After several long days of voting on the House floor, we passed over 376 bills. We've now reached the half-way mark of the 2017 legislative session. Bills approved by the House now head to the Senate, where they will begin the process all over again.
The “levy cliff” bill
This week, the governor signed the “levy cliff” bill into law. The legislation changes the provisions relating to school district levies. For several years, the state failed to pay all the costs of basic education. In order to provide for student's needs, many districts spend a large part of their local levies on teacher, staff and administrator's salaries.
In 2010, voters approved a measure allowing districts to increase levy rates while the Legislature worked to find a way to provide additional funding for public schools. Under the current law, levy rates would roll back to their prior level at the end of 2017. This bill is a necessary fix for our school districts who need, and deserve, certainty in their financial planning for the coming year. That, in part, is why I voted “yes” to this bill. Senate Bill 5023 extends the deadline for local levy collections at their current rate for another year, to Jan. 1, 2019.
Here is the other reason I voted for this measure. Both sides of the aisle admit there is a problem with how school districts account for levy money spending. This bill also contains a couple of good amendments to help schools keep better track of how they use their levy dollars. Beginning in 2018, levy collections will need to be deposited into a separate account from state and general funds. In addition, schools are required to report, and track, levy money used to support supplemental programs and activities. These reports will go to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction before any maintenance and operation levies can be put on the ballot to support school activities.
The reality is the “levy-cliff” bill is merely a temporary fix to a problem that needs a permanent solution. The Legislature must put a stop to the over-reliance by school districts on local levy dollars. An eight-member team, with two lawmakers from each caucus, are working together on a compromise. Progress has been constructive. I'm optimistic the Legislature will produce a viable plan this year.
Making a difference
Bill ideas come and go, some get drafted and approved, and others die on the vine. But, along with the many frustrations of creating good public policy, there come opportunities to work on issues that are particularly touching. This session, I was able to co-sponsor, and sponsor, a couple bills that would help people dealing with tremendously difficult circumstances. I was glad to help shepherd them though the House.
House Bill 1907 would address issues that arise when a cemetery is abandoned. It is essentially a property rights issue. People who purchased a burial plot in a cemetery that is now abandoned should still have access to the space. Families in mourning should not have to worry about whether they can bury their loved ones in the plots they previously paid for when making final burial arrangements. The bill also helps by specifying the requirements for the proper transfer of records, including maps and other documents, to the Washington state archives when a cemetery no longer has an official owner. The bill passed the House 97-0 and now heads to the Senate State Government Committee for further consideration.
House Bill 2016 would allow access to volunteer maternity services for women in county jails or prison. Midwives and doulas are trained to provide physical and informational support to women throughout pregnancy and after childbirth. Midwives have additional medical training and can perform regular exams through the course of pregnancy and childbirth. This bill would require reasonable accommodations be made for volunteer midwives, and doulas, to meet with, and care for, expectant mothers, and those within six weeks of having given birth. In addition, volunteers would be granted access to inmates relevant health information. It's important that inmates, and their babies, have access to the benefits of these volunteer services. The bill passed the House 97-1 and is now set for a public hearing March 20 in the Senate Health Care Committee.
Economic Development bill
Good economic policy should foster cooperation between the private and public sectors. Here is a recently passed House bill I voted “yes” to that does just that:
House Bill 1086 incentivizes agencies undertaking an EIS to finish them within 24 months. The delay in the start, or extension of the overall schedule of an Environmental Impact Schedule (EIS), can compromise business development. The bill passed the House unanimously, 98-0.
Telephone Town Hall, March 28
I'll be co-hosting a telephone town hall with Sen. Braun and Rep. Orcutt, March 28. The community conversation, which is similar to a call-in radio format, will begin at 6 p.m. and last an hour. To take part, community members can call (360) 209-6593. Once connected, you can listen-in and press * (star) on your telephone keypad to ask questions.
If you are unable to participate, or would like to send me your questions, comments or ideas prior to the event please click here or on the picture below.
If you have any questions about this or other issues, please feel free to call my office (360) 786-7896, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for the honor of representing you in Olympia.