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Protecting consumers: Debt collection bills close to finish line

Dear friends and neighbors,

In these final weeks of the 2019 legislative session, bills are reaching the final steps in the process of how a bill becomes a law. Today’s newsletter focuses on a package of  consumer protection bills that passed the House earlier this session and have been making their way through the Senate. All of them relate to debt collection practices.

I wanted to focus on these particular bills because they really put people first. They will make a big difference for people and families in our state. It’s about ensuring the scales aren’t tipped entirely toward debt collection agencies, and against consumers who are trying to meet their financial obligations. It’s also about addressing some unscrupulous debt collection practices.

These bills caught the attention of consumer advocate Jesse Jones, who did a story for KIRO 7 in which he interviewed me and some of the other sponsors. At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about the chances of all these bills getting signed into law this year.

Sincerely,

Protecting consumers from a downward financial spiral

The following bills are all awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. They have already passed the House.

Medical debt (HB 1531)

You wouldn’t hand over your credit card to be swiped by a retailer without first knowing what you actually owe. But that’s often what we’re required to do to get medical treatment. Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, and that’s why I sponsored this bill to help prevent medical debt from spiraling out of control. With protections like lowering the rate on interest that sometimes accrues before the patient even sees a bill, prohibiting health care providers from selling medical debt to collections agencies for at least 120 days after the first billing, and ensuring patients are informed about the opportunity to apply for charity care, this bill will help reduce medical bankruptcies in our state.

Consumer debt (HB 1602)

This bill is meant to help working families break the cycle of poverty by ensuring they are not left destitute by wage garnishment. It brings down the interest rate on the amount you actually owe,  and lets people retain more of their money. This ensures that those living paycheck to paycheck can keep enough of their wages to pay for their most basic necessities, like rent, so they don’t end up homeless.

Zombie debt (HB 1730)

What is zombie debt? It’s when the 10-year statute of limitations on a debt is suddenly and unexpectedly revived through unscrupulous debt collection practices. People who think they’ve long since settled a debt continue to be haunted by it, finding it impossible to escape. This bill kills zombie debt once and for all by making clear that when the statute of limitations expires, no more collection activity can take place.

Pocket service (HB 1066)

This is about fairness and transparency. Consumers are being harmed by a confusing process called “pocket service.” If someone receives a summons, but it contains no filing number from the court, they can’t verify if the summons is real or a scam – even if they do their due diligence. The consequences of ignoring a valid summons can be extremely damaging, including liens, wage garnishment, negative credit reports – even bench warrants. This bill prohibits debt collectors from engaging in this practice.

In case you missed it…

There’s a short window each spring when the cherry blossoms on the capitol campus are in full bloom. It’s a beautiful time of year and if you are able to come to Olympia and see the campus for yourself, it’s well worth it. If you missed them this year, here’s a photo of the Yoshino Cherry Tree Grove, which was dedicated in 1984 by Governor John Spellman.

 

 

 


Affordable, accessible health care

Dear friends and neighbors,

By the time this newsletter lands in your inbox, we’ll have reached a critical deadline in the state legislature. It’s called “House of Origin Cutoff.” This is the deadline by which bills must be voted out of the chamber in which they were originally introduced. House bills making this cutoff are now being considered by the Senate, and Senate bills are now making their way through the House.

In the days leading up to this deadline, several important health care bills were voted on and advanced by the House. I’m excited to share these bills with you in this newsletter.

Also, a reminder that on Saturday, March 23rd, I’ll be hosting a town hall meeting together with Rep. Jake Fey and Sen. Jeannie Darneille at the Eastside Community Center. We’re hoping for a strong turnout and look forward to answering your questions about the issues state lawmakers are working on. I hope to see you there.

Sincerely,

Laurie Jinkins signature casual

Cascade Care: Moving closer to affordable health coverage for all

Our state has made significant increases in the number of people with health care coverage. But too many working families and individuals still struggle to afford health care for themselves and their families. Currently, 70,000 people in Washington state have health plans with a deductible of $9,000 or more. That’s neither affordable nor acceptable.

Last week, we moved closer to improved access to affordable health care by passing HB 1523, known as Cascade Care. It creates a series of up to three standardized health plans per tier provided on the state health benefit exchange. Cascade Care plans will be designed and procured by the state in an effort to bring stability to the marketplace along with usability, lower cost, and better value for consumers.

The people of Washington state have been saying they want access to affordable health care for all, and this bill is what’s going to bring it to our state. I was a strong “yes” vote when it passed the House last Friday.

Network adequacy bill passes!

