Sen. Rolfes Newsroom

2020 Legislative Report

It is my honor to represent you as your state senator in Olympia and to take this opportunity to share a few updates on the state’s coronavirus response and reflect back on the 2020 legislative session. This week we entered Phase 1 of the governor’s “Safe Start” plan, thanks to weeks of collective sacrifice from people here in Kitsap and across the state. It feels good to be looking ahead, but it’s important we all keep up our social distancing practices to prevent a surge in cases that could reverse our promising course.

We spent the early weeks of the 2020 session focusing on important priorities like homelessness and housing affordability, preserving our historic gains in access to higher education, reforming the health care system, responding to the passage of I-976 and the resulting loss of transportation funding, and protecting the environment.

But our conversations quickly shifted in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Before we adjourned on March 12, the Legislature unanimously passed House Bill 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 would face as a result of the pandemic.

This funding has helped improve virus testing at the UW, propped up local efforts to shelter and quarantine those without stable housing, increased nursing home beds, purchased protective equipment like ventilators and masks for health care workers, and shored up the unemployment system.

As the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I made sure that our budget left almost $3 billion in reserves to help weather a recession. I continue to monitor the latest financial data and I am in constant contact with the governor’s office and other state leaders. This week I was also appointed to the Senate’s new Select Committee on Economic Recovery.

We know the needs of Washingtonians will be greater and that our revenue from economic activity will be much lower than even the recession that we forecast, so it is extremely likely the Legislature will reconvene in the coming months to take additional budgetary action. Keep up to date with all the latest news related to COVID-19 at coronavirus.wa.gov.

In the meantime, I want to share with you some of the non-COVID related legislation that I sponsored with the support and input of many of you, keeping our state on track to lead the nation on a variety of issues.

I worked closely with our 23rd legislative delegation and community members to secure funding for four important projects this year in the supplemental capital budget. The new funding is in addition to the extensive list of projects funded in 2019. These investments make a difference in people’s lives and will help strengthen our community.

Positive progress

Once again our community helped shape the slate of bills I sponsored this year. A number made it to the finish line, and I want to thank everyone who has reached out with an idea or problem that needs to be solved – it’s how we adopt strong policies that keep us all safe, healthy and more economically secure.

Reining in the insurance industry: This session I sponsored two major bills that will help to better regulate the health insurance industry. Senate Bill 5601 establishes a licensing system for Benefits Managers. These are the brokers between your provider and the insurance company, paid by insurers to minimize health care reimbursements and payments. You only notice them when they deny you something, like discontinuing the use of your prescription or limiting your visits to the physical therapist. While they play a critical role, they are not operating in the patient’s best interests. With the adoption of this bill, their actions can be better monitored and it will be easier for regulators to investigate consumer complaints. We also passed my Senate Bill 6097, which allows the billions of dollars that insurance companies hold in reserves – as well as their profit margins – to be considered when the insurance commissioner approves annual premium prices.

Working to end abusive litigation: Last year a Central Kitsap woman contacted my office with a harrowing story of non-stop court harassment from an abusive former partner. With no clear legal solution, we worked with domestic violence advocates and other victims around the state to pass Senate Bill 6268 to create a court process to protect someone who has a former abusive partner trying to stay in their life through litigation intended to harass or intimidate.

Expanding dental services: Led by the advocacy of one of our local pediatric dentists, the legislature passed Senate Bill 5976, which expands dental services for low income children with developmental disabilities.

Budget Win! Improving steelhead survival at the Hood Canal Bridge: For several years, a broad coalition of environmental advocates has been trying to understand and address the high rates of mortality for steelhead at Hood Canal Bridge. This problem was first brought to me by a recreational angler at a town hall-style meeting in Hansville. Long Live the Kings has been partnering with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and the state for several years to collect data and identify a long-term solution. I’m proud to report that we secured funding in the 2020 supplemental operating budget to continue this important work so we can find a viable path forward to mitigate steelhead mortality in those waters.

