February 14, 2012
OLYMPIA – From foster care to health care, House Democrats are pushing forward on priority legislation this session. After today’s cutoff for House bills to clear the House, bill packages to better protect communities and create good jobs were among legislation moving forward to help Washington families.
Landmark marriage equality legislation was signed on Monday and the Jobs Now proposal is exempt from cutoff. Important education legislation is coming over from the Senate. And the top session priority, responsibly balancing the state budget, is right on track with a proposal expected to rollout soon after Thursday’s revenue forecast.
“We set a comprehensive agenda for ourselves last fall,” said House Speaker Frank Chopp (D – Seattle), “and I am very pleased with the progress we’ve made for the people of Washington to this point in the session.”
Protecting Our People and Neighborhoods
Washington will continue to implement the Affordable Care Act under House Bill 2319 which bolsters the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, a marketplace where state residents and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance. Processes will be created to authorize eligible plans, establish a quality-rating system and set what essential health benefits should be.
Four bills were passed to crack down on drunken driving. Key provisions include adding cameras to ignition-interlock devices (House Bill 2443), increasing penalties on drunk drivers with a minor under 16 in the car (House Bill 2302), ensuring victims are paid when the accident causes harm or death (House Bill 2176), and a measure to allow judges to force a drunk driver to pay child support when a parent is killed (House Bill 2405).
Two other public safety bills will prevent courts from copying or distributing child-pornography evidence (House Bill 2177), as well as another to crack down on sex trafficking by increasing penalties on johns (House Bill 2692).
A package of child welfare reform bills that give caseworkers the tools and resources necessary to do their jobs more effectively and improve family outcomes also cleared the House. The package includes measures to hold state foster care funding level regardless of caseload size and reinvest the savings into proven intervention programs (House Bill 2263), reduce caseworker loads by instituting performance-based contracting for service providers (House Bill 2264), give caseworkers the means to help at-risk families connect with services in their community to help avert child abuse and neglect (House Bill 2289), and provide clarity in state law to avoid unnecessary lawsuits regarding child welfare investigations (House Bill 2510).
“These reforms give our caseworkers the tools to help the state’s most troubled families, and ensure Washington can continue to champion innovative strategies that ensure the best outcomes for children,” said Rep. Ruth Kagi (D – Lake Forest Park), who sponsored the bills and chairs the House Early Learning and Human Services committee.
With a Jobs Now proposal in the works, House Democrats took action on bills to help workers find good jobs. Students will receive information on possible career paths and what skills or education they’ll need (House Bill 2170), a plan will be developed to incentivize universities to increase performance on things like graduation rates (House Bill 2265), and the state’s Innovation Partnership Zone polices are improved (House Bill 2482).
“We know that getting people back to work is the fastest way out of this recession,” said Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland), Deputy Majority Leader for Jobs and Economic Development. “Our Jobs Now proposal is a bi-partisan approach that targets one of the hardest-hit areas of our economy – the construction industry. But we also are looking longer-term, and passed bills that will help Washington residents prepare for the jobs that our employers currently must fill by importing workers from outside Washington.”
The state’s procurement process will be streamlined and reformed, improving efficiency with state resources (House Bill 2452), the Department of Licensing and Department of Social and Health Services will reduce costs by moving to regular mail class for certain mailings (House Bills 2400 and 2401), and a successful openly-licensed courseware concept in higher education will be extended K-12 (House Bill 2337).
Voters will be better able to vote under one measure to allow voter registration online up to eight days before an election, and also register in-person on an election day at the county auditor (House Bill 2204). Another bill will allow youth ages 16 and 17 to be able to preregister to vote (House Bill 2205).
“Reform is a big part of our agenda,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan (D – Covington), House Majority Leader. “We started by making additional efficiencies right here in the Legislature and continued looking for more ways to streamline government operations. We aren’t done, yet – more reforms will be built into the supplemental budget.”
Our Evergreen Legacy
Legislation is also moving to update the state’s Environmental Protection Act, an important tool for decades in protecting clean air and water. House Bill 2253 makes smart, specific changes to the act to cut red tape for local governments and businesses without sacrificing important environmental protections. Air pollution from wood stoves will be better regulated, while also protecting families using them as their sole source of heat (House Bill 2326).
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