Rep. Jinkins and Rachel Smith embrace after passage of HB 1099

In a previous e-newsletter, I mentioned my bill, HB 1099, which would give consumers more transparency about the health care plan they’re considering for themselves and their families. I sponsored this bill because a lack of network adequacy failed an amazing young man named Brennan.

Brennan had what his mom Rachel Smith assured him was top-notch health care that covered treatment for the behavioral health crisis he was experiencing. Sadly, he was not able to access that treatment soon enough. He had a 29-day wait for the first available appointment; four days before that scheduled appointment, Brennan took his own life.

Under HB 1099, health carriers would be required to post information on their websites like when a provider in their network is no longer accepting patients, the number of days in which a patient is entitled to an appointment with a mental health or substance use provider, how a patient can complain if they’re not receiving timely access, and information on complaints filed against the insurer relating to these access issues.

Additionally, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner is required to publish an annual report regarding complaints received about access to behavioral health services.

Rachel was in the House chambers when the bill passed last week, and we shared an emotional moment afterwards in the House wings. I strongly believe the information this bill provides will help people in the decision-making process when choosing the health care plan that’s right for their family.

Here’s a short video I recorded right after the bill passed.

Prescription drug access & affordability

Prescription drug cost transparency

No one should have to decide whether to put food on the table or pay for their prescription drugs. Yet the rising cost of needed medications are forcing too many Washingtonians to make that awful choice. That’s why I’m a co-sponsor of HB 1224, which cleared the House last week.

It requires reporting by drug manufacturers on drugs that increase in price, and the justification for the increase. There is overwhelming public support for requiring drug companies to be more transparent about how they decide on prices. This bill is an important step toward improved transparency and price control, and I am hopeful the Senate will agree.

Improving the prior authorization process for certain prescriptions

It didn’t make the headlines, but I’m especially happy that HB 1879 passed the House last week. This bill I sponsored makes improvements to the way some patients with chronic diseases or unique health challenges can access the drug that’s most effective for their condition.

Often, the prior authorization process means following a “fail first” strategy, in which the patient has to show that a substitute drug preferred by their health plan is not effective before they can get approval for the drug their provider has actually prescribed. This strategy can delay treatment and have adverse effects on the patient.

My bill provides an exemption process that is clear and accessible, and ensures decisions about prescription utilization management by health plans are based on clinical evidence, not on cost. These changes will improve patient safety and help people get the treatments they need sooner.

Paging slot still available for 2019 session!

Each year, my office sponsors a certain number of student pages. Serving as a legislative page is a great opportunity for youth ages 14-16 to learn firsthand how our state government works. Students serve for one week in the House and applications can be completed online. I still have a paging slot open for the 2019 legislative session, which runs through April. Click here to learn more about the page program, and click here to fill out an application.

A scholarship is available to help offset the costs of living in Olympia for the week. Click here for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Caring for our elders and town hall announcement

Dear friends and neighbors,

This week’s e-newsletter is dedicated to a topic very near and dear to my heart – caring for our elders. Like many of you, my wife and I are part of the “sandwich generation,” those who are raising kids and also caring for elderly parents or loved ones. This is the reality for many families across our state. It’s been said one should not complain about growing old, as it is a privilege denied to many. While I completely agree with this sentiment, I also know aging often comes with health and financial considerations that can weigh heavily on individuals and families. The legislature is currently considering some bills to help ease the burden for Washingtonians who need care as they age, and those who provide that care and support. These are important issues affecting nearly everyone in our state in one way or another.

ALSO, SAVE THE DATE: I hope you can join Rep. Jake Fey, Sen. Jeannie Darneille and me for a town hall meeting on Saturday, March 23rd from 10 a.m. to noon at the Eastside Community Center, 1721 East 56th St, Tacoma. We look forward to answering your questions and providing an update on what’s happening in the legislature.

Sincerely,

Laurie Jinkins signature casual

The Long-Term Care Trust Act: A win for workers,  families, and Washington’s budget

Most of us will need some type of long-term care services or supports as we age. But the vast majority of us don’t have the savings to pay for this care. It’s a looming crisis that only gets worse as our state’s demographics shift.

That’s why I sponsored the Long-Term Care Trust Act, or House Bill 1087. We are currently forcing people to spend themselves into poverty, and it’s hurting families and punishing people who have worked hard their whole lives. Many family members take on unpaid caregiving duties to help an elderly loved one, but the caregiver pool will be cut drastically as our population ages. More people will rely on Medicaid long-term care, which will cost our state billions of dollars.

