2014 Session Wrap-Up

It is good to be home after a short, but exhausting, 60 day session. I hope you will take some time to read through this brief update on the 2014 session.

Quality Early Learning for Kids in the Child Welfare System (HB 2519) Lincoln Elementary Art Class

Children in our child welfare system are some of our community’s most vulnerable. This legislation will help those kids access quality early learning. Families involved in the child welfare system going through the new Family Assessment Response (FAR) program will now be evaluated for child safety and well-being. If the FAR worker finds it to be in the best interest of the child, the family is referred to a quality early learning program like Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECAEP), home visiting nurse services, Working Connections Child Care, or Headstart.

24 Credit Graduation Requirements (SB 6552)

Gary Clinton's Sports Medicine class at Yelm High School in Yelm, Washington. Steven M. Herppich

After much wrangling and discussion, changes to high school graduation and other education policies passed the last day of the session. Starting in 2019, high school students must graduate with 24 credits, but are allowed a 2-credit waiver in certain circumstances. Flexibility was offered to schools around the 1,080 hours requirements, culminating projects are optional and course equivalencies must be provided to help students pursue their interests.

The DREAM Act (SB 6523)

The DREAM Act (also known as the “Real Hope Act”) grants undocumented students the opportunity to attain higher education by providing access to financial aid. Undocumented students who have graduated with a high school diploma (or its equivalent) and who have lived in Washington State for the previous three years may now apply for funds from the State Need Grant.  Nieto, Lilia

A (Proposed) Step Forward in School Construction (HB 2797)

Kids need classrooms. Part of the McCleary ruling on fully funding our public schools included addressing overcrowding in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. House Bill 2797 was a strongly bipartisan effort that would have bonded state lottery funds and distributed $700 million state-wide for classroom construction. The bill, which was projected to create 7,000 jobs, died in the Senate.

Budget Wrap-Up

The supplemental operating budget focused mainly on technical fixes and caseload updates. However, there was progress made in some important areas, including:

  • $58 million investment in K-12 supplies, books and technology
  • Significant steps on mental health beds and services at the community level
  • 5,000 new slots for services to our developmentally disabled community
  • $5 million for the State Need Grant
  • $23 million for payment increases for child care providers and steps towards a tiered reimbursement system that should result in higher quality child care
  • TANF program reinvestments to help struggling families achieve economic success

Oil Transportation Safety Act (HB 2347)

The Oil Transportation Safety Act focused on improving the safety of our dramatically increasing levels of oil transportation across the state by rail and water. One proposed requirement was the release of aggregated information on the type and quantity of petroleum being transported to enable first-responders to be better prepared should an accident occur. In the end, the only related policy passed requested a study of oil across the state.

Paid Sick and Safe Leave (HB 1313)

A parent shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and staying home with a sick child. Nor should a victim of domestic violence have to choose between going to court to take out a protection order and paying rent. HB 1313 required all employers to provide their workers with paid sick and safe leave. The bill passed out of the House, but never came up for a vote in the Senate.

Reproductive Parity Act (HB 2148)

HB 2148, the Reproductive Parity Act, simply states that any insurance plan in Washington State that covers maternity care services must also offer comparable abortion services. The bottom line is that a woman, not politicians, should make the informed decisions when it comes to her own pregnancy. As in previous years, it passed off the House floor, but received no vote in the Senate.

Document Recording Fee  (House Bill 2368/ SB 5875)

The Legislature enacted the Homeless Housing and Assistance Act in 2005, with the goal of reducing homelessness by 50 percent statewide and in each county by 2015. A $40 surcharge for local homeless housing and assistance programs is imposed on the recording of certain real estate documents. Scheduled to sunset if no new legislation was passed, the $40 fee is now extended through 2019.

Domestic Violence and Firearms (HB 1840)

For years, advocates for victims of domestic violence have called for laws to remove firearms from domestic violence offenders. More than half of the homicide victims in this country are women killed at the hands of their intimate partners, usually with a firearm. HB 1840 aligns Washington law with federal law by removing firearms from persons subject to protection orders. If the protection order expires or is lifted, or if the offender is acquitted, firearms and rights are then restored.

Sealing Juvenile Records (HB 1651)

Washington is one of eight states in the country where juvenile records are not covered by confidentiality, and one of three states where these records are sold. With passage of this bill, the courts must now schedule an administrative hearing to consider sealing court records of a juvenile offender who has completed probation or confinement and parole. Violent and serious offenses are not included.

Suite of Foster Children Legislation

Three measures made important steps toward securing a more hopeful future for Washington’s foster children.

  • Prudent Parent Bill (SB 6479): This bill allows foster parents to make decisions on behalf of their foster child(ren) that a typical parent might make. This includes participating in after school activities and attending field trips, birthday parties, family vacations, etc. This allows kids to be kids.
  • Legal Representation for Foster Children (SB 6126): Unlike most states in the nation, foster children in Washington do not have access to an attorney. Changes this session ensure that all foster children whose parents no longer have parental rights will be entitled to an attorney.
  • Extended Foster Care (HB 2335): Youth typically ‘age-out’ of foster care at age 18. However foster youth may continue to receive services from ages 19-21 if they are participating in a secondary education program or its equivalent.  This legislation extends foster care for those working at least 80 hours per month.  Now, foster care youth no longer have to choose between working more than 20 hours per week and keeping their housing.