OLYMPIA – Though budget discussions dominated the first half of the session, legislators in the state House passed several key measures that balance our near-term economic challenges with long-term priorities in education, jobs and the environment.
“Managing our way to economic recovery and responsibly balancing the budget is our most urgent challenge this session,” said House Speaker Frank Chopp (Seattle). “But we are also protecting those things that have made Washington a state where families want to live and businesses want to grow – a state with strong schools, good jobs, safe communities, and unparalleled natural beauty.”
“What we’ll see at the end of this session is a leaner government with a sharper focus,” said Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (Covington). “I’ve been encouraged by our members’ forward-thinking ideas that keep us moving out of the recession while not turning our back on the workers, families and children of our state.”
Key bills approved in the House so far include:
Responsible decisions for tough times
- ESHB 1086 was this session’s early action budget bill. Continuing declines in projected revenue resulted in a budget gap in the current fiscal year. Legislators passed this budget bill early in the session, including $242 million in budget reductions.
- HB 1516 by State Rep. Jeff Morris (D-Mount Vernon) will improve management accountability of the state’s ferry system. The bill sets clear performance measures for Washington State Ferries and directs WSF to contract out certain management positions if those measures aren’t achieved.
Strong schools, good jobs
- HB 1599 by Rep. Tim Probst (D-Vancouver) creates pay for actual student success program (PASS) to provide a financial award for high schools that demonstrate improvement in high school completion rates.
- HB 1510 by Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Lake Forest Park) strengthens early learning efforts by integrating a preschool-to-kindergarten transition program into every all-day state-funded kindergarten program. The program increases accountability, promotes parent engagement and helps teachers assess student needs.
- HB 1443 by Rep. Marcie Maxwell (D – Renton) strengthens instruction and support for Washington students, helps close the opportunity gap and supports education professionals. The bill includes recommendations from the Quality Education Council, which was created and charged with overseeing reforms in HB 2261, the major education reform bill passed in 2009.
- HB 1808 by Rep. Kristine Lytton (D-Anacortes) creates a ‘Launch Year’ program, allowing students to earn a year’s worth of higher education credits while still in high school, reducing time and tuition spent in college.
- HB 1091 by Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett) reduces unemployment tax rates by $300 million for 90% of employers. This will result in more than half of Washington businesses paying less in 2011 than they did in 2010. It also insures that unemployed workers will be eligible for the federal extended benefits and job training opportunities.
- HB 1294 by Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Sequim) creates the Puget Sound Corps, a move that consolidates and streamlines the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC), creates jobs within the WCC, includes opportunities for veterans, and could help attract federal dollars specifically for Puget Sound cleanup.
- HB 1869, also by Rep. Sells, aims to provide better medical care to injured workers and reduce costs by creating a network of medical providers for injured workers. It’s estimated that $160 million could be saved over the next four years, helping keep costs down for businesses providing jobs.
Protecting our people and neighborhoods
- HB 1220 by Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) increases transparency in health insurance rates. Supported by a majority of major health insurance providers, this bill allows public access to the health insurance filings submitted to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner when increased premium rates are proposed.
- HB 1362, the Foreclosure Fairness Act of 2011 by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines), creates a new system that will help homeowners stay in their home whenever possible. The bill strengthens mediation requirements and provides a consumer protection remedy for banks that don’t agree to meet with homeowners to discuss all options.
- HB 1652 by Rep. David Frockt (D-Seattle) makes Washington the second state to take aim at online impersonators at social networking sites such as Facebook and bulletin boards such as Craigslist. This fast-growing problem is producing appalling examples of public humiliation, cyber-bullying and fake solicitations of sex in the victim’s name that led to tragic and violent sexual assaults.
- HB 1405 by Rep. Steve Kirby (D-Tacoma) modifies the Consumer Loan Act exemption to protect homeowners from predatory lenders who fraudulently issue “commercial” loans to avoid stricter disclosure and lending rules.
Our Evergreen Legacy
- HB 1186 by Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) incorporates lessons learned from last year’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to prevent a similar disaster from happening here. It places new responsibilities on oil companies for the safe travel of their oil tankers through Washington’s waters, with updated contingency plans and proper equipment in place for a swift, effective response in the event of a spill.
- HB 1489 by Rep. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) limits the sale of lawn fertilizer containing phosphorous in order to help prevent toxic algae blooms in lakes and streams. There are cheaper alternatives to phosphorous that are just as effective, and the bill exempts agricultural users and instances where phosphorous is needed to establish healthy root growth.
- HB 1886 by Rep. Dean Takko (D-Longview) implements recommendations from the Ruckelshaus Center process to create a Voluntary Stewardship Program that would help counties manage sometimes dueling requirements in the state’s Growth Management Act to protect agricultural land as well as critical areas.