I’m thrilled the Long-Term Care Trust Act passed the House on February 21. It creates an insurance program workers pay into, and in return they’ll get a benefit of almost $37,000. That benefit could be applied to a wide array of long-term care services and supports – everything from assisted living costs and in-home care to meal delivery. The money could even be used to pay a family member to provide care. Here’s the speech I gave on the floor, which I dedicated to my 93-year-old mother-in-law, Jeannette. I’m grateful to my colleague from across the aisle, Rep. Drew MacEwen, who co-sponsored the bill and helped get it through the House on a bipartisan basis. He spoke of the challenges our state faces with a broken private long-term care insurance market, and how this bill is the best path forward. I also want to thank my colleagues who shared their own reasons for voting yes on this bill, some of them personal stories about challenges they have faced in their own families. These are all worth watching.

Rep. Nicole Macri: “I remember talking to the administrator of the nursing home about how much private care would cost. And I remember bawling.”

Rep. Cindy Ryu: “By the time Dad needed help, Mom was getting frail.”

Rep. Tana Senn: “This long-term care plan is about families…it’s about keeping families together, in their homes, with their loved ones, as long as possible.”

Rep. Steve Tharinger: “You’ll take a benefit out that will be greater than what you put in…unless you live to be 126 years old.”

 

A shortage of public guardians

Sometimes, when a person cannot make personal, financial and health decisions for themselves, a guardian is appointed to make those decisions for them. The guardian can be a family member, but sometimes a public guardian must be appointed. Washington state has a shortage of public guardians, and we’re working to address this challenge in the legislature right now:

House Bill 1329 would expand the services offered by the state’s Office of Public Guardianship to include supported decision-making for people with limited means who don’t need a full guardianship. This is a smart upfront investment because guardianship is an expensive option, and sometimes lesser levels of support are really what is needed.

House Bill 1330 would allow “case weighting” and larger client loads for guardians with lower need clients. Currently, there’s a hard limit of 20 cases per guardian, but the state should look not just at numbers, but also at the qualitative aspect of guardianship. By raising the limit to 36 cases in certain instances, the system would be more flexible, taking into account the increasing need for services with balancing caseloads and protecting clients.

The guardianship process in our state is overwhelming, arduous, and often difficult to navigate if you’re not an attorney. I sponsored a bill to create a guardianship monitoring pilot program to better help lay guardians navigate the system and prevent misuse of power. While the bill did not make the cutoff this time, I will continue to push for statewide standards for guardianship monitoring programs.

 

 


The Legislature is now is session

House Swearing In Ceremony

Dear friends and neighbors

Hello from the state capitol in Olympia! On Monday, I was sworn in as your representative in the State House. It is an honor and a privilege to once again serve the people of the 27th Legislative District.

Monday’s swearing in ceremonies included some historic firsts for our state. My colleagues in the House now include the first Native American woman to serve in that chamber, as well as the first refugee legislator. In fact, this is one of the most diverse cohorts of legislators in our state’s history. The House Democratic Caucus is also now a woman majority caucus. I’m thrilled that the halls and chambers of our state capitol better reflect our state’s diverse communities, like Tacoma.

This year, as in every odd-numbered year, lawmakers will be drafting a new two-year budget for our state. I’m pleased to serve on the House Appropriations committee, the committee that considers the budget, as well as all bills that have a fiscal impact on the budget. As the session progresses, I’ll have more information to share with you on what is being proposed for the budget, and what the impact of those proposals would be for our district and our state. But in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions, feedback, or concerns. I’m ready for the 2019 session, and I look forward to serving you.

Sincerely,

Constituent survey: Thank you for your feedback

Thank you to all who took my pre-session constituent survey that was linked in my last e-newsletter. I heard from some of you that you would have liked a way to submit comments directly in the survey itself, rather than having to email me. Others reached out to say there were some topics – like education funding and substance abuse treatment – that they wished would have been covered. I want you to know I received all your comments and greatly appreciate the feedback. Although the survey didn’t cover every issue the Legislature will take up this year, I focused on the issues I am most directly involved with in terms of my committee assignments. However, it’s good to know what topics outside of those areas are most important to the people I represent. I will also make sure to include a comment field in any future surveys to make it easier for you to submit feedback.

