As the 2014 session has wrapped up, I want to share my take on the latest short session of the Legislature with you. In sum, we did a number of small things to help many people of our state, but the Legislature failed to make any inroads on the most significant issues facing our state — education funding and transportation. We have a long ways to go and will need to redouble our efforts next year.
While we put an extra $60 million into basic education, it is far less than what is required to keep us on track to fully funding basic education. I co-sponsored legislation to provide teachers with a state-based cost of living adjustment, but that too did not pass this session. This is not acceptable, and the Supreme Court has left no doubt that adequate compensation for our teaching staff is a requirement for our system to be constitutionally adequate. It is also just the right thing to do.
A Democratic bill I co-sponsored identified tax loopholes for oil companies and out-of-state drug companies, among others, that we could have closed to meet some of our educational funding requirements, while also laying out a full plan for implementation of the basic education program by 2018. However, this critical bill failed to even get a hearing in the state Senate. The Republican majority in the Senate then proposed assigning two thirds of all new state revenues to fund the basic education program. This strategy doesn’t generate enough revenue to fully fund basic education and it creates huge funding problems for higher education, public safety and the safety net.
Ultimately, as I have been saying for months now, to lower class size in the early grades, to provide all-day kindergarten and early learning, to close the achievement gap and to make our local districts less reliant on local levies for basic educational expenses, we are going to all — and I mean all of us — need to be open to a compromise that encompasses both budgeting reform, tax reform and new revenues. Neither closing tax loopholes alone, nor randomly assigning revenue percentages alone is going to get the job done. While we must fund our K-12 system, it cannot be done in a vacuum that results in more disinvestment in our colleges and universities, in our critical social safety net or in public safety.
Progress On Homelessness and Domestic Violence
While we did not pass the major education plan I sought, several bills I worked on this year did pass. First, we extended a critical funding source for homeless programs around the state by four years. I proposed amendments in the Senate Ways & Means Committee to extend this funding source permanently or, at a minimum, for five years. Ultimately, the four-year extension that passed was much better than the one-year extension that had been on the table. I think we did the right thing by agreeing to a four-year extension that will allow local governments and housing agencies enough planning time to provide critical services to our homeless.
Additionally, the governor signed my homeless student outcomes bill that is the first piece of legislation in Washington State history specifically targeted at tracking and providing more services to over 30,000 homeless students across our state. I worked closely with University of Washington law students to pass this bill.
We also passed a bill to create a process to improve and strengthen our state College Bound Program that provides mentoring, support, and financial aid to low-income students that graduate high school and go on to college. This investment is proving to be a phenomenal success at closing the achievement gap, but it presents financial challenges. My hope is we are able to find solutions to strengthen this investment for the long run. Both these bills are designed to keep the state moving forward in finding ways to improve outcomes for kids from economically struggling families.
The Legislature also passed HB 1840, placing restrictions on gun ownership, after court review, for people who have no-contact or restraining orders taken out against them. Research demonstrates that access to firearms in domestic violence situations greatly increases the risk of injury or death to the victim. I also want to let you know I have endorsed I-594, which will provide for universal background checks when purchasing a firearm in this state.
Gov. Inslee signs Homeless Student Education Act. I worked with UW law students right of the governor; Chris Jordan, Randall Enlow, Rachel Cullen and Bonnie Aslagson (not pictured are Erin Adam and Liz Allen).
Health Care, Foster Care and the Budget
I am excited to report several of the bills I prime sponsored have been signed by Gov. Inslee.
For two years, Rep. Cyrus Habib and I have been working to make Washington the first state to bring insurance parity to coverage for children who suffer a rare gastrointestinal disorder. We finally passed the bill this year and, while this affliction does not ail thousands in our state, for those families whom it does, our legislation will help ensure the expensive medical foods required for survival will be covered by private insurers. Believe it or not, some insurers were only willing to pay for an invasive surgically implanted feeding tube and not a specialized elemental formula taken orally. This was flat out wrong and we fixed it. A small bill, to be ure, but for those whom it affects, it will make a big difference.
This year we also passed my Prudent Parent bill to give foster parents and other caregivers the ability to allow kids in their care to participate in normal childhood activities. These kids deserve as normal a life possible while in foster care. One young man I talked to was a rising star on his high school football team with colleges scouting him early in sophomore year. He told me when he entered foster care at 16, he couldn’t get his waivers signed for football and had to drop off the team. He eventually aged out of foster care and was homeless for a time. He is on his feet now, but he may have been able to parlay his athletic ability into a college opportunity. Another student told me she was never once able to go on a student field trip while in foster care. This bill aims to normalize the lives of these kids. I was extremely proud of the strong bipartisan support the Prudent Parent bill received.
In the budget, we were able to keep college tuition basically flat for the UW and our other colleges. We increased mental health funding for King County and around the state. The Legislature also accepted my amendment to add more than $1 million in state and federal funding through the Bright Futures program, a nationally recognized health protocol to insure all children receive the right medical screens at an early age. This particular proviso enables many low-income kids to receive appropriate autism screens by their 18th month. There is more to do in this area, and this is a good start.
A Couple Of Other Bills Worth Mentioning
Flexibility for days of faith: I strongly believe in the importance of our state respecting all faiths. It’s a founding principle of our country, and I was proud to co-sponsor and vote for legislation designed to provide flexibility to people and faiths that don’t fit conveniently into the standard calendar.
Additionally, we know rents are going up in Seattle and around the district. There has been an enormous amount of coverage in the Seattle Times about this lately. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and I participated in a forum with Councilmember Nick Licata earlier in the year where we learned of the very real problems renters face when their rent goes up astronomically, particularly when they are forced to find more affordable housing on very short notice. We sponsored two important measures to help renters, particularly renters of lower income. The Fair Tenant Screening Act would have placed limits on tenant screening fees which add up fast when trying to get into rental housing. I also co-sponsored the Tenant Relocation Assistance Act which would have given cities like Seattle the option to provide renters more time and protections when faced with a dramatic rent increase. These two important bills did not pass, but we need to keep working on them in the coming session.
Thank you as always for all of your emails and contacts during the session and beyond. It is incredibly important for me to hear what is on your mind – good, bad or indifferent. I appreciate your taking the time to write or call. I make sure to read constituent email every week. You can email me at email@example.com or call my office at (206) 729-3225. I hope everyone has a great spring and summer and that the Mariners keep on their winning ways!
State Sen. David Frockt, 46th District