Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now halfway through the 2016 legislative session. After a very long Appropriations Committee meeting last night, and more of the same today, we will be entering a week of intense action on the House floor where bills that have passed both policy and financial committees will be up for consideration by the entire House.
I want to again thank those of you who have contacted my office on a variety of issues to express your opinions to me. Your input is valuable and I so much appreciate your involvement in the legislative process.
Join your 8th District legislators for a town hall meeting
While it's still over a month away, I wanted to update you on our plans for our 8th District town hall meeting. If you visited my office in the last month we told you we were tentatively planning on having it next Saturday, Feb. 20. However, we have rescheduled to Saturday, March 19 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Arc of Tri-Cities on 1455 Fowler in Richland. I hope you can make it as we discuss the 2016 legislative session and other issues.
I have a few bills that are still alive and making their way through the legislative process. They are:
HB 2619 – allows for the Department of Corrections (DOC) to use funds allotted to them to offer certain postsecondary education programs to inmates. Priority would be given to inmates within five years or less of release (inmates sentenced to life without the possibility of release would be prohibited), those that do not already possess a postsecondary degree, and those with a reentry plan specifically calling for postsecondary education. This will allow a second chance to those who truly want to reform and reenter society. This bill passed both the Higher Education and Appropriations committees and is now eligible for a full vote of the House.
HB 2800 – this is to clean up some language from previous legislation allowing counties to hold joint meetings, including meetings outside their specific county. This bill passed the House Local Government Committee.
HB 2804 – this bill expands the definition of “highway worker” for the purpose of offering tuition waivers for families of those DOT employees killed or totally disabled while on the job. This bill passed the House Higher Education Committee.
In the past 22 years, voters have approved the concept of a two-thirds legislative vote to raise taxes six times! But in each case, either the Democrat-controlled legislature or the courts have struck down these proposals. While the latest attempt to protect taxpayers was once again negated by a King County Superior Court judge, House Republicans tried to pass a constitutional amendment to put this issue to rest once-and-for-all.
Earlier this session, we tried to bring up House Joint Resolution 4215 for a vote on the House floor. I am one of the cosponsors of this legislation but my colleague, Rep. Ed Orcutt from Kalama has been working tirelessly on this effort for several years. We know what the voters want – they've told us six times in the last 22 years! It's time we do the right thing and send a constitutional amendment to the voters so they can vote for the last time on this issue! However, our effort failed on a party-line vote of 48-50. The bill is currently languishing in the House Finance Committee. I don't expect the majority party in the House to allow a vote on this bill, leaving voters frustrated once again.
We also tried to bring up a bipartisan solution to the charter school dilemma – one that had already passed the Senate. Again, we know voters want more choices for educating our students. Public charter schools are an option that our citizens (minus the WEA) want to see succeed. But once again, the House majority party defeated our motion to immediately consider HB 2367. Interestingly enough, the bill's companion in the Senate, SB 6194, had already passed the Senate. We viewed this as a way to speed up the process and get a fix in place for the many students, parents, teachers and school administrators who were devastated by the state Supreme Court's ruling last year that stripped public charter schools of their financing.
While the charter school issue can be confusing, here is a short video by my colleague Rep. Chad Magendanz explaining our solution.
Working to make college more affordable
Last year I was proud to join my Republican colleagues in the House and Senate in pushing for significant reductions in college tuition rates in Washington. We were the only state to do so, however we've now heard other states may be looking at our actions and attempting to follow suit.
This year, we want to continue the work of making higher education more of a reality for our students and families by addressing the high costs of books and resource materials for classes. Here are some of the proposals we're working on:
- House Bill 2780 would provide incentives for the use of open-source instructional materials.
- House Bill 2680 would establish the Washington open education pilot grant program for four-year institutions of higher education.
- House Bill 2796 would provide students with the costs of required course materials during registration.
All of the bills received public hearings and support in the House Higher Education Committee earlier this session. You can find our news release for these bills here. While the fate of these proposals remains unknown, we will continue to bring creative ideas to the table to help make college more affordable for more Washingtonians.
To watch my recent video update where I discuss these bills and our efforts to bring a two-thirds legislative vote to raise taxes to the House floor, click here. To listen to my recent radio interview with KONA, click here.
Allowing men into women's bathrooms and locker rooms?
I have heard from many constituents that are concerned with a recent ruling by the unelected bureaucrats from the Human Rights Commission. This ruling would allow people to use the facilities of the gender which they “identify” with rather than the long-standing tradition of following the biology they were born with. Women's public restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and showers can now be used by men who “identify” as women, and vice-versa. I have real concerns about how these rules were adopted. It appears that the legal process for posting these rule changes and for allowing public input may not have been followed. We're still trying to sort through this process, but as you can see by the recent testimony in committee by the head of the Human Rights Commission, straight answers can be difficult to come by. One of my colleagues, Rep. David Taylor from Moxee, made a public records request to try to get more information.
While your voice has been heard in my office on this issue, sadly it will not be heard in a House committee with legislation to deal with this issue. The Democrat chair of the committee where these bills would be sent has declared she has no intention of hearing any bills on this issue. So much for public input. Unfortunately, this “we know better than you” attitude is prevalent in Olympia.
However, I don't think this issue is going away. The Senate has a few bills that attempt to repeal or clarify the ruling. And if we can prove the legal process for adopting new rules was not followed we may have some recourse there. I also think these new rules open up government at many levels to new, increased liability.
Thank you again for reading my e-newsletter. Please pass it along to family and friends. And feel free to contact me with your questions and concerns. It is an honor to serve you in Olympia.