From the survey results, it’s clear that a majority of respondents do not feel they have enough savings or a plan in place to pay for their long-term care needs. This is not surprising, as last year the New York Times interviewed me about my efforts to address what is a looming problem not only here in our state, but nationwide. On January 7, I was on KING 5’s  New Day Northwest show to talk about my proposal, the Long-Term Care Trust Act. This bill, which has bipartisan support, would create a long-term care insurance program for Washington workers. I’m very excited about about this because it would help both those who need care, and the 850,000 unpaid family caregivers who are currently struggling to provide care for an aging loved one. The bill had a hearing yesterday in the Health Care and Wellness committee. I will keep you updated on its progress.

Let’s ensure our state boards & commissions reflect the diversity of our communities!

Did you know there are over 230 boards and commissions to which the Governor appoints people from across our state? It’s a way to ensure people have a voice in government, and that the diverse array of talents, skills and experiences from all communities are represented. The make-up of our Legislature is now the most diverse in our state’s history. Our boards and commissions should also reflect that diversity. The Governor’s Office is always looking for qualified candidates to fill current and upcoming vacancies. If you are interested, you can read about the many opportunities available by clicking here and here. If you’re ready to apply, click here to fill out an application.

 


I’d like your input: 2019 pre-session constituent survey

photo of Washington state capitol dome in car side mirror reflection

This will be my view soon. I’ll be in Olympia beginning January 14.


Dear friends and neighbors,

This is my last e-newsletter to you in 2018, and I’m using it to ask for your input. The 2019 legislative session begins on January 14 in Olympia. It’s important for me to get your feedback on the issues lawmakers will likely be considering. You can click here or below to take the survey, which should take less than five minutes of your time.

I’m keeping this newsletter brief because I know at this time of year people tend to be focused on the holidays and not so much on reading emails from lawmakers. So with that, I wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season and look forward to connecting with you in the new year.

Sincerely,


2019 pre-session constituent survey

I’m seeking your input on some of the issues that will likely be before the Legislature in 2019. While this survey doesn’t cover every topic that state lawmakers will consider, it touches on the ones I’m most directly involved with. If you have feedback to share on a topic not included in the survey, please email me. Thank you, and I look forward to your responses.

Click here to take the survey


Ecology updates soil contamination maps for Tacoma Smelter Plume

The Washington State Department of Ecology has a new, updated online map that shows the pattern of arsenic contamination from the former Asarco Tacoma Smelter. It includes soil sampling information and links to resources such as the Soil Safety Program.

Click here to access the map.

Tacoma skyline photo


The 2019 session begins January 14

Dear friends and neighbors,

This week, committees in the state House of Representatives met to prepare for the 2019 legislative session, which begins January 14. Did you know you can watch legislative committee meetings and hearings from your mobile device or PC by accessing the TVW website? Use the search feature to find videos from the current or previous years.

I’m honored to represent the people of the 27th Legislative District. Have a question or concern for me? My contact information is below and on the right, and I welcome your input. Please note my district office closes January 8, 2019 as my legislative assistant, Ann Dasch, and I will be working in Olympia full time for the session. We look forward to serving you.

Sincerely,


Legislative page program now accepting applications

Serving as a legislative page is a great opportunity for youth to learn firsthand how our state government works. Students ages 14 to 16 are eligible for the page program, which begins the week of January 14 and runs through the end of the 2019 Legislative Session in April. Students serve for one week and applications can be completed online. Click here to apply – applications are being accepted now.

A scholarship is available to help offset the costs of living in Olympia for the week. Click here for more information.

Here’s a video about the page program.

Rep. Jinkins with Page Natalya Braxton; February 18, 2016

Attention: Open enrollment for health plans ends Dec. 15

Nearly 40,000 individuals under age 65 in Pierce County are uninsured. Washington Healthplanfinder’s customer support network can help you enroll in coverage that meets you and your family’s needs and budget.

Need assistance signing up for health or dental coverage before the upcoming December 15 deadline? In-person assistance is provided at locations across the state, including Tacoma. Click here for addresses and contact numbers for all enrollment centers, as well as a toll-free customer support center number.

There is also a mobile app from Washington Healthplanfinder to connect you with in-person help.

Stay in touch!

The best way to reach me is by email. If you are a constituent traveling to Olympia during the legislative session and would like to meet with me, please email or call as far in advance as possible so Ann, my legislative assistant, can try to find a time for us to meet.


Putting people first: Consumer protection

Tacoma skyline evening

Dear friends and neighbors,

This is my last e-newsletter for a bit (see below for why), and I’ve chosen to devote it to highlighting some of the consumer protection-measures that passed the Legislature this year.

The theme for the 2018 session was “Putting People First.” In a recent op-ed in the Tacoma News Tribune, I discussed the many ways this year’s Democratic majorities in the House and Senate put people first, from cutting property taxes, to expanding financial aid for college, to protecting access to preventive care. For a short, 60-day session, we were able to pass several important bills that will help protect Washington consumers.

