Washington State House Democrats


Rep. Orwall’s 11/20/17 update: Committee Days / WAHealthplanfinder / Preventing mass shootings / Education Funding / Podcast on Veterans / Atlantic Salmon

Committee Assembly Days

Last week, legislators returned to Olympia for Committee Assembly Days. While we keep busy during the interim with work sessions, meetings, community events and more, Committee Assembly Days are an opportunity for all lawmakers to gather and discuss the upcoming session. Throughout the week, all of the standing committees of the legislature meet to hear from state agencies, get legislative reports, review work accomplished over the interim and examine emergent issues.

Need health care coverage? WAHealthplanFinder.org enrollment open until January 15!

If you’re in need of health care coverage for 2018, WAHealthplanFinder.org is now open for enrollment. Renewing or enrolling in new coverage is as simple as visiting www.wahealthplanfinder.org and choosing the plan that is right for you.

You can enroll for just yourself, or include your family members, and using the new Smart Planfinder, you can find the right plan for you. Smart Planfinder lets you compare plans based on cost, provider, and prescription coverage. In addition, if you sign up for a Qualified Health Plan, you can also enroll in dental coverage.

If you need coverage starting January 1, 2018, you MUST enroll by December 15, 2017. However, the enrollment window is open until January 15, 2018 for those who want coverage beginning February 1, 2018.

Key dates:

  • November 1, 2017 Open Enrollment Begins
  • December 15, 2017 Deadline for Jan. 1 Coverage
  • January 15, 2018 Open Enrollment Ends

You can also call 1-855-923-4633 between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday for assistance.

Enrollment is up 50 percent this year compared to last year, showing the demand for health care options for Washington residents.

How can we prevent mass shootings?

In September, a student at Freeman High School in Spokane County brought two guns to school and succeeded in firing one of them, killing one student and wounding three others. Across the country, mass shootings are happening with an alarming frequency, killing innocent people and devastating families and communities: in Las Vegas, in Sutherland Springs, in Tehama County. As the 2018 session approaches, state lawmakers will be looking at possible ways to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings and gun violence here in Washington.

On November 17, the House Judiciary committee, of which I am a member, held a work session on firearms. Beginning with an overview of current firearms laws by the nonpartisan Office of Program Research, the session featured a presentation on firearms types and components by a firearms instructor, and a presentation on the public health impact of firearms by a pediatric physician.

Judiciary committee chair Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, is ready to work with the new chair of the Senate Law and Justice committee, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, on legislation with the necessary bipartisan support to make it through both chambers and to the governor’s desk. One issue both committees may examine is closing the machine gun loophole by banning bump stocks, the device the Las Vegas shooter used to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one that killed 58 people and injured over 500. A majority of Americans support this idea. We cannot allow mass shootings and gun violence to become normalized. Our children, our families, and our communities deserve better.

I am also working on safety issues. Sadly, 80% of the gun deaths in our state are suicides. In the 2016 session I introduced HB 2793, known as the Safe Homes Act, to fund an effective public health campaign around suicide prevention and lethal means among individuals in distress.  This bill was created in collaboration with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, gun rights groups, UW’s Forefront – a suicide prevention organization, pharmaceutical organizations, loss survivors and other key stakeholders.  Here is an editorial on the bill if you would like additional information.  HB 1612 was my bill in the 2017 session to continue this public-private partnership.

Supreme Court agrees our plan will fully fund public schools

Over the last few years, we have increased the state’s education budget by more than $13 billion. That new funding has decreased class sizes, paid for textbooks and supplies, ensured that schools have the funds they need to keep the lights on, and increased salaries for beginning teachers. As the 2017 education funding plan rolls out over the next few years, we’ll continue that trend and ensure every child has the opportunities to learn that they deserve.

The McCleary court case has been in front of the state Supreme Court for years. The court previously ruled that the state wasn’t meeting the constitutional obligation to fully fund education. However, this week, the court ruled that, with the 2017 education funding plan, the state will finally be adequately funding education.

In their 9-0 decision, the Court stated:

“The court concludes that the State is adequately funding categorical components of the basic education program in accordance with ESHB  2261 and SHB 2776.”

However, they did have one objection to the plan. The Court objected to our timeline, which phases in school employee salary changes over three years. The Court wants us to phase in those changes over two years. While their intent is a good one, there are too many technical and implementation challenges that prevent a quicker timeline. I am committed to working with my colleagues on finding a solution that satisfies the Court.

Even though we’re on our way to meeting the court’s order, the education discussion isn’t over. We must still work with school districts to implement the new funding plan, address the teacher shortage crisis, feed hungry students, and house homeless kids who need stable homes. House Democrats have proposed ideas and solutions to these problems every year and will continue to work on these issues in the upcoming legislative session.

NCSL Podcast: Saving the Nation’s Veterans

Earlier this month, Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs co-chairs, Rep. Dan Saddler and I were featured in a podcast by the National Conference of State Legislatures to talk about the future work of the task force, which includes jobs, energy, health care, transition, environment, courts, addiction recovery, economic development, mental health and suicide prevention.

To listen to the podcast, please click here.

Update on fugitive Atlantic salmon

Back in August, you may have heard that thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped from collapsed net pens at the Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island.

Multiple state agencies worked collaboratively to respond and to minimize impacts to our waters and our native Pacific salmon. The public was encouraged to grab their fishing gear, hit the water and catch as many of the escaped salmon as possible. Native American tribes and others also worked hard to catch the fugitive fish.

For the time being, Governor Inslee and Commissioner Franz (DNR) have stated that there will be no new net pens until the investigation into the incident is complete.

This week the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee held a work session on the issue and got updates from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Ecology, and the Department of Natural Resources. The Committee also heard from Jeremiah “Jay” Julius, Chairman of the Lummi Tribal Council and owners of the net pens, Cooke Aquaculture. You can watch the work session here.

When the legislature convenes in January, lawmakers will be looking at possible changes to avoid these incidents from happening going forward.

Thank you for taking the time to read my newsletter. If you have any questions or want additional information on any of these issues, please contact my office.