Washington State House Democrats


Speaker Chopp’s 2016 Opening Day remarks

Welcome back to the people’s House!

I want to thank all the House members for their dedication to being citizen legislators!

I want to thank Dan Kristianson for his work!

Let us thank the families and loved ones who are making a sacrifice for all of us.

And of course, please recognize my wife, Nancy Long, for her many years of support!

In our line of work, there are many positive experiences, but also a lot of difficulties and challenges.

Long hours, long committee meetings, l-o-n-g sessions.

So it is appropriate as we begin this session, to mention a few examples of what we accomplished last year for the people of Washington.

To prepare our kids to learn and succeed, we approved the largest expansion of early childhood education in state history, $160 million over the next two years.

And we enacted the Early Start Act to improve the quality of care in early learning and child care centers.

To improve basic education as a path to a better life, we invested $1.3 billion in new funding for K-12 schools, expanded full-day kindergarten, and reduced class sizes in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

We carried out the commitments we made a few years ago with House Bills 2261 and 2776, as part of our “paramount duty” to our schools.

And we provided teachers and public school workers with a wage increase above the cost of living, recognizing the value of their work, and helping to catch up after several years without an increase.

To help students pursue opportunity, we increased College Bound Scholarships, an incentive for low-income students to graduate from high school and then attend a public college, tuition-free.

We also expanded Opportunity Scholarships for middle class and low-income students who are earning degrees in high-demand fields, with matching contributions from the private sector.

To provide health care for all, we expanded Washington Apple Health, which now covers 1.6 million people, including 800,000 kids.

We invested over $100 million for improvements in mental health care, providing community-based treatment, more inpatient beds, and better crisis intervention across the state.

We approved important reforms, including Joel’s Law, which empowers families when a loved one is in crisis.

And we maintained our national leadership role linking people to health care by continuing the State Health Care Exchange.

To strengthen the safety net for people who have fallen on hard times, we increased assistance for families, restored the State Food Assistance Program, and expanded services and support for children in foster care.

And we adopted a new Home Care contract, providing workers with the first-in-the-nation retirement benefit. They care so well for our elderly and people with disabilities. They deserve a secure retirement.

To create jobs for a recovering economy, our transportation package was the largest state investment in public works in state history.

It will fix aging infrastructure, increase public transit, and create tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade.

In addition, we created jobs by approving the largest capital budget in state history, with increased funding for school construction and projects that strengthen communities across the state.

The House of Representatives led the way on each of these accomplishments. But our pride in what we accomplished does not give us an excuse to sit back.

We need to keep moving forward.

Together we can find practical solutions to meet the next set of challenges.

There will be many issues we will review: Department of Corrections, State Auditor, and Court decisions.

But for this session, let us focus on the basics:

Basic education.

We must continue investing in our public schools…not because the Supreme Court says so, but because it’s our job!

This includes working to reform the school employee compensation system and addressing the shortage of teachers.

And we must build the classrooms to carry out the decision we already made to reduce class sizes.

All of these actions will provide hope for a better future through education.

Basic Health.

We should continue our progress towards the simple notion that health care is a fundamental human right.

Who among us would deny care to a child?

Who among us would turn our backs on those who are ill, or old, or disabled?

There is no doubt that we have made major progress in extending health care. But we have so much more to do.

Even though we enacted mental health parity years ago, we need to stop separating the brain from the body in our funding formulas and health coverage.

And we must have a heart.

It is imperative that we improve mental health care, which suffered during the Great Recession. We need accountability and more resources.

We must provide our state mental health hospitals with the staff and the tools to care for those we are committed to help.

Basic emergencies.

We must help communities devastated by some of the worst fires in our history.

And we should use our rainy day fund to cover the costs of the drought and work to prevent these disasters. But there are other emergencies as well.

There are many fires we face. In particular, tens of thousands of young people are homeless.

That is a moral tragedy.

We cannot look away from the fact that many young people are dying from suicide, abuse, and other tragedies.

Solving youth homelessness is basic: we need to get them off the streets and into a safe home. The same is true for people with mental illness.

We can prescribe drugs and treatment, but that is for naught if the person leaves the clinic and is left to spend the night on the street.

When you add it all up, these three basics are really about having hope, health, and a home.

One of the most powerful truths about America is our capacity for change and improvement.

There was a time when children went to work, instead of school.

There was a time when hard-working families had no access to health care.

There was a time when people with mental illness faced shame, instead of hope.

But over time, things changed.

If we continue to make progress…

There will be a time when we can be proud of our mental health system, with parity for all.

There will be a time when a doctor can write a prescription for a home, as part of a treatment plan for mental illness.

There will be a time when high school graduation rates will be close to 100%, with opportunity for all.

And there will be a time…and that time must be SOON…when we fulfill our paramount duty to the education of our kids!

We don’t have a lot of time this session, so let’s make the most of it.

Thank you.