One final note: Because this is an election year, there are certain restrictions on my communications to prevent the use of state resources for election purposes. These restrictions include a freeze on e-newsletters, as well as a freeze on my legislative website. Beginning May 14, 2018, my website will not be updated until after the general election in November. However, if you have questions or comments about legislative issues, please feel free to continue to contact me by phone or email.

It’s an honor to serve as your representative.

Sincerely,

2018 Consumer protection bills

Reps. Laurie Jinkins and Drew Hansen on House floor
Chatting on the House floor with Rep. Drew Hansen, whose net neutrality bill I co-sponsored this year

Washington first state in nation to pass net neutrality law

Our state led the nation when the Governor signed House Bill 2282back in March, which I co-sponsored. It protects access to a free and open internet, using the state’s consumer protection authority. Under the legislation, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are prohibited from:

  • Blocking customers’ access to lawful content;
  • “Throttling,” or slowing down lawful content; and
  • Favoring certain content over others due to “paid prioritization.”

These protections were guaranteed at the federal level for years, but the Federal Communications Commission announced in December it would rescind them. Legislators worked together on a bipartisan basis to keep net neutrality here in our state, regardless of what happens at the federal level.

Protecting student borrowers

As I mentioned in my previous e-newsletter, many people are struggling to pay student loans. And some bad actors in the loan industry are making the situation worse. That’s why I supported the Student Loan Bill of Rights, which will protect borrowers from harmful and predatory business practices, and create an advocacy office that looks out for student borrowers.

Reigning in for-profit college excesses

A groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation bill will protect students at for-profit colleges and career schools in Washington from deceptive and fraudulent recruitment claims and from selling high-interest rate student loans. It bars for-profit colleges from selling their own student loan products or from having a financial interest in getting students deeper into debt. It also mandates that all marketing materials citing job placement rates, average pay or loan default rates reflect the same rates calculated for the state and federal governments, and bans the use of military logos in those materials. It even includes a tuition recovery fund for degree-granting institutions and career schools such as cosmetology schools, in the event of the closure of the school.

Ending the so-called debtor’s prison

I was pleased to support a major bipartisan reform making a long-overdue change to our criminal justice system. House Bill 1783 will help people get back on their feet and become contributing members of society once they get out of prison, rather than keeping them stuck in a financial prison they cannot escape. It places the priority on victim restitution – where it belongs – and does away with punitive interest rates that have only served as a disincentive to repayment. When people can meet their financial obligations, they are less likely to re-offend. That’s better for them, better for their families, and better for the safety of our communities.

Ending discriminatory housing practices

Washington’s housing crisis is hurting families, and finding affordable housing is a struggle for many. We’ve seen this recently in our own community. That’s why landlords shouldn’t be able to reject prospective tenants simply because they receive housing subsidies. This hurts even those who have good credit, no criminal history, and full-time employment, as they struggle to find a place to live. So this year, we passed a bill banning discrimination against potential renters solely because they need a little help to pay for housing.

Civil legal aid for those who need it most

No one should be denied access to civil justice because of lack of financial resources. The state has a limited amount of funding to help, but this year we expanded the areas of authorized representation for this aid. Strong bipartisan support for this reform I sponsored will help ensure that scarce civil legal funding is used to address the most prevalent civil legal problems experienced by people with low incomes in our state.

Protecting consumers’ right to information about charity care

While many Washington hospitals comply with charity care laws and encourage people to apply, some unfortunately do not give out accurate information and timely notice, or set up barriers to obtaining charity care. I sponsored a bill to put into law certain requirements about charity care notification. While it passed the House with overwhelming support, the version that ultimately was signed into law originated in the Senate. I am pleased this important consumer protection measure was successful.

Work continues in 2019…

While I am pleased with the consumer protection measures that were signed into law this year, other proposals that didn’t make it to the finish line will likely be revisited next year. These include:

Protecting consumers from overwhelming medical debt

Like student loan debt, medical debt is a problem that hurts people and families in our state. When people cannot pay off medical bills, they often end up going into foreclosure or filing bankruptcy. In fact, medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcies in the U.S. I tried to address this problem this year with a bill that would have helped people not incur medical debt they are unaware of (by prohibiting prejudgment interest), and placing certain limits on the collection of such debt, including prohibiting interest or late fees on portions covered by charity care. Getting sick or injured shouldn’t push you into a spiral of debt from which it’s impossible to emerge, and I expect this will be a topic for the 2019 Legislature to consider.

