Speaker Chopp’s opening day remarks
January 12, 2015 | By Washington House Democrats
Thank you, Pat, for those kind words. You are a tremendous leader and a great friend.
To get started, please join me in welcoming all the new members to the People’s House. I look forward to working with each of you.
We all have loved ones back home, making it possible for us to serve. Without my wife Nancy’s love and advice, I wouldn’t be here. And I am very grateful for the support of my son and daughter. So let’s hear it for our families.
Next, please join me in welcoming back Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen. Dan, we all watched with great sorrow the landslide at Oso. We thank you for all your work to help the community respond and heal.
Despite the tragedy of that disaster, the spirit of community was inspiring. People came to help from all over: folks in logging boots grabbing chainsaws, and volunteers handing out blankets and soup.
We recognize the people of Darrington and Arlington for their selfless service. And, the Sauk Suiattle Tribe for all the support they contributed. They showed us what it means to be “Oso Strong.”
People pitching in, not because they have to – but because here in Washington, that’s what we do.
So let’s talk about what we can do together, this legislative session. How can we help our neighbors and families?
In the end, if you strip away all of the bill numbers and jargon, I believe it comes down to two simple words:
Equality and Opportunity.
While they are connected, the distinction is important. If we believe in equality for all, we must protect the rights of our people and ensure that they have the basic resources they need.
If we believe in opportunity for all, we have to act to remove the barriers to a good education and economic security.
The American Dream of upward mobility is fundamental to our beliefs. That means we must address the concentration of wealth, root out the legacy of racism, and capture the economic benefits of a more just society.
It shouldn’t matter whether your parents drove you home from the hospital in a Lexus or a Chevy pickup truck. Every child deserves a chance for an education, because a quality education is the great equalizer.
Our major employers are importing workers from out of state because some of our kids are not prepared for the workplace.
As we focus on funding K-12 education, early learning, and higher education, we need solutions that put our kids in those jobs! We can do this!
Look at what we have done to end inequality in health care, a basic human right. Before we had Apple Health for All Kids, working parents with minimum wage jobs prayed their kids never broke an arm or got seriously sick.
The lawmakers in this House led the way. Now 800,000 kids are enrolled in Apple Health. That’s more than a million parents who aren’t staying up all night worrying about how they’re gonna pay the medical bills.
You expanded Medicaid for 500,000 adults and 600,000 residents got dental care.
Your actions removed a huge barrier to equality and created thousands of good paying jobs in health care across our state.
There is more to do this year.
I bet every person here today has a neighbor, friend, or loved one who has dealt with the challenges of mental illness. In any given year, a large percentage of our population will experience mental illness.
It cannot be overcome by an individual’s “will power.” It’s a disease that can happen to anyone, at any time. As Representative Cody says, health care shouldn’t just cover things from the neck down.
So to start, let’s quickly pass Joel’s Law, which left the House with a unanimous vote last year. Let’s fund more Evaluation and Treatment Centers, and provide more beds.
Most people who experience a mental health crisis will get better if they get the treatment they need. Much of the cost of mental illness is not the treatment, it is the loss of income due to disability, unemployment and public safety expenses. We fuel these costs and cause unacceptable suffering by not adequately funding mental health.
We must stop warehousing people with mental illness, in prisons and hospital hallways!
The Supreme Court says we must fix our broken mental health system. But the Court should not drive us. Fixing the system is the right thing to do.
It is the moral thing to do.
Equality is also about economic fairness. For too many families,
our recovering economy isn’t helping them. The system isn’t fair. They’re working hard and playing by the rules.
But the price to buy or rent a home, or send their kids to college, skyrockets while their paychecks stall.
Everybody deserves a chance at giving their kids a better life than they had.
My dad worked in the coal mines in Roslyn starting at the age of 12, to support the family. For 32 years, he worked as an electrician
at the Navy Yard in Bremerton.
My mom worked in a school cafeteria and got her high school diploma at age 69 at Green River Community College. For my parents, success wasn’t having a big house or driving a fancy car.
Success was watching all four of their children graduate from the University of Washington.
That’s the kind of parents they were: the point of work and life, was to help their kids, and others. This session let’s focus on keeping the American dream alive.
For a lot of people, that dream is a myth.
For them, a fair day’s work does NOT mean a fair day’s pay. Their wages are too low to meet the basic needs of their families. That’s why we should work to create jobs and boost the paychecks of working people.
We should build on the essential American values of equality AND opportunity.
We should raise the minimum wage to provide that opportunity!
Opportunity provides the chance for people to reach their dreams. Opportunity gives no guarantees.
Except – if you take advantage of that chance, you might find yourself someplace better than where you started: a better job, a stable family with healthy kids, a roof over your head.
Research proves that the investments we make to increase opportunity for our people can deliver powerful returns.
But the fact is: If there is no INVESTMENT – there can be no RETURN on investment.
Nowhere is that clearer than with education. The real message from the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision is that we need to invest in expanding opportunity for our kids.
Several years ago, the Legislature passed two education reform bills – House bills 2261 and 2776. Together, these bills are the foundation
to better fund public education.
In 2013, the House passed a budget that would have funded the first phase of McCleary. Working with the Senate, we need to make way more progress this year.
However, let us remember that equality in meeting basic needs is required before a child can benefit from educational opportunities.
Almost one in five children in our state are living in poverty, often without the resources they need to be healthy and ready to learn.
The odds are rigged against kids who come to school sick, hungry or homeless.
We must address poverty if we are going to solve the achievement gap and improve school graduation.
You cannot solve a math problem at school when you are distracted with figuring out where you are going to sleep at night.
We certainly need to invest more on our schools, but not at the expense
of meeting a kid’s basic needs. And shame on us if we don’t do right
by our children this session.
More than 100 years ago, a lawmaker from Puyallup named John Rogers saw how things were changing from farms to factories. Back then, hardly anybody graduated from high school or went to college.
He and other lawmakers had the vision to pass the Barefoot Schoolboy Act,
providing money to pay for a high school education for EVERY child.
Not just the rich, but also the kids of farmers and loggers and nurses.
Today, we face another sea change.
A high school degree may be basic education under the state Constitution, but most need an apprenticeship, a trade school, or a college degree to get a living wage job.
For many students that is only possible if we expand financial aid to low income students, allowing them to get jobs that will support a family.
It’s the right thing to do for our students – and it’s the right thing to do for the prosperity of our state.
Finally, let’s talk about building a better Washington.
We should all recognize that we need to invest in our infrastructure.
In 2013, the House led the way by passing a package of transportation improvements. I want to thank Representative Clibborn for her efforts to move this state forward.
The package didn’t get to the Governor’s desk, but it would have gone a long way to maintaining safe roads and bridges, improving transit, and providing local options.
It is important to remember that infrastructure is more than transportation. It’s more classrooms and better learning centers. It’s treatment facilities and housing for those who suffer from mental illness.
I’m all for fixing the potholes in our streets, but we also need to build homes for the people living on the streets.
Building bridges, schools, and housing not only creates great jobs today, it creates long-term economic benefits.
Generations ago, our grandparents built the hydropower dams, schools, and colleges that benefitted the next generation. We need to do the same for our children and grandchildren.
A final reminder to all of us. As lawmakers, we have the power to improve the lives of our people.
We can give a dad the hope that his child will have a better education than he did. We can save a family from losing a loved one to mental illness. We can help sick, hungry and homeless kids. We can create thousands of jobs that will move our state forward!
Because equality and opportunity are not partisan words.
They are American values.