Budget Win! Lowering tuition for Western on the Peninsula students: Who knew that the tuition that local Western Washington University students were paying to get their degree in Poulsbo was higher than the tuition charged to students at the Bellingham and Everett campuses? I didn’t, until I lectured at the OC campus last autumn and the students cornered me. So, we fixed that.

Not passed, but we’ll keep working for a solution: Senate Bill 6436, which was drafted in partnership with Poulsbo-area residents, would have directed the state to revise their process for releasing convicted sexual predators into the community. While the bill stalled, an existing interagency work group is evaluating the release process and will report back to the legislature with recommendations for change this coming fall. Senate Bill 6488 would have improved and updated processes for notifying and protecting neighbors when timber companies spray pesticides aerially. This bill reflected the recommendations of a collaborative workgroup and included input from North Kitsap residents, but it died in the House during the final days of session.

Stay safe and healthy. We will get through this by working together and supporting each other.

Warm Regards,

May 7th, 2020|Uncategorized|
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    Rolfes to serve on Senate Special Committee on Economic Recovery

Rolfes to serve on Senate Special Committee on Economic Recovery

OLYMPIA – Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, has been named to a bipartisan Special Committee on Economic Recovery in the Washington State Senate to recommend the Legislature’s next steps in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The committee will hold its first meeting in June and will formulate recommendations on COVID-19 recovery legislation in advance of the 2021 legislative session or a special session later this year if state lawmakers are called back to Olympia.

“There is no playbook for a crisis of this magnitude, but we must find a viable path forward to recovery for workers, businesses and households. People want us to look forward and find solutions that will get our state back on track – and that’s exactly what this group will try to do,” Rolfes said. “I’m looking forward to getting to work to help develop effective and innovative approaches to an unprecedented challenge.”

The seven-member senate committee will be comprised of four Democrats and three Republicans. It will hold work sessions to hear from experts in a variety of fields, examine what other states are doing to recover from the outbreak, and identify ways to rejuvenate Washington’s economy and boost communities across the state.

May 6th, 2020|News Release|

COVID-19 response & resources

As we continue to see an increase of new COVID-19 infections in our state, all of our lives have been drastically altered in so many ways. I find hope in all the people in our community and across the state who are stepping up to meet so many difficult challenges.

I think we all have deep gratitude for the medical professionals trying to save lives in our hospitals and for everyone else regularly putting their health at risk in support of our collective efforts to reduce the spread of the virus, including those on the front lines keeping essential services available like food service, public safety, and transit and ferry workers. The state’s emergency management operations center is working 24/7 to route protective supplies and medical equipment where they are most needed, and both Amazon and Microsoft have recently deployed their procurement leaders to assist state government with global sourcing and freight transport efforts.

I am writing to share some of the state and local resources available to you, as well as to update you on the recent actions taken by the governor and the Legislature related to the outbreak.

I know the resilience of Washingtonians combined with the support of our government and our friends, families and neighbors will get us through this crisis. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.

Response and actions

It was a relief to see Congress pass a sweeping relief package late last week to address the ongoing health and economic consequences of the emergency. Rep. Derek Kilmer has details on how the package will help working families, impacted businesses and our entire state on his website. Here at the state level, Gov. Inslee and Legislature have taken the following steps to:

  • Appropriate $200 million in emergency funding to support testing, expand hospital capacity, and support our state and local public health response
  • Expand unemployment insurance for people who are quarantined and waived the one week waiting period to receive approval
  • Increase access to health care coverage by opening WA Health Exchange enrollment for anyone who does not currently have health insurance
  • Support businesses that rehire employees who had to go on unemployment insurance 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 & waive late fees for out-of-work customers (both PSE and Cascade Natural Gas have announced COVID payment flexibility policies)
  • Provide flexibility to allow high school seniors to graduate this year if they were on track for graduation before the emergency declaration

Available resources

This is a rapidly evolving situation with new information coming out daily and sometimes hourly. Therefore, the best advice we can give is to urge you to please follow the most recent directions, guidance, and best practices given by Gov. Inslee and state and local public health officials. They have demonstrated strong leadership throughout this crisis to help slow the spread of the disease and keep as many people safe and healthy as possible.