Protecting consumers when health care mergers happen

There is concern about mergers happening in the health care industry and whether they may drive up costs and drive down choice for consumers. I attempted to address this with a bill that would have allowed the state Attorney General to take an earlier look at the effect of these transactions. This will likely come up again in 2019.

Health care provider with patient

 


A higher education update from Rep. Laurie Jinkins

Dear friends and neighbors,

It’s that time of year when high school seniors are figuring out what they’re going to do next. For many, higher education is the next step, either at a community college or technical school, or at a four-year college or university. Others may enter into apprenticeship programs to train for highly skilled jobs throughout our state.

Higher education should be accessible and affordable to every qualified student who wants to pursue it. That’s why I’m excited the Legislature passed several measures this year to expand higher ed opportunities to more Washingtonians. Read below for details about expansion of state financial aida new student loan bill of rights, and an exciting new opportunity for pre-law studies right here in Tacoma.

I also want to remind you about two upcoming events. Next Tuesday, May 1st, I’m hosting a community conversation event together with Rep. Jake Fey and Sen. Jeannie Darneille. It’s from 6:00-7:30 p.m. in the Bay Terrace Community Room, 2550 South G Street, Tacoma. Parking is available along the street or in the Goodwill parking lot. For more information, contact my district office at 253-593-2033.

Rep. Fey, Sen. Darneille and I are also hosting a telephone town hall on May 8th from 6-7 p.m. We’ll be calling households across the district and answering your questions live during the call. Federal regulations prevent us from calling wireless numbers, though, so if you want to sign up to participate with a mobile phone please click here and then click on “Sign Up.”

It’s an honor serving as your representative.

Sincerely,

GREAT NEWS! State increases access to financial aid for higher education

college graduation, higher education

I’m so pleased the Legislature approved expansion of access to financial aid. This will help more students afford college, technical school or apprenticeship training, so they can prepare for the jobs our economy is creating:

State Need Grant wait list to be phased out
State lawmakers have committed to eliminate the funding backlog for the State Need Grant (SNG), Washington’s principal financial aid program. A $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. 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 over the next year alone.

Opportunity Scholarship expands to include professional-technical certificates and degrees
The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship program (WSOS) helps low- and middle-income Washington state residents earn their bachelor’s degrees in the high-demand fields of science, technology, engineering, math, and health care. But not everyone entering these fields seeks a four-year degree. This year, legislators expanded the program to students pursuing professional-technical certificates and degrees.

Scholarships for foster, homeless youth expanded to include apprenticeship costs
The state’s successful Passport to College Promise program provides scholarships for foster youth that covers tuition and living expenses for college. The program is now expanded to include apprenticeship costs and renamed the Passport to Careers program. It will be available to youth in federal or tribal foster care in addition to state foster care, as well as to youth who have experienced homelessness. These students – who don’t have the support system so many of their peers have – deserve the same opportunities to pursue their higher education dreams.

Governor signs Student Loan Bill of Rights

If you’re making student loan payments, you are not alone. Nearly 800,000 Washingtonians are currently paying off their college education. I made my final student loan payment last fall, over 25 years after graduating from law school. This year, we passed a student loan bill of rights establishing a range of provisions designed to protect borrowers from deceptive or predatory practices. Student loan servicers are now required to obtain licenses to operate in the state. A Student Education Loan Advocate is also established to aid borrowers, compile data, provide information on student loans, and receive, review, and take action on complaints from borrowers. It’s a big consumer protection victory.

Coming soon: Pre-law and social justice programs at UW Tacoma

The 2018 supplemental budget included funding for a pre-law pipeline and social justice program at UW Tacoma. There are many students in the South Sound who want to pursue a legal career but are place bound because of work and family commitments. Beyond this, there is increasing demand for legal skills that will help give our South Sound community members access to justice. Enter the UW pre-law and social justice program. This program will prepare students for law school and for other legal careers with an eye toward developing a law school on the UW-Tacoma campus.

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is April 28!

This Saturday, April 28th, is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Clean out your medicine cabinet and safely dispose of old prescriptions to prevent accidental poisoning, drug abuse, and contamination of our environment. Click here to find the nearest secure dropbox and other information about the take-back event.

Apply to the Legislative Scholar Program for Teachers

Calling all teachers…every year the Washington State Legislature sponsors a program on state government for elementary, middle school, and high school social studies teachers. This four and a half day experience takes place in Olympia July 16-20, 2018. Teachers can receive up to 35 clock hours through ESD 113. Click here for more information and to apply.

