking to increase diversity on their boards more generally.  There is strong evidence that increasing gender diversity on the board improves governance.  The bill has passed off the Senate floor and received a public hearing in the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee this morning.

Stay in touch

With a little more than four weeks remaining in this session, we will now be racing through consideration of supplemental operating, transportation and capital budgets, as well as several hundred bills passed by the House, while the House in turn considers the bills we passed out of the Senate. We are committed to working with the House to complete our work and adjourn on time for the third straight year.

I hope to see you on Saturday, Feb. 22, for the town hall. Please contact me with any questions about issues before the Legislature this year.

February 14th, 2020|Uncategorized|

2019 Session Review: For the people, by the people

Often the best ideas for new laws originate with friends and neighbors who are willing to tell their stories and put in hours of work to develop and advance legislation. One example close to my heart this week is the story of Ann Donovan, a Capitol Hill neighbor and mom. Already battling cancer, Ann met with me starting in 2015 and encouraged me to introduce the Right-to-Try bill, giving terminally ill patients the right to try medical products that have been through preliminary safety testing but have not been finally approved by the FDA. After a couple of years of work, we passed SB 5035 in the 2017 session. As a result, patients in Washington have better access to investigational medical products. Ann lost her battle with cancer on August 26, but her activism has produced a lasting legacy for our entire community.

In honor of Ann, I’d like to use my final e-newsletter in this series on the 2019 session to highlight three 43rd District constituents who alerted me to problems with Washington law last year and then helped me to get those problems fixed by passing bills in the 2019 session.

Katrina Spade (Capitol Hill)

SB 5001 will make Washington the first place in the world that allows natural organic reduction (accelerated, controlled composting) of human remains. It is safe to say that the bill would not have become law this year without the unwavering dedication of Katrina Spade. For more than a decade, Katrina has focused her energy on environmentally-sustainable alternatives to traditional end-of-life practices. She introduced me to her “Urban Death Project” in 2017 and then met me again in the spring of 2018 to ask if I could help remove the legal prohibition on natural organic reduction in our state. Katrina’s ability to build a coalition of support around a very emotional topic was crucial to passing this new law, which will go into effect in May 2020.

Ethan Bergerson (Wallingford)

Laws governing how to divide parenting time after a couple dissolves their relationship are complex and confusing and provoke emotional responses. Families across our state are better off today thanks to Ethan Bergerson, a constituent who shared his story of unintended consequences of the Child Relocation Act which specifies how judges should determine what is in the best interest of the child when one of their parents needs to move or change school districts. Recent court decisions had ruled that language in the statute referring to the parent “with whom the child resides a majority of the time” meant that parents who shared residential time equally could never be allowed to relocate (affecting about a quarter of the divorced parents in this state). In Ethan’s case, both parents had agreed that they wanted to be able to relocate but the court ruled that parents who shared time equally were not allowed to make this kind of agreement and that judges do not need to consider the child’s best interests in these cases. Ethan came to Olympia to testify in the Senate Law & Justice Committee and the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee. By sharing his story, he helped to pass SB 5399, which is already helping families around the state facing similar circumstances escape from legal limbo.

Greg Moga (Madison Park)

In 2011, Washington state pioneered the idea that children born through assisted reproductive technology should, once they become adults, have access to information about their genetic parents. This is similar to the rights we give adopted children to information about their birth parents. That innovation has since become a part of the Uniform Parentage Act, which is being considered and adopted by states across the country following Washington’s lead in 2018. Greg Moga and his team at Seattle Sperm Bank helped identify a problem with how the new Parentage Act dealt with the transmission of genetic information between clinics. Working together, we developed a solution – adopted in SB 5333 – that will protect the rights of children while ensuring the privacy of donor information.

Working with constituents to solve complex challenges remains among the most rewarding parts of serving you in the legislature. I reflect frequently on how fortunate I am to live in and represent such an engaged community. Please continue to reach out to me with ideas or issues: it’s how our state government works best.

September 19th, 2019|Uncategorized|

2019 Session Review: Building a stronger community

Last week I had the opportunity to celebrate the re-opening of the recently renovated Lincoln High School (the first new comprehensive high school in our city in nearly 60 years) and attend the re-opening of Town Hall Seattle after two years of major renovations. These projects were made possible thanks in part to our state’s capital construction budget, which puts people to work building public schools, colleges, state parks, community gathering places, and essential infrastructure such as rural broadband.