  • Other languages: Fact sheets about coronavirus are currently available in 15 languages.
  • Schools: OSPI is continuously updating information at their website.
  • Unemployment resources: Washington has made it faster for those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 to receive unemployment insurance.
  • Essential business list: Details about jobs or businesses considered essential during the Governor’s stay home, stay healthy order.
  • Personal protective equipment: Washington is seeking to fill shortages of personal protective equipment like masks, gowns, and gloves to support our medical system, first responders, public health facilities.

OTHER LINKS:

Hope and ingenuity

I continue to find energy from stories about the ingenuity of people working to solve problems across the state. Whether it is Outdoor Research converting its manufacturing facility in Seattle to eventually produce upwards of 200,000 masks per day or Bainbridge Organic Distillers shifting operations to make hand sanitizer, it is inspiring to see how people are rising to the challenge.

We are all experiencing this pandemic differently but we all have an important role to play in protecting public health and safety. For those not on the front lines, please know that the best way to protect your loved ones and to help with the state’s economic recovery is to help slow the spread of the virus and beat it back by staying at home. There are a multitude of online resources to help answer your questions and to keep you engaged. Reach out to older or disabled neighbors or parents with young children who may need your help, stay in touch with family and friends, and enjoy the beautiful nature that surrounds each of us. Thank you for being part of this community.

March 31st, 2020|Uncategorized|
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    Legislature increases emergency COVID-19 funding before adjourning

Legislature increases emergency COVID-19 funding before adjourning

As the Legislature adjourned tonight and completed its work for the year, our hearts and minds are focused on the coronavirus outbreak and the health of our neighbors and friends. The governor’s office has set up a website with a wealth of information to address both the health and economic concerns people have about the coronavirus and the resulting quarantines. We will face challenges over the next several months. It’s important for you to know that our state has the best health experts in the country working on this, backed by the full support of the Legislature.

As the Senate’s primary budget writer, I’ve spent the last three months developing our state’s supplemental operating budget to make needed adjustments to the two-year budget adopted last year. It’s a balanced, responsible budget that addresses the coronavirus outbreak with $200 million in emergency funding. It includes more than $3 billion in total reserves to help protect our state’s finances in a very uncertain economy.

The new budget dedicates $160 million to help local governments with emergency homeless shelters and affordable housing, and shores up our public health system.

I’m proud that it also continues to invest in other challenges that we face together, with enhanced funding for wildfire prevention and suppression and $50 million to implement projects designed to help build climate resiliency. You can read more about the budget here and take a deep dive into the numbers here.

In addition to budget work, I also sponsored several key bills that passed the Legislature this year:

  • Senate Bill 6097 will help keep insurance premiums more stable and health care more affordable by allowing the Office of the Insurance Commissioner to consider an insurance carrier’s surplus money and profit margins when an insurer applies to raise its premiums.
  • Senate Bill 5601 creates greater transparency in health care by regulating benefits managers (the mysterious middlemen that health insurance companies contract to reduce costs) while also providing consumers recourse when they’re having trouble getting benefits to which they are entitled.
  • Senate Bill 5976 expands the successful children’s dental program known as ABCD so that developmentally disabled children can stay in the program until they are age 12. The bill is anticipated to result in more pediatric dentists being trained to provide services to this vulnerable population.
  • Senate Bill 6518 directs the state Department of Agriculture to adopt emergency rules addressing the chemical chlorpyrifos to protect people and the environment from exposure to dangerous levels of the pesticide in food residue and in our air and water.
  • Senate Bill 6613 will require aquatic farms operating in our state’s waters to pay for costs incurred by taxpayers for required enhanced inspections and compliance testing.