 


Access to Democracy bills and upcoming events

Dear friends and neighbors,

It’s been just over a month since the 2018 session concluded, and all bills passed during the session have now been signed into law. Most go into effect on June 7th. For a complete list of bills signed into law this year or in previous years, click here.

In this newsletter, I’m focusing on a package of “Access to Democracy” bills signed by the governor on March 19th. These historic election reforms are one of the victories of the 2018 session. They will help increase participation and improve representation, both of which are necessary for a healthy democracy. I’m proud our state is leading the way on this. Last month, I spoke at the student-led March For Our Lives Tacoma event, and I can say with certainty that youth are paying attention and want their voices heard. This year, we’re making it easier for them and for all Washingtonians who are legally eligible to vote to register.

See below for more details on each of the bills.

I also hope to see you at the community conversation hour I’m hosting together with Rep. Jake Fey and Sen. Jeannie Darneille on May 1st from 6-7:30 p.m. It will be in the Bay Terrace Community Room at 2550 South G Street in Tacoma. Street parking is available, or park in the Goodwill parking lot across the street.  For more information, please call my district office at 253-593-2033.

My seatmates and I are also hosting a telephone town hall for the 27th District on May 8th from 6-7 p.m. We’ll be calling households across the district and inviting you to ask us questions to answer live during the call. Federal regulations prevent us from calling wireless numbers, though, so if you want to sign up to participate with a mobile phone please click here and then click on “Sign Up.”

It’s an honor serving as your representative.

Sincerely,

Access to Democracy bills signed

State lawmakers passed several election reform measures this year, many with bipartisan support. These measures aim to improve ballot access, increase campaign finance transparency, boost turnout, give local communities the opportunity to elect more reflective and responsive leadership, and ensure the security and integrity of our elections:

The Washington Voting Rights Act (SB 6002) – Allows communities that are systemically disenfranchised in local elections to work collaboratively – rather than through litigation – with their local governing bodies on remedies, such as districted systems.

Same-Day Registration (SB 6021) – Permits same-day voter registration, allows in-person registration by 8 p.m. on Election Day, or online or mail registration within eight days of the election.

Automatic Registration (HB 2595) – Provides for the automatic voting registration of individuals who have received an Enhanced Drivers license from the Department of Licensing.

Youth Voter Pre-Registration (HB 1513) – Authorizes youth to pre-register to vote at age 16. Once they turn 18, they will automatically receive their voter ballot.

DISCLOSE Act (SB 5991) – Requires disclosure of large donations to non-profit organizations who participate in political activities.

vote, voter, voting booth, elections, democracy

Take the 2018 Pierce County Community Survey!

Our local Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has collaborated with private partners on a community survey about the strengths, needs, and overall health of our community. I serve on the Health Care & Wellness committee in the Legislature, and when I’m not in Olympia I’m here in Tacoma working at my day job in the public health sector. Your feedback is important to helping improve how our community best serves its citizens. Because greater diversity of voices will make a more complete picture, this survey is also available in Spanish or in Korean.

Next week: Give your input on Tacoma Dome regional light rail extension

Voters approved the ST3 Tacoma Dome regional light rail extension, although many taxpayers were hit with higher-than-expected car tab fees as a result. A bill I supported would have fixed the valuation formula Sound Transit uses, to closely track Kelley Blue Book market value averages. It passed the House but ultimately didn’t make it all the way through the Legislature this year. I expect this will be an issue lawmakers will revisit next year.

In the meantime, Sound Transit has kicked off its public involvement process for the Tacoma Dome regional light rail extension, with an early scoping period that runs through May 3rd. As part of early scoping, members of the public are invited to provide input on the proposed route and stations outlined in the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) Plan approved by voters as well as potential alternatives, benefits and impacts. Three open houses are being held in our area, with the first one on April 17th in Tacoma from 6-8 p.m. at the Best Western Plus Tacoma Dome Hotel, 2611 E. E Street. 

For more information and additional dates/locations, click here.


State budget fully funds education, cuts property taxes

House Display Board Sine Die

Dear friends and neighbors,

Exactly one week ago, the 2018 legislative session adjourned – on time! – in Olympia. It was a thrill to be with colleagues and staff on the House floor as the gavel came down on a busy but productive session.

