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Bills in the 63rd Legislature

Here are stories about some of the bills in the 63rd Washington Legislature, which opened its session on Jan. 14, 2013. The regular session adjourned April 28. A special session was called to complete work on the state budget; the special session began May 13, 2013.

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jobsOLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday unveiled an ambitious $120 million plan to create jobs in the state.

He said it will put a big dent in the state’s persistent unemployment rate, which stands at 7.6%.

Estimates are that 300,000 state residents are looking for work.

Inslee’s plan focuses on giving help to certain sectors of the economy, including tax breaks he argues will trigger hiring.

“If you look at the power of job creation, which is associated with these industries, in aerospace, software, life sciences, military, agriculture, I know we can do a lot better,” he said. “These action items that I have suggested are proved tools for doing it.”

Inslee’s plan calls for adding money to better train workers at both the K-12 and higher education level.  He would also boost support for tourism, the state’s fourth largest industry.

The governor said his $120 million package can be more than paid for by the $144 million savings he said the state will reap through the implementation of ‘Obamacare.’

Still, he said his big plan doesn’t come with any specific job number guarantees.

“I am sort of very cautious of creating some sort of false expectation,” he said. “I’m not going to solve the collapse of Wall Street just with my plan here today. It’s going to be a long, continuing process.”

Inslee also gave his support Wednesday to the effort to create a multibillion-dollar transportation package, which legislators are working on now.  It’s likely to include an increase in the gas tax and more tolling. The governor said it, too ,will help the state’s employment picture as well.

“We’re building bridges and tunnels and everything else with no money to finish them,” he said.

Republicans were cautiously supportive of the governor’s plan.

“We’d rather find the common ground rather than areas to fight over,” said state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.  However, they argued that a much better way to encourage job growth is to ease the regulations on business and on development.

“There are small counties with persistent unemployment, like Mason County, Cowlitz County, that have an opportunity to grow because the Growth Management Act (which requires state and local governments to manage the state’s growth by identifying and protecting critical areas and natural resource lands) is hampering that,” said state House Republican leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis.

The governor said he’s going to work closely with Republicans and find as much common ground as possible on his jobs bill package.

olympiaOLYMPIA — The Reproductive Parity Act has been on the wish list of liberal state lawmakers for several years. They argue that Washington voters have approved abortion rights by initiative and that should be reflected in all areas of health care, including insurance coverage.

“It is an individual’s right to make their own decisions,” said state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent. “Their insurance plan shouldn’t be telling them what that decision has to be.”

The legislation would ensure that insurance plans in Washington cover abortion if they cover maternity care.

Several Republicans are hoping to once again stop the measure.

“We’re not going to waste the Legislature’s times for perceived problems that don’t exist,” said state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver. “There’s not one single insurance company in this state that doesn’t already cover it.”

Benton argues the bill is unnecessary.  Moreover, he rejects the argument of the bill’s supporters that the coming ‘Obamacare’ – titled the U.S. Affordable Care Act — in 2014 could lead some insurers to cut back on coverage.

 “There’s too many maybes and mights in there for me,” Benton said. “I like to deal with the here and now.”

The GOP leaders of committees in the state Senate have so far refused to bring the measure up for a vote. A scheduled hearing last Friday was cancelled at the last minute without explanation.

“We are running out of time, and, quite frankly, I’m getting frustrated,” said state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, sponsor of the Reproductive Parity Act.  “You’ve seen what’s happened in other states, this rollback. This puts a line in the sand and says, ‘You know what? We’re going to protect a woman’s right to choose in this state.’ ”

Republican House Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis believes the Reproductive Parity Act will hurt Washington state.

“We don’t need anything to drive up the cost of health insurance in the state,” said DeBolt. “It’s a political football that they threw out there to see if they could create an untenable working relationship.”

Hobbs hasn’t given up hope that something can be worked out in the next two weeks before the deadline to hear bills in committee passes.

