My thoughts and prayers are with Oso and the greater community of Darrington, as well as the lives touched by loss and tragedy as a result of last month’s devastating mudslide. Life is indeed precious—may we remember our fragility with each moment we are blessed to hold dear.
Significant Session Highlights & Achievements
I have lately been reflecting on the short 2014 Legislative Session and I am proud of our many accomplishments and that we ended on time on March 13th.
In short, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus passed a bipartisan, balanced budget that did not increase taxes on Washingtonians. But the budget did more than that. It put an additional $58 million into basic education and $20 million more into mental health services. Furthermore, the budget extended by another year the long-overdue freeze on state college and university tuition put in place last year.
Fortunately, we did most of the heavy lifting during the 2013 Legislative Session, which paved the way for smooth sailing this year. We began this Legislative Session without a facing a budget deficit for the first time since 2008. A clean slate made it easy to tie up loose fiscal ends, add more money into education and take care of essential services, all while not reaching deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets.
There are many ways where government can cut waste, reform spending and steward taxpayer resources more wisely and responsibly. As Senate Republican Leader, I am proud that the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has taken the lead on fiscal responsibility in Olympia.
I am also proud and encouraged by the bipartisan progress we’ve made in the Legislature, led in large part by the Senate Caucus. The final 2014 supplementary budget was well supported in both the House and Senate. Also originating in the Senate, the REAL Hope Act, legislation that broadens college opportunity for all, including the children of illegal immigrants, brought both sides of the aisle together.
Legislation to Protect Military Signed into Law
I am also proud of the four Senate Caucus bills that were recently signed into law by Governor Inslee that make progress to protect the heroic servicemen and women and veterans of Washington State.
- Senate Bill 5318 will allow veterans and their family members to receive in-state tuition at the state public colleges and universities instead of waiting a year to gain residency. This legislation will set up an easier pathway for our retiring military members to pursue an education and a smoother transition from military to civilian life.
- Senate Bill 5969 will grant college credit for certain military training programs and courses. Another law that will help our military members’ transition into civilian life, SB 5969 will take affect by 2016.
- Senate Bill 5691 will establish a new veterans’ home in Walla Walla.
- Senate Bill 5775 will enable veterans to apply for a special veteran designation on their driver license or ID card. This will allow them to prove their veteran status simply by showing an ID, rather than Department of Defense discharge papers whenever they want to access the benefits they have dutifully earned.
Our military veteran and active duty personnel are a vital demographic, accounting for more than 10 percent of the state’s population. I believe it is our duty to honor their sacrifice and protect their rights.
Senate Majority Leads with Bipartisanship
A stable balance of power in the Legislature creates a reasoned legislative debate and produces compromise that ultimately benefits the State much more than an uneven balance of beliefs and opinions.
Not all that happened during session turned out for the better, however.
The other side of a healthy democracy is political pandering. That’s what we saw when the Senate Democrats voted against their own legislation at the last minute after heavy pressure from the Washington Education Association (WEA), the educators’ union that contributes significant monies during election time. The legislation Senate minority Democrats voted against would have implemented standardized test results as part of teacher evaluations.
Washington is one of a handful of states that was waived from the Federal No Child Left Behind requirements to use student standardized tests. Now the Federal Government is requiring that Washington school districts comply with this requirement, or lose $40 million in Federal Title 1 money, which is distributed among the districts according to student need.
Without this legislation, Washington could very easily lose control of $40 million in education money. The Senate minority Democrats’ vote satisfied special interests, but it did so at the expense of school districts statewide, many of which serve large populations of at-risk and vulnerable students.
Bad Time to Raise Legislators’ Per Diem
I have stood firm against increasing the rate of daily compensation Senators collect for expenses while the Legislature is in session. The “per diem” is designed to cover necessary expenses such as gas, housing, meals, etc. It is in addition to annual salary.
Unfortunately, the majority on the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee approved an increase in the daily per diem by $30, from $90 to $120, in a 4-3 vote. I was one of the dissenting votes because I believe it is not the time to increase lawmakers’ pay, especially when other state employees haven’t been given pay increases.
The majority did not agree with me. However, in spite of the approval of the per diem increase, I will continue to receive my per diem at the $90 rate I’ve been operating within since 2005. I do not want to be responsible for increasing the burden on taxpayers at this stage in our economic recovery.
Youth Initiative Nabs State Title for Palouse Waterfall
I’m also proud to announce that, thanks to the enterprising students of Washtucna Elementary School, Palouse Falls has been named the official waterfall of Washington State. The Washtucna students pushed House Bill 2119, legislation that made the waterfall’s official title state law. I’m proud of these tenacious young people—they took an idea and saw it through to fruition, all the while learning valuable lessons about the legislative process. The Falls are a beautiful feature of the 9th District—hopefully more people from around our state will come to our area to see them because of this legislation!
While legislative sessions in even years are shorter and typically quieter than in odd years, I am especially encouraged by the cooperation and efficiency of this past session.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus adds a vital balance to the House and Executive powers in Olympia. It has been an honor to help lead this group and to ensure that the interests of the 9th District are heard.
Please feel free to let me know how you think the Legislative Session went. My door is always open.