We are down to the last month of the legislative session. We have passed a number of cutoff dates, including the house-of-origin cutoff date. Getting past this deadline is helpful in telling us which bills are likely dead and which bills may be deemed necessary to implement the budget or (NTIB). You may recall, NTIB bills are exempt from any cutoff dates.
In this email update, I will share with you telephone town hall information, give you the latest good news from the revenue forecast, provide a status report on the budget situation and what is happening with the McCleary negotiations. I will also update you on the education and health care bills I touched on in my last email update.
Telephone town hall information
Sen. Lynda Wilson, Rep. Vicki Kraft and I will be co-hosting a telephone town hall meeting March 29. The community conversation, which is similar to a call-in radio format, will begin at 7 p.m. and last an hour.
To participate, community members can call (360) 209-6592. Once connected, you can listen-in and press * (star) on your telephone keypad to ask questions.
The telephone town hall is an effective tool to reach constituents across the district and allow you to talk with us from the comfort of your own home. We are looking forward to your participation and questions about issues before the Legislature and our state.
Revenue forecast and budgets
Last week we received good news from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The revenue forecast has been increased by about $258 million more for the remainder of the 2015-17 biennium, and about $313 million more for the 2017-19 biennium.
These numbers should put to rest any talk about increasing taxes. Revenue is clearly not an issue, as Washington taxpayers are paying plenty in taxes as we work toward a balanced budget and a final McCleary education funding plan.
Speaking of budgets, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus unveiled its budget proposal on Tuesday. Highlights include:
- It builds on the previous $4.6 billion in additional education over the last two budget cycles.
- No new or major tax increases.
- Protects the most vulnerable and those with mental health issues.
- Makes significant investments to protect foster children and those with developmental disabilities.
- Continues commitment to make higher education more affordable and more accessible by funding 1,800 new enrollments, with a significant focus on STEM degrees.
- Leaves $2 billion in the rainy-day fund.
House Democrats are expected to come out with their plan next week.
McCleary negotiations are ongoing. Eight legislators, two from each caucus, are meeting on a regular basis. Rep. David Taylor and I are representing House Republicans in the negotiations. Our House Republican team has been refining our solutions for about 10 months. Some of the ideas and solutions we have brought to the table include:
- No school district should receive less money under any new plan compared to what they would receive under current law.
- The Legislature should increase state salary allocations to ensure all teachers are paid market rate.
- Using the new salary allocations, each district should have a “box,” and total spending on salaries should not exceed that box.
- Local collective bargaining should be preserved, but subject to new constraints.
- Local enrichment levies should be preserved.
- Smaller K-3 class sizes should remain a priority, with funding tied to the actual class-size demonstrated.
- Increased spending should be covered through existing revenue and expected revenue growth.
With the revenue forecast up, both sides in the negotiating room and proposed operating budgets being introduced, we are keeping a positive outlook on reaching an agreement in the next month.
In my last email update, I touched on a handful of health care and education bills I was focusing on this session. Here is a status report on those bills:
House Bill 1054, or the Tobacco 21 bill as it is called, would prohibit the sale of cigarettes, tobacco products, and vapor products to persons under the age of 21. This bill passed the House Health Care and Wellness Committee and is scheduled to be voted out of the House Finance Committee next week. There are concerns about lost revenue and it will be tough to get this bill through the legislative process. However, I remain hopeful. I truly believe any revenue we lose because of lost tobacco sales, we will make up for in health care costs by keeping more people away from nicotine.
Oregon's Senate just passed its version of the Tobacco 21 bill. The Oregon State House of Representatives must consider the measure now. You can read more by clicking: Citing health risks, Senate approves raising Oregon tobacco age to 21.
House Bill 1339, which would provide restrictions on prescriptions for opioid drugs, passed the House a couple weeks ago. It is in the Senate and recently had a public hearing.
House Bill 1870, which would protect consumers from “balance billing” or charges for out-of-network health care services, did not make it out of the House before our house-of-origin cutoff date. I plan to work on this bill again next year.
House Bill 1046, which would remove high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement, but would maintain all other graduation requirements, is moving through the legislative process. It passed the House by a vote of 92-6. The bill had a public hearing in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.
House Bill 1509 would eliminate the 24-credit graduation requirement for classes graduating in 2019 and after, and establish a 21-credit requirement with a goal of freeing up some credit requirements to give students more flexibility with their electives. The bill did make it out of the House Education Committee, but the Appropriations Committee did not take action on it. This measure is probably dead for the session.
I recently received the 2017 YMCA Legislative Champion Award from the Washington State Alliance of YMCAs for my work on the Tobacco 21 bill and promoting healthy families and communities. You can read my news release here. While I was very humbled and honored to receive the award, my work is not finished. I want to get the bill through the Legislature. I am also working on a bill to make sure our young people are getting enough exercise in their physical education classes in school. We must exercise our bodies as well as our minds, especially our youth.
PHOTO: Rep. Paul Harris receives the YMCA Legislative Champion Award.
Keep in touch
The next couple weeks will be filled with negotiations on McCleary, discussing the various budget proposals – operating, capital and transportation – and working toward agreement on all three. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about any of the budgets or issues we are working on in the final 30 days of the regular session, please do not hesitate to contact me.