“Sen. Rodney Tom, who’s the majority leader, said he would allow it to have a hearing and I‘m going to take him at his word,”  Hobbs said.

abortionOLYMPIA — Should parents be notified if their underage daughter wants an abortion?

Lawmakers in Olympia heard from both sides of the heated issue Wednesday at a state Senate Law & Justice Committee hearing Wednesday on a bill that would require parental notification if a child under 18 wants an abortion.

The legislation would not mandate parental consent. A minor could still undergo the procedure.

Supporters say bringing parents in the loop is important.

“For a teenager, a child, a 12-year-old, a 13-year-old, a 14-year-old to voluntarily go in and have a medical procedure without discussing it with one or both of their parents is absolutely ridiculous,” said state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, chief sponsor of the bill. “In this state we require parental authorization to get a pierced ear.”

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, is a strong opponent of mandatory notification.

“The issue of reproductive health is a private issue,” she said.  “It has been ruled so by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Keiser worries about young girls who are afraid to talk with their parents.

“There have been cases, many cases, where a young woman has revealed even that she’s pregnant, much less that she wants to have an abortion, has been evicted from her family, dropped on the street corner somewhere, has been beaten, and, unfortunately, has been sometimes killed,” she said.

Benton said those exceptions are accounted for in the law by allowing a minor to go before a judge for notification instead of parents. Moreover, he pointed out that parental retribution is a crime.

“Everything they talk about is already illegal — rape, abuse, etc.,” he said.  “This doesn’t make them easier to perpetrate.”

Currently, 40 states have parental notification and/or consent laws when it comes to abortion.

litzow

State Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, center, the chairman of the Education Committee, is sponsoring a bill to grade the state’s schools from A through F.

OLYMPIA — Public school students are graded A through F on almost a daily basis. Is it time to do the same with schools?

“It’s a simple labeling system for parents to understand how their schools are doing as far as student achievement and growth,” said state Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, who is sponsoring the measure.

Education is clearly the biggest topic in Olympia this session. That’s because of a recent state Supreme Court mandate that the Legislature come up with $1 billion more for schools in the next budget. That challenge is dominating pretty much everything that happens in Olympia.

Litzow is among a group of education reformers who want to make sure that alongside all that new money come policy changes to help ensure results, including putting big bold letter grades on every school in the state and posting them online for everyone to see.

“Everybody is very familiar with A through F,” he said.

School grades would be computed based on a host of factors, including test scores, achievement gap and graduation rates.

“It would send the wrong signal,” said State Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn, who opposes the measure. “It won’t give a true picture.  You have to do a little more in depth, not just a simplified it’s a B or it’s a C,” he said.

Dorn worries the grading plan could unfairly shame schools in poorer areas, where student achievement has always been more challenging.

“A lot of these schools that we have now, they might not look as good as another school, but they have dramatically improved over the last three years, and that won’t be considered,” said Dorn.

Litzow denies that the new system would be a stigma.

“We’re not trying to shame anyone,” he said. “What we are trying to do is identify where we need improvement, what schools are doing well.”

For Dorn, the real solution to better schools is more money. “We’re 42nd in the nation in per pupil funding,” he said. “If you want a 21st century school system, you are going to have to invest.”

“We know we need to put more money in,” said Litzow. “But we need to change the system so we can tie that money to student learning and student achievement.”

The school grading bill was one of four reforms that were considered Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee. Litzow, who is the committee chairman, has got several more bills slated to be heard in the coming weeks.

getOLYMPIA — One of the most popular government programs in Washington state may soon get the ax. The GET prepaid tuition program faces stiff opposition from some conservative state lawmakers who say the public can no longer afford it.

“Right now we have a $631 million hole that the rest of Washington citizens are responsible for,” state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said.

The GET program has become very popular with parents who want to start saving for their children’s college early. It allows them to buy college tuition credits at today’s prices. It’s proven to be a valuable “insurance” to protect families from tuition increases, which have been hefty in recent years.

Even former Gov. Chris Gregoire has a GET account for her new granddaughter.

Tom, the leader of the GOP-dominated “Coalition Caucus” in the state Senate, said Tuesday it’s time to close the GET program before the state goes further in the hole.