My team

Sen. Christine Rolfes, Legislative Assistant Haylee Anderson, Intern Sabrina Saenz, and Executive Assistant Linda Owens.

It takes a team to successfully complete a session down here in Olympia and I like to think I have the best. They work hard to represent our communities in Kitsap County and I’m proud of the results we deliver.

March 13th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Exciting progress in Olympia

We are more than two-thirds of the way through the 60-day legislative session in Olympia and I wanted to provide a brief update. As the Senate’s primary budget writer, I’ve been busy preparing our supplemental operating budget, which will make important adjustments to the two-year budget we passed last April.

I’m happy to report the Senate approved the budget yesterday on a bipartisan vote. It makes additional investments in homelessness, natural resources, climate resilience, and behavioral health. After the House passes its budget, we’ll negotiate a final budget over the next few weeks – and I’ll provide a more comprehensive update. I also want to share a few of the bills I’m sponsoring that I believe will help people here in Kitsap and across the state. Please stay in touch with any questions or concerns.

Protecting the public from pesticides

For the last decade, I’ve focused on ways to turn the tide on the scourge of toxic chemicals found in our water, wildlife, and even our own bodies. Two of the measures I am sponsoring this year address the use of pesticides. Senate Bill 6518 would ban the use of chlorpyrifos with the exception of limited use for a handful of crops. The chemical has been linked to serious health problems in children and has been banned in Europe, California and Hawaii. Senate Bill 6488 would continue the work we started last year to assess threats to public health and the overall environment from pesticides sprayed above forestlands.

Working to lower health care costs

I’m also focused on giving working households much-needed relief from the rising cost of health care and prescription drugs. Senate Bill 6097 would give our state’s Insurance Commissioner the tools to factor in an insurance company’s surplus funds when deciding if a proposed rate increase is reasonable. Please look for another newsletter today from myself and Sen. Emily Randall of Bremerton outlining some of the other exciting progress we are making on health care.

Supporting domestic violence victims

Last year my office was contacted by a constituent who felt helpless in face of harassing, nonstop litigation from an abusive former husband. After reaching out to domestic violence advocates across the state, we found that there is no redress for stalking victims who are harassed by endless and unnecessary legal action. Senate Bill 6268 would give victims hope by providing our courts the tools to close this dangerous loophole.

Protecting our coastline

I sponsored Senate Bill 6432 to make sure our incredible coastline here in Washington is protected from oil drilling. The vast majority of the public opposes offshore drilling and wants to protect the health of our coastal waters. This law would add another important layer of protection.

Expanding dental care for kids

The popular Access to Baby and Child Dentistry program (ABCD) puts young children on a lifelong path to good oral health. Senate Bill 5976 will expand ABCD so more families will be able to connect with dentists who know how to care for younger kids, preventing tooth decay early and educating parents about how to take good care of their children’s teeth.

I’m pleased to report that all of these bills are still moving through the legislative process and I hope to see Gov. Inslee sign them into law as the session comes to an end on March 12.

February 28th, 2020|Uncategorized|
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    Senate passes budget focused on homelessness, working families

Senate passes budget focused on homelessness, working families

OLYMPIA – The 2020 supplemental operating budget (SB 6168) passed today by the Senate directs an additional $115 million to critical investments to address the state’s homelessness crisis.

The Senate proposal was approved on a 33-16 vote and includes nearly $1 billion in new spending overall, including significant increases for childcare and early learning as well as a historic investment to speed up financing and construction of the new UW Medicine Behavioral Health Teaching Facility.

“With this budget, we are able to address three of the biggest challenges our state faces — affordable housing and homelessness, behavioral health, and climate change,” said Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and chief budget writer. “This is a realistic, sustainable and responsible budget that will make a difference in people’s daily lives while also leaving the state in a historically strong fiscal position.”

The proposed budget supplements the $52.4 billion, two-year budget passed by lawmakers last year while reserving $2.9 billion in the state’s rainy day fund to guard against a downturn in the economy.

