Washington State House Democrats


Rep. Berquist’s 05/09/18 Update: State Need Grant / GET Prog. / Higher Ed Opportunities / Equal Pay / Breakfast After the Bell / Paraeducators / Credit Unions

In this e-Newsletter I want to give you an update on legislation passed this session that was not included in the paper mailer I sent out recently.  Below you’ll find information on bills we had been trying to pass for years, such as the Equal Pay Opportunity Act and Breakfast After the Bell. There’s also good news on the higher education front, and summaries of some of the bills I sponsored that were signed into law.

If you did not receive the paper newsletter, or you want to take another look at it, an electronic copy is now posted here.

Election Year Restrictions

This is my last e-newsletter before election year restrictions kick in next week.

During an election year, there are certain restrictions on my communications to prevent the use of state resources for election purposes. Beginning May 14, 2018 and until the certification of the November election results, I will not send out newsletters or surveys and my caucus website will be frozen, meaning no new content can be added.

However, if you have questions, comments, concerns or ideas on legislative issues, please feel free to contact me via email or over the phone at (360) 786-7862, as I am able to respond to you directly.

GET Program

Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program

The GET program allows households to purchase the cost of college tuition at today’s prices to ensure families can provide their kids with a higher education, even if the cost of tuition increases in the future. The state then invests those funds to cover the actual cost of tuition for GET holders when students start college.

Due to unanticipated gains that the GET program has experienced in recent years along with tuition freezes and reductions, we passed SB 6087 to return those gains to GET account holders. The legislation provides new account options and additional benefits for GET customers who still have units purchased before July 1, 2015. The law went into effect last month but hasn’t been fully implemented yet. The GET Committee is in the process of setting policies based on the directions in the bill to proceed. The amount of additional benefits that you may receive will depend on the choices you make about your GET account, when you purchased your GET units, and the funded status of the GET program.

Click here for an overview of the bill and to get future updates on its implementation.

Fully funding State Need Grant (SNG)

Over the next four years, thousands of additional students will have the opportunity to afford college thanks to a major commitment by state lawmakers to eliminate the funding backlog for the SNG, Washington’s principal financial aid program. The $116 million investment during the current four-year budgeting period will eliminate three-quarters of the backlog, with the Legislature stating its intention to eliminate the remaining quarter by fiscal year 2021. Over the next year, an additional 4,600 students statewide who would otherwise need to incur debt or forgo college due to lack of funds will be able to access the State Need Grant.

Expanding higher education opportunities for undocumented students

With such a level of uncertainty in the other Washington regarding DACA students, I am glad we were able to pass HB 1488, which removes barriers to higher education by enabling undocumented students to qualify for the College Bound Scholarship, and allows students with DACA status to keep their College Bound state financial aid.

Our state is creating jobs ten times faster in certain sectors – like tech – than we are producing talent for those industries. The last thing we need is people dropping out of college because they can’t afford it anymore. This law will help students stay in school and finish their degrees.

Equal Pay Opportunity Act

Gender should not define a person’s worth and value

Women make up almost half of the workforce, yet they continue to earn less than men do for similar work. In Washington, over the course of 40 years of work, the average woman will make $497,280 less than her male counterpart. Because of this disparity, women can save less toward retirement, which means more women end up living in poverty in their senior years.

This year the Legislature overwhelmingly passed the Equal Pay Opportunity Act, HB 1506, which will allow employees to talk about their earnings with co-workers and ask for equal pay, without fear of backlash or retaliation. The new law offers remedies for employees who are paid less for similar work on the basis of gender, and also ensures employees receive access to equivalent career advancement opportunities, regardless of gender. Providing fair access to career growth opportunities will help put women and men on equal footing for promotions within a company and further women’s upward mobility.

With the Equal Pay Opportunity Act finally in statute, after trying to pass this bill over the past four years, working families will thrive, women will be in better financial shape when they retire, Washington businesses will become more competitive and the state’s economy will be strengthened.


Breakfast After the Bell finally became law

After years of successfully passing a version of this legislation in the House only to see it die in the Senate, this session the Legislature finally sent it to the governor.

Under HB 1508, schools where at least 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals will offer a Breakfast After the Bell program. Participation in Breakfast After the Bell will count as instructional time as long as the students are engaged in educational activities during their breakfast and the meal does not disrupt classroom instruction.

Programs like Breakfast After the Bell have proven to boost academic results. If we want our students to succeed, we must set them up for success.


Improving upon last year’s paraeducator bill

In the 2017 session, I sponsored HB 1115, which the legislature passed, to increase the state’s chances of recruiting and retaining qualified individuals as paraeducators.  That law created minimum standards certification requirements for paraeducators, providing them with additional professional development opportunities, and opening up more doors for them to earn their teaching certificates. The Seattle Times ran a story about these changes in August.

This session I sponsored the companion bill to SB 6388, signed into law on March 21, to boost support for paraeducators. The new law gives paraeducators one additional year to meet minimum qualification standards, gives school districts an additional year to train paraeducators (if the 4 day course is funded next year), and refines the pathways to teacher certification if the paraeducator wants to become a teacher.

Unlimited public deposits at credit unions in most counties

Municipal governments’ deposits in credit unions were capped at $250,000, limiting their ability to make competitive choices. So I sponsored HB 1209 to give local governments smarter options for their public funds deposits.

The new law opens doors for municipalities in 34 of the state’s 39 counties to local financial service and better returns on tax dollars. They will be able to deposit unlimited public funds above the $250,000 insurance limit, into credit unions located in counties populated by 300,000 or fewer people.

This bill is about access. Our businesses have access to credit unions or banks. Communities should have that same access. You should have the right to choose, as a public entity, to go to your credit union or to your bank. I think it drives competition and it helps everybody.


Amending the definition of veteran for purposes of pension service credit

Last summer Speaker of the House Frank Chopp appointed me to the Law Enforcement Officers’ and Firefighters’ Plan 2 Retirement Board, which is responsible for providing for additional benefits for firefighters and law enforcement officers subject to the cost limitations under the law. We hold monthly meetings to study policy issues and propose legislation. (Go here for meetings calendar, agendas and minutes.)

This year, I sponsored HB 2701, requested by the LEOFF 2 Board, which ensures that a veteran is recognized for his or her entire period of service during a war. All veterans receive credit for interruptive service, but only veterans who serve in a period of war get waiver from their contributions for such period of service. This benefit specifically recognizes the special service and sacrifice of persons who serve in combat. While it was drafted to only apply to the LEOFF 2 plan, the bill passed by the legislature covers other retirement systems as well.

As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read my newsletters and for your interest in your state government.

I am truly honored to represent you in Olympia. Be sure to contact me with any questions or comments.

Have a great summer!

Bergquist Signature