“What we’re trying to do is focus government,” he said. “Right now we’re in everything that we can be in. We don’t need to be in this line of business. Most other states aren’t.”

But Tom is facing still opposition from Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and many in the Democratic minority.

“You close off GET, you close off one of the few ways middle class families in Washington state have to invest and buy higher education at an affordable rate,” said Murray.

Murray argued that the $630 million dollar hole is only theoretical.

“How you end up with a huge debt in GET is to close it, because you (then wouldn’t) … have new people coming in to pay for it,” he said.

Murray does acknowledge, however, that if tuition does continue to go up at double-digit rates, the program will face problems somewhere down the line.

“There is not a debt unless we continue to cut higher education and raise tuition,” Murray said.

Tom, too, wants to limit tuition increases, and said the GET program won’t be necessary if the days of double-digit increases end.

“The best policy that we can have for the middle class is a great tuition policy,” Tom said. “Let’s concentrate our efforts on funding the institutions directly.”

Murray believes the move to ax GET will only hurt the state in the long run by keeping some people out of higher education. “It’s (the proposal is) a travesty to young people who want to get into college, who come from families who can’t afford it,” he said.

But Tom said it’s time to get serious about overspending.

“We have a lot of liabilities that we keep piling on to this next generation,” he said. “At some point the credit cards get maxed out and that doesn’t work.”

chairOLYMPIA — Bills proposed by lawmakers that would eliminate the death penalty in Washington state were referred to committee Monday.

Both House Bill 1504 and it’s companion Senate Bill, SB5372, were referred to respective law and judicial committees. If passed, the joint bill would put a stop to all state-ordered executions and make the maximum penalty for a crime lifetime incarceration.

State Reps. Reven Carlyle, D-Seattle, Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, and Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, were three of the 15 sponsors of the house bill. They released a statement in support of the bill Tuesday, saying “that life has value and that the death penalty is below us as a civilized society.”

“We believe the death penalty is immoral, unfairly implemented and appeals to society’s most violent instincts rather than love and compassion,” the statement read.

Supporters of the bill argued putting an end to capital punishment saved the state millions of dollars in judicial costs accrued through a convict’s appeal process. The state spends far more in the appeals process for death row inmates than lifetime incarceration, state legislators said.

A report released in 2011 showed the state spent an average of $1.2 million on death penalty cases, versus an average of $89,000 for cases involving life without parole.

Though bills eliminating the death penalty have failed previously failed in the state legislature, lawmakers supporting the bill may hope a national shift in attitude regarding the punishment could spur dialogue.

A recent PEW Research Center study showed the majority of the public still supports the death penalty, with 62 percent in favor and 30 percent opposed. However, the numbers have narrowed considerably since 1996, when 78 percent of the population supported capital punishment.

“As we weep in pain for victims of horrific, unimaginable crimes, we also hope and pray that one day our state will join a community of states and nations to eliminate this unwise policy,” co-sponsors of the bill said in a statement.

It is unknown if House Judiciary Committee or Senate Law and Justice Committee will hear the bills. If hearings take place, there will be a later meeting to vote on the bill in committee before going to a floor vote.

Washington state has executed five people since 1976. There are seven individuals on death row.

familyleaveOLYMPIA — This year marks the 20th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which requires companies to give employees up to 12 weeks of time off for qualified reasons, such as personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption or the foster care placement of a child. For many, the shortcoming of the otherwise popular law is that the benefit is unpaid. You get the time, but you don’t get your salary.

Some bigger companies actually do offer paid family and medical leave, but many don’t.

In Washington state, a law was passed in 2007 to offer paid leave, but the Legislature has postponed it several times because of budget problems. It’s now set to go into effect next year, but a number of Republicans say the state still can’t afford it and that it should be repealed altogether.

“There’s a lot of good intentions out there,” said state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia. “We simply don’t have the money to do everything, so we have to prioritize.”

The family leave benefit would be paid for by a small tax on employees. The state would administer the fund.