The budget also includes an additional $10 million – with flexibility built in – to support local health officials as they prepare to respond to the global coronavirus outbreak.

“We have strengthened funding for foundational public health over the last several years, and we build in flexibility to ensure our health departments have the resources they need to respond to any public health threat,” Rolfes said.

Other highlights of the budget include additional funding for K-12 special education programs, election security, rural health clinics, and nursing homes.

Highlights of the 2020 Supplemental Budget Proposal

The Senate proposal invests $315 million in one-time revenue projected in the February forecast, including:

  • $115 million to address homelessness by increasing shelter capacity and keeping vulnerable families housed.
  • $100 million to address the climate crisis by investing in communities and projects to enhance mitigation and resiliency.
  • $100 million toward a new UW Behavioral Health Hospital, which lawmakers approved in 2019 to address a workforce shortage and a lack of adequate beds for patients.

Several other funding increases include:

  • $128 million in K-12 education dollars for local levy assistance ($46M), special education ($21M), pupil transportation ($41M), paraeducator training ($12M), and other increases.
  • $184 million in health care dollars for managed care ($61M), primary care physician rate increases ($10M), rural health clinics ($34M), family planning ($8M), and other increases.
  • $116 million to the state Dept. of Children and Families to reduce childcare rates for working families ($27M), strengthen the foster care system ($20M), expand early learning programs ($5M), and other increases.

Other budget items of note include:

  • $33.7 million to support struggling nursing homes by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • $20 million for wildfire suppression and prevention.
  • $10 million for enhanced election technology and security.
  • $10 million to cover the costs associated with the coronavirus outbreak, including a dedicated call center, monitoring, and support for local health jurisdictions.

Click here to find budget documents and summaries.

About the Supplemental Budget
Supplemental budgets are passed in even years and allow the state to make mid-course corrections to the two-year budgets passed in odd years. It gives the state the opportunity to adjust spending to keep families safe, provide high-quality education, and address other emergent needs like mental health care.

February 27th, 2020|Uncategorized|
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    Rolfes: Revenue forecast signals positive sign for state’s economy

Rolfes: Revenue forecast signals positive sign for state’s economy

OLYMPIA – Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, released the following statement today on the February revenue forecast from the Washington State Office of Financial Management.­­­

“This is certainly good news and another sign of the strength of Washington’s economy, but we must continue to be cautious and embrace responsible fiscal policy as we continue to address our communities’ pressing needs. We are in the process of writing a smart, balanced budget that will leave historically strong reserves to guard against a future recession. This will enable us to maintain the gold-star rating our state earned last year from Moody’s for the first time in state history.

“While revenues are strong at the moment, we shouldn’t mistake the prosperity at the top for a thriving middle class. Many, many families and seniors living on fixed incomes across our state are still recovering from the Great Recession and we are still rebuilding public services that were decimated. We see these needs on our streets in one community after another.

“I look forward to finishing our budget proposal in the coming days and keeping our commitment to support affordable housing, college affordability, behavioral health, infrastructure and our environment.”

February 19th, 2020|News Release|

Rolfes to host community conversations across 23rd District

State Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) is inviting community members across the 23rd Legislative District to join her for informal conversations as she prepares for the 2020 legislative session in Olympia.

The events will give constituents a chance to comment or ask questions about legislation that affects communities in Kitsap County. The events are scheduled for the following times and places:

  • Dec. 2 – Kingston Village Green Community Center, 6-7:30 p.m., 26159 Dulay Road NE, Kingston
  • Dec. 4 – Bainbridge Senior Center, 3:30-5 p.m., 370 Brien Drive SE, Bainbridge Island
  • Dec. 5 – Filipino American Community Center, 6-7:30 p.m., 1240 Sheridan Road, Bremerton
  • Dec. 7 – Drop-in with Mayor Erickson at Poulsbo City Hall, 9-11 a.m., 200 Moe St. NE, Poulsbo
  • Dec. 9 – Keyport Mercantile & Diner, 9:30-11 a.m., 15499 Washington Ave. NE, Keyport

Rolfes has represented the 23rd District since 2006 and chairs the Senate Ways & Means Committee, responsible for leading the development of the state’s operating budget. She has become a leading voice on education funding and reform, small businesses, ferries, military families and veterans, and the environment.

