Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After many months of negotiations the Legislature was able to reach an agreement and pass an operating budget, Senate Bill 5883, on June 30 and avoid a government shutdown. Of the two-year, $43.7 billion spending plan, 53 percent of that will go toward education. For the first time since the early 1980s more than 50 percent of the operating budget will be going toward K-12 education.
Along with the historic investment in education, this budget keeps promises we have made to our most vulnerable by investing heavily in much-needed reforms and increasing services for our mental health and foster care systems. We increased rates for childcare providers and others who care for our most vulnerable.
We were also able to stop the regressive and economically damaging tax increases the governor and House Democrats were pushing at the beginning of session. That means NO capital gains income tax, carbon tax or B&O tax on service businesses were part of the operating budget.
Obviously, the biggest highlight of the budget is the additional $7.3 billion invested in education over the next four years. Rep. David Taylor and I represented the House Republicans in the McCleary negotiations. Negotiations were difficult and long, but in the end I truly believe House Bill 2242 fulfills our constitutional obligation and fully funds K-12 education. It provides equity for students, teachers and taxpayers. Additional highlights of the bill include:
- starting teacher salaries increase to a minimum of $40,000 per year, up 12 percent from current levels;
- increasing state salary allocations by nearly $6 billion over four years to equip all school districts with sufficient resources to recruit and retain high-quality staff;
- providing an annual automatic COLA to keep state salary allocations on pace with inflation;
- establishing minimum and maximum salary levels to ensure an equitable distribution of funding for teachers in all districts at all experience levels;
- eliminating a fragmented and unfair health benefit system and replacing it with a more modern and uniform system modeled after the state employee health benefit system;
- an auditing mechanism overseen by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to ensure school districts are using levy money correctly so we are not faced with a McCleary situation again;
- improving our current regressive local levy system by capping local levy rates and moving to a new structure that increases uniformity among school districts and taxpayers; and
- continuing local control and flexibility by using the current research-supported K-12 funding model, but expresses this funding as a per pupil amount to increase transparency.
Legislation to change high school testing requirements for graduation signed into law
One of the issues I kept you updated on during the session is legislation that would change high school assessment and graduation requirements. I was very supportive of House Bill 1046, which would have delinked state tests from graduation requirements but would maintain all other graduation requirements. Unfortunately, we were unable to get that bill through the legislative process.
However, we did pass a compromise piece of legislation, House Bill 2224, which will allow more students to graduate on time. Our current high stakes testing policy has sent the wrong message to students. We are telling them they are not ready for life beyond high school if they do not pass an assessment test. This bipartisan legislation will provide students some additional opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned in the classroom. It is a huge win for teachers, students and their families. It will also alleviate some of the stress and pressure that comes with high stakes assessment tests.
Hirst water rights decision and capital budget
In a court case last October, the state Supreme Court ruled Whatcom County had failed to protect and preserve water resources under the Growth Management Act. The decision has prevented people across the state from utilizing wells on their private property – threatening property values, and creating uncertainty for families, developers and local governments who do not have the resources to handle the workload. Prior to the court's ruling, counties had relied on a Department of Ecology rule that allows the drilling of small, domestic wells as long as fewer than 5,000 gallons are drawn per day. We are talking about less than 1 percent of water resources.
Because of the critical impact of this issue, the capital budget was not passed in the Senate. There are some important projects in the capital budget, but passing a Hirst fix is a must. Passing a capital budget without a Hirst fix, is like telling taxpayers we will use their hard-earned dollars for projects around the state, but they will not be allowed to drill a well for their own home-building project or to help develop their property.
This is a huge property-rights issue. The Senate passed Hirst fix legislation four times, but we were never able to get the majority party in the House to bring the bill up for a vote. We needed to pass legislation to address the court ruling.
The good news is, lawmakers continue to talk. I am hopeful we can pass a Hirst fix and capital budget in the near future.
This session, I introduced House Bill 1054, which would have prohibited the sale of cigarettes, tobacco products, and vapor products to persons under the age of 21. The bill did pass the House Health Care and Wellness and Finance committees, but it was never brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote. I will continue to work on this legislation for next session.
Other states are pushing this legislation as we find out just how addictive nicotine is, especially to our youth. Oregon recently passed a Tobacco 21 law joining California and Hawaii with a Tobacco 21 law on the books. One in five kids either smokes or vapes, and one in three young smokers will die of smoking-related illnesses. We are still seeing a lot of tobacco use in our schools and my goal is to get most of the tobacco off of our school campuses with this law. Healthier young people also means a positive impact on long-term health care costs.
While the Legislature has adjourned, please feel free to contact me. I am interested to hear your concerns or ideas for legislation, or contact me if you need assistance dealing with a state government agency or issue. I am also available to speak or meet with any groups, agencies or organizations working on legislative issues or looking for a legislative update.
I look forward to hearing from you. I can be reached by email at email@example.com or call my office at (360) 786-7976.