Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Here is a quick update on some of the issues we're working on in Olympia right now. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Jobs and economy:
This morning at 8 a.m., House Bill 1686, which would make changes to the state's workers' compensation insurance system, was scheduled for a public hearing. The bill was put forward by the governor. Senate Bills 5566, 5582 and 5583, which aim to address some of the problems in the system, were heard in the Senate Tuesday. While these proposals may be a good start to moving the financially uncertain and costly system in the right direction, they fall far short of any real reform. Both employers and employees pay into this system.
Also being debated are reforms to the unemployment insurance system. House Bill 1091 and Senate Bill 5135, proposals put forward by the governor, would begin to look at how to curb the steep yearly increases of unemployment insurance taxes. While these bills attempt to address Washington's costly unemployment insurance system, which is 300 percent more expensive than the national average, they do not take any steps to create long-term fixes in the program, certainty for employers and security for those receiving the benefits. Labor groups are attempting to make this system even more costly by adding new benefits based on the number of dependents the recipient has. A vote on this bill may take place as soon as Monday, Feb. 7. Only employers pay into this system.
Rep. Cary Condotta, the Republican leader on labor and workforce issues, authored an informative guest column on our unemployment insurance system and the governor's proposed fixes that was recently published in the Seattle Times.
Workers' compensation and unemployment insurance taxes do not just impact employers. They also have a direct relation to job creation and retention. They also impact an employer's ability to offer good benefits and pay increases, as well as to expand their operations.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and ranking Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, released a statement this week regarding a federal court's ruling that President Obama's health care legislation is unconstitutional. The case now moves to the next level of federal court, after which it will likely be heard by the United States Supreme Court. Schmick also introduced House Bill 1804, which would prohibit the use of state funds in the planning for, or implementation of, federal health care reform.
Our priorities to improve our health care system have not changed: we need to address lawsuit reform, and we need more competition – more insurance carriers offering more plans – in the state marketplace. These reforms will create an environment where costs will go down and consumers will have more choices.
Sunshine in government:
The public expects budget negotiations and deliberations to be done in an open, transparent fashion. That's why I joined with my House Republicans colleagues to put forward a proposal on the House floor this week that would require the final budget document to sit for a full 72 hours before we vote on it. We believe allowing citizens and lawmakers time to review where $30 billion will be spent is critical to rebuilding trust in government.
While the majority party rejected this solution, we also offered another amendment to the rules that would allow 48 hours for the public and members to review the budget before a vote. Unfortunately, they told us that anything more than 24-hours notice was too difficult. It's better than nothing, but in our view, it is not nearly enough time for you, us or anyone else to review such a complex documents as the state, transportation and capital budgets.
Fund education first:
According to our state constitution, education of the children within our borders is the “paramount duty” of the state. That's why House Republicans offered a resolution on the floor to amend how we construct the state budget. Our proposal would have required budget writers to fund education first in the budget – before any money is spent on other state programs. The majority party rejected this proposal. I believe these tough budget times are the perfect opportunity to better prioritize spending.