 

November 26th, 2019|Uncategorized|

Good news for Washington’s economy

The fall season is upon us and the kids are back in school — and legislators are already getting prepared for the 2020 legislative session. Next year state lawmakers will meet in Olympia for a shorter 60-day session. We made historic progress on many fronts this year, but we also have plenty of challenges to address. Many of the best ideas for legislation come from you — please keep in touch with any ideas, questions or concerns as the next session approaches.

Highest credit rating in state history

I was really pleased and proud when I learned that Moody’s had raised our state’s credit rating to Aaa from Aa1 — the highest rating the credit rating agency hands out. It’s the first time we’ve had an upgrade in more than two decades. Here’s what they said:

“The upgrade…reflects a significant increase in financial reserves even as the state increased funding for K-12 education in response to a State Supreme Court mandate, the exceptional growth of the state’s economy driven largely by the technology sector in the Seattle metropolitan area, and the consequent diversification of the state’s economy lessening dependence on aircraft manufacturing by the Boeing Company.”

Moody’s Investor Services

I wrote more about why this is such great news for our state in this commentary in the Everett Herald. As one of the primary budget writers in the Legislature, I’m committed to maintaining high standards when it comes to the state’s fiscal practices. 

Improving salmon habitat

Improving habitat in Washington’s waterways is essential to the health and survival of sensitive species, including southern resident killer whales, salmon, and forage fish. This year the Legislature committed historic funding to complete projects across the state. I had a chance this summer to help get one of those projects started at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kilisut Harbor bridge construction and estuary restoration project. The project will replace the existing causeway between Indian Island and Marrowstone Island with a new bridge, giving salmon the opportunity to once again use a historic migration channel through Kilisut Harbor out to the Pacific Ocean.

Senate internship opportunities

The Washington State Senate is looking for college juniors and seniors who are interested in gaining valuable experience and academic credit with the completion of a 60-day internship starting in January 2020. The Senate internship program is an excellent opportunity to gain insight into lawmaking and public service. Applications must be returned by 8 p.m. on Oct. 11 to ensure consideration. Find out more on the Senate website.

September 27th, 2019|Uncategorized|

Gov. Inslee signs bill to study plastic packaging waste

OLYMPIA – A measure directing a comprehensive study on the management of plastic packaging and waste was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 5397, sponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), establishes a goal of achieving sustainable plastic packaging policies in Washington state by 2025 and works with producers of plastic packaging on the responsible management for their products’ life cycle from design through end-of-life.

“Plastic waste and pollution is a threat to public health and our environment – and we know it is a complex problem we must address. Consumers in Washington are rightly frustrated by the amount of plastic packaging used in consumer products – from food to electronics,” Rolfes said. “Single-use plastics end up in landfills, or worse, along roads and in our waterways. Our state has a proud history of leading the nation in solid-waste management and this is a necessary first step in reducing plastic waste.”

The bill directs the state Department of Ecology to complete an independent study to gather data on the amount and types of plastic sold in the state, and the management and disposal of that plastic packaging.  The report will identify sustainable packaging alternatives and is due by Oct. 31, 2020.

Lawmakers in British Columbia and Europe have worked with the plastic packaging industry to adopt product stewardship programs, but no U.S. state has adopted a comprehensive model to reduce waste in partnership with industry.

“The packaging industry has the ability to innovate and offer consumers more environmentally friendly options and I look forward to working with producers to make Washington a model for the rest of country,” Rolfes said. “We are constantly learning more about the risks plastic pollution poses to our health and natural resources. With this legislation, we can identify realistic solutions.”

May 21st, 2019|Uncategorized|