Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last week, the House passed its first two bills of the 2015 session. One was a supplemental operating budget to help with funding for the eastern Washington wildfires, the Oso landslide and other emergency expenses, as well as mental health treatment capacities and some children's services.
The other was HB 1258, which enables family members of mentally ill individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others to petition the courts for involuntary commitment. The bill is known as “Joel's Law” and is named after Joel Reuter who suffered from bipolar disorder and was shot and killed by police in 2013.
As many of you know, I dedicate a lot of my time in the Legislature to working on policies that help our most vulnerable citizens. I feel Joel's Law is a step in the right direction and I'm looking forward to seeing more sensible solutions for helping individuals with mental illness.
There are many bills before the Legislature (more than 2,000 in the House thus far), but I have summarized a few that may be of particular interest below.
As always, if you have ideas, questions or concerns about any issue before the Legislature, please contact me. My direct contact information is below, and I'd be happy to hear from you! I also want to thank everyone who participated in Rep. Nealey's and my telephone town hall last week. It was great to hear from folks back home and we were both appreciative for the productive dialogue.
Early Achievers program
This session I teamed up with Rep. Ruth Kagi to sponsor HB 1491, which improves standards, data collection and analysis, and information availability for the Early Achievers child care program. Early Achievers is a program that has been in place in Washington for several years and establishes standards for the measurement and improvement of early learning venues and child care settings to ensure children are provided a safe, quality learning environment.
Our bill seeks to improve early learning and child care requirements and objectives, while increasing transparency between providers, families and the state. It's important parents have options and flexibility when it comes to child care and early education providers.
It is especially important in today's tech-savvy world to invest in early learning. Numerous studies indicate that children who participate in quality, early education programs are more likely to excel in school and life. It's important we make this commitment to our kids to ensure we set them on the path to success.
This bill received a public hearing Jan. 28 and passed out of committee on Tuesday with bipartisan support.
Like last year, there is a bill before the House that would increase the state minimum wage to $12 an hour. As a compassionate fiscal conservative, I understand the need for individuals to be able to earn a family wage. However, the minimum wage is designed to be a starting wage. With a lower cost of living in eastern Washington, a one-size-fits-all approach could end up hurting job availability, hours and prices for goods in our area, not to mention the compounded impact it could have on businesses and employees in our border communities. I might be inclined to support this minimum wage proposal if the bill allowed employers to offer a training wage to young workers just entering the workforce. Washington's unemployment rate for the 16-to-19 age group is almost 8 percent higher than the U.S. national average.
Since the passage of Initiative 502, the Legislature has been grappling with streamlining medical and recreational marijuana for compatibility. There are several bills before us that attempt to reconcile the two systems. There will undoubtedly be some oversight for the medical marijuana industry – something we have not seen to date. I am confident we can find a solution that works for both industries.
As legislation on this issue develops, I'll be sure to keep you updated.
Many of you are like me and are still coping with the sting of losing the Super Bowl this year. During our telephone town hall last week, we asked listeners to vote who they thought would win the Super Bowl – 94 percent of respondents voted for the Seahawks. Boy do I wish they had been right!
Congrats to our Seahawks team on a truly impressive season!
420 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7836 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000