“We’ve been pretty clear that we’re not interested in new taxes,” Braun said. “The public has been very clear that they’re not interested in new taxes, so I think that’s a non-starter.”

State Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said she believes paid family and medical leave is an important benefit. “Why in the world are they not concerned about the financial security for the middle class?” she asked.

She’s doing what she can to fight back at those who want to stop the law’s implementation.

“If we don’t have paid family leave, then in the time when the family is under the most stress of all, there is no way for a new mom, or for someone who’s had a heart attack, to take care of their families,” she said. “They cannot afford to pay the rent and stay home from work without pay.”

Supporters of repealing the law point out that many companies already offer a paid leave benefit.

“Let the private market develop it,” said Braun. “It’s going to come along, but the state doesn’t have to be involved in it.”

He argued that the Legislature should focus instead on its core mission. “Every penny we spend on this is a penny we can’t spend on education,” he said.

Keiser disagrees that the benefit would come at the expense of education.

“The operational costs are paid for by premiums, paid for by working people,” she said. “It isn’t a liability. In fact, the liability is the cost that the state budget has to bear when new moms end up going on welfare because they haven’t had time to get well from their pregnancy.”

 

pearson

State Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe

SEATTLE — A growing number of sex offenders attend schools all over the state at the junior high and high school levels. Principals and other educators are notified who the offenders are, but parents and students are left in the dark. State Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, wants this information to be provided to parents and legal guardians, as well.

He is one of many legislators sponsoring Senate Bill 5094, which requires parents and legal guardians be notified by school districts if a high-level sex offender is attending their child’s school.

“It would, I think, empower school districts and empower parents and possibly save some child from a horrific situation in the future,” Pearson said.

Seattle attorney Brad Meryhew said he believes it would drive students who have made mistakes in their past out of school.

“The consequences of fliers going out in the schools to every single parent, I doubt there are very few kids that would stay in school after that. Almost none,” Meryhew said.

He said offenders who are allowed to continue education can go on to lead productive lives.

“If you just kick that kid to the curb and tell him to get out of here ‘Rape-O’, which is what you’re talking about here, then that kid is not going to have a successful life,” Meryhew said.

Pearson said he isn’t stopping kids from getting an education and adds that parents should be educated as well.

Pearson said, “I’m not trying to stop a juvenile sex offender from attending any of our schools. I think it’s important that they come. But we need to know. The parents should know.”

redlightSEATTLE — It’s been nearly a year since Nicole Westbrook was shot and killed by someone in a passing car in Pioneer Square, and police are no closer to making any arrests. Her family remains frustrated.

“It’s been so hard,” said Marcia Westbrook, Nicole’s sister. “And it’s hard not having any clues or tips or anything.”

King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s office sits next to the spot where Nicole was shot, a reminder of how the investigation into her killing has stalled out.

“We have surveillance video from a side street so we have a side view of the car,” said Satterberg. “We know exactly what time of night she was killed and we suspect this car that was barreling up Yesler Avenue did not stop for anything.”

There is a red light camera near there to capture the license plates of drivers committing  traffic violations. Police wanted access to those pictures, but state law bars them from looking.

Satterberg said, “We have the suspicion that we could have solved the case, that the evidence was inside that little camera, but the law says you can only use that to prosecute an infraction, not to solve a murder.”

That’s why police and prosecutors support a bill in Olympia that would change the law and allow them to utilize those cameras when investigating major crimes.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington are against the plan, worried that it will violate the public’s privacy.

“There was a clear understanding that the use of these systems would be limited so as to protect people’s privacy,” said Doug Honig of the ACLU-Washington. “We don’t need police looking into people’s private lives.”

Satterberg said there are provisions in the bill that would require police to get a search warrant from a judge if they wanted to examine a red light camera.

“All the arguments to say ‘no, you shouldn’t have it’ seem to me to be pretty weak compared to the inequities of, hey, we’re trying to solve a murder here,” he said.

There will be a hearing on the bill next Wednesday in Olympia.

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