During even-numbered years, state lawmakers pass a supplemental budget, making tweaks and corrections to the two-year budgets passed in odd-numbered years. For the 2018 supplemental budget, we had some good news in the form of a positive revenue forecast in February. Economists predict the state will take in an additional $647 million during the current two year budget cycle (2017-2019). Thanks to this extraordinary revenue growth, my colleagues and I voted for a budget that includes a one-time property tax cut to the tune of $391 million. We were able to do this and also leave healthy reserves in our rainy day fund for future emergencies, such as wildfires and unexpected economic downturns. Read below for more details on the investments made in this budget.

While I’m glad we cut property taxes – which especially helps working families and people on fixed incomes – I’m disappointed we didn’t provide long-term property tax relief with a capital gains excise tax. The proposal I favored, put forth by Democrats, would have impacted just 5,000 of Washington’s highest-income taxpayers – less than one-half of one percent of taxpayers in our state – versus the millions of taxpayers hit with increased property taxes this year. It even included a referendum clause, so the voters could have the final say on whether a capital gains excise tax on the very wealthiest Washingtonians is worth billions in long-term property tax reductions for everyone. It’s an idea I’ve pushed since my first year in the Legislature, and I will continue to champion it going forward. It would be a huge step toward making our tax structure more fair.

Sincerely,

K-12 education fully funded, at last

teacher and kids around classroom table

The 2018 session finally, at long last, closes the “McCleary” chapter in our state. As of this year, the Legislature will be meeting its constitutional and moral obligation to fully fund our K-12 schools. While the state Supreme Court agreed with the funding plan lawmakers came up with in 2017, they wanted teacher salaries fully phased in this year. It was the last piece of the puzzle needed to satisfy the Court, and I am so pleased it was included in this supplemental budget. Additionally, the budget invests more funding for special education, and addresses an issue with teacher pay discrepancy among some neighboring districts. Basically, certain districts have a tougher time attracting and keeping teachers because those same teachers can earn more doing the same job in the next district over. We tried to fix that issue last year, and this year we’ve perfected it even more. Likewise, last year’s solutions had a particularly negative impact on the Tacoma School District. These challenges were not clear when lawmakers passed the funding mechanisms last year, but became evident as we examined impacts last interim. I’m pleased we addressed these issues so our schools here in Tacoma and across the state will have the funding they need.

One of the reasons I went into public service is because I wanted to make sure our public schools have the funds they need to provide an outstanding education to every child. When I first came to the Legislature, my son was in elementary school. He’s now in high school, and I’m so glad I can tell him legislators lived up to their responsibility to him and the other 1.1 million school kids.

Mental health, safety net, college financial aid get boosts in budget

In addition to the nearly $1 billion in K-12 education investments and the property tax cut, the 2018 supplemental budget gives a boost to areas that will help families across our state:

  • Over the next four years, the state is investing $306 million more to improve mental health treatment in both state hospitals and community treatment centers. This will have an enormous impact on patients, families, and communities.
  • The state is restoring the amount of temporary cash assistance for families in extreme need, which was cut during the Great Recession. The new funding brings the grant amounts to above pre-recession levels, strengthening the safety net.
  • The state is expanding access to higher education by phasing out the wait list for the State Need Grant, which provides financial aid to students from families with low incomes. Over the next year, an additional 4600 students statewide who would otherwise need to incur debt or forgo college due to lack of funds will be able to access this aid.

One of the things I’ve learned in my eight years serving in the Legislature is that no budget is ever perfect, but this one is pretty close. Now that session is over, you’ll see me all over Tacoma in the next few months. Please don’t hesitate to come up and chat with me, and let me know what’s on your mind. Or, better yet, call my district office to schedule a meeting with me.

Ordinary Washingtonians can change laws, make a difference

One of my favorite videos I try to record each year is interviews with regular, everyday Washingtonians who come to the state capitol to attend bill signings – when the governor signs a bill into a law. Many of these people have worked hard to push for changes in our laws to help make Washington a better, safer place for everyone. Click the videoabove to watch this year’s interviews, taped on March 9.

High school seniors: Apply to attend first-ever STEM Signing Day!

In recent years, the Legislature has made significant investments in STEM education, to help increase the number of STEM graduates from Washington’s colleges and technical schools. That’s why I want to make students in our district aware of the first-ever Washington State STEM Signing Day 2018. All Washington high school seniors who plan to pursue a STEM degree or career are eligible to apply.

Just like signing days for athletes, the inaugural Washington State Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Signing Day will celebrate high school seniors from across the state as they make their commitments to continuing education programs focusing on STEM.

Date: Monday, April 23, 2018

Location: Museum of Flight, 9404 E Marginal Way S, Seattle, WA 98108

Time: 11:00AM- 1:30PM

Applications must be submitted by March 23, 2018. For more information and to apply, click here.