Celebrating the recently renovated Lincoln High School with the community last week. (Photo courtesy of Seattle Public Schools)

Key community investments

The 2019-21 capital budget includes investments that will help our whole community continue to thrive.  I was proud to work with the other members of the Seattle delegation to secure funding for projects such as:

  • $21 million for Seattle Public Schools (SPS) to meet urgent capacity and safety upgrade needs at Leschi Elementary School, Madison Middle School, and North Beach Elementary School.
  • $6 million to help fund a 75-unit housing project at Broadway & Pine, developed by Capitol Hill Housing as a complement to the new YouthCare Opportunity Center
  • $6 million to help fund an innovative high-rise housing project at Madison & Boylston on First Hill, developed by Bellwether Housing and Plymouth Housing Group as a joint venture to provide 115 permanent supportive apartments for formerly homeless seniors and 253 apartments for low-income families
  • $200,000 to support the FareStart program, which provides job training for people experiencing homelessness, poverty and hunger.
  • $271,000 for the University Heights Center for the Community, which is a crucial gathering place that promotes life-long learning, creativity, culture, community activism in Seattle.
  • $600,000 to help build the AIDS Memorial Pathway at the Capitol Hill light rail station and Cal Anderson Park.
  • $1.5 million to support early learning through the construction of Roosevelt Childcare Center.
  • $986,000 to support the design and construction Northwest Native Canoe Center at Lake Union Park.
  • $451,000 to replace the main Green Lake dock with a larger dock with two floats, renovate two restrooms and add two restrooms with showers.
  • $500,000 to replace the Volunteer Park Amphitheater with a modern and accessible structure.

Statewide highlights:

  • $1.1 billion to build public schools, including $43 million for rural and distressed schools. 
  • $973 million for projects at public colleges and universities, with $408 million for community and technical colleges and $34 million for a new behavioral health teaching hospital at the University of Washington. 
  • $154 million for projects at state mental health facilities, including the design of a new forensic hospital and the design and construction of new 16-bed and 48-bed behavioral health facilities. 
  • $585 million for orca, salmon recovery, and water quality projects 
  • $175 million for affordable housing development statewide.

If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, climate change, orca recovery, behavioral health, housing or education, you can read those here.

September 9th, 2019|Uncategorized|

2019 Session Review: Reforming outdated laws

Controversial bills grab most of the headlines. But every year, the Legislature passes – usually with overwhelming bipartisan support – dozens of bills to modernize and improve state law in a wide range of areas.

Since 2010, I have served as one of our state’s commissioners on the national Uniform Law Commission (ULC). For more than a century, the ULC has provided states with nonpartisan, carefully-drafted legislation that brings clarity, stability, and uniformity to critical areas of state law. This year, several ULC proposals were approved by the Legislature and signed into law.  

Faithless electors

electors
Secretary of State Kim Wyman addresses the Washington Electoral College before members cast the state’s votes for president on Dec. 19, 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Spokesman Review)

In 2016, four Washington electors violated state law by casting their votes in the Electoral College for candidates other than the state’s popular vote winner – Hillary Clinton. The fine imposed on these “faithless electors” proved to be an insufficient incentive for them to follow the law.

SB 5074, the “Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act”, establishes a process by which electors who attempt to vote for a candidate other than the top vote getter in the November presidential election would be disqualified as electors and replaced with alternates. Washington joins Montana, Nevada, Minnesota, Indiana, and Nebraska in having enacted this law.  

Last week, a federal appeals court struck down a Colorado law and upheld the right of “faithless electors” to vote with their conscience. As a result, the issue may reach the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming months. I will keep you posted on the end result.

Guardianship 

SB 5604, the “Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act”, modernizes the laws concerning court-appointed guardians of minors and adults who cannot manage their own affairs in our state. Because guardians are given control over decisions ranging from where the person subject to guardianship can live or travel and how he or she can spend money, regulating guardians carefully is critical to protecting the safety and constitutional rights of persons subject to guardianship. Substantial changes include:

  • Eliminating terminology such as “incapacitated person” or “ward” and replacing it with modern, respectful language;
  • Adding to the statute a strong policy direction for courts to choose the least restrictive alternatives consistent with protecting the person subject to guardianship; and
  • Making it easier for parents to regain custody of their children once they have completed prison sentences or drug treatment programs.

The changes will take effect January 1, 2021. In the meantime, the Senate Law & Justice Committee has held a work session and is drafting legislation for the 2020 session to improve the legislation and fill in any gaps we failed to identify last session.

Other issues

The Legislature also passed bills requested by the Washington Uniform Law Commission concerning domestic violence (HB 1517, which included the Uniform Recognition and Enforcement of Canadian Domestic Violence Protection Orders Act); consumer cooperatives (SB 5002, the Uniform Limited Cooperative Associations Act); legal declarations (SB 5017, the Uniform Unsworn Declarations Act); and electronic notarization (SB 5641, the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts).

If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, consumer debt protection, climate change, orca recovery, behavioral health, housing, or education, you can find those on my website.

Best wishes,
Jamie

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

September 2nd, 2019|Uncategorized|

2019 Session Review: Justice for sexual assault victims

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.

August 19th, 2019|Uncategorized|

2019 Session Review: Expanding access to higher education

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. 

August 12th, 2019|Uncategorized|

2019 Session Review: Improving K-12 education

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

August 5th, 2019|Uncategorized|