Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As you may have heard, the Legislature began its second special session Friday due to philosophical disagreements between the two majority parties. While both parties share many of the same priorities, they disagree on the means to achieve them. A handful of Democrats committed to raising taxes and their insistence to do so has created a major hiccup in budget negotiations. According to the latest revenue forecast released earlier this month, the state will have $3.2 billion in new revenue for this budget cycle — a 9.2 percent increase from the last budget cycle. Even our governor agrees major tax increases are unnecessary at this point.
Not all hope is lost. Thankfully, the Legislature agreed on several important pieces of legislation last week, including a school testing reform bill and a measure to improve the timeliness of mentally ill individuals' competency evaluations. The body also passed the 2015-17 transportation budget, which funds the repair and replacement of failing bridges and collective bargaining agreements for Washington State Patrol, among other things. This budget is not the same as a transportation revenue package; the budget only uses money that has already been raised.
Additionally, Senate Republicans rolled out their new 2015-17 operating budget proposal Thursday and passed it out of committee. House Democrats released their new budget yesterday, and plan to hold a public hearing today.
As budget negotiations continue, please don't hesitate to contact me with your questions and concerns. My office works year-round on constituent inquiries. It's an honor serving you.
What we HAVE accomplished this session
When we began session in January, we faced a number of court decisions we would need to pass legislation to address, as well as several mandatory actions required of the Legislature. We made great strides in mental health system improvements this session, including passing an early action supplemental budget that expanded mental health treatment capacities. Some other notable bills include:
- Joel's law (SB 5269) — allows a family member to petition the court to involuntarily commit a mentally ill family member.
- Outpatient involuntary treatment (HB 1450) — creates a less restrictive outpatient involuntary treatment option.
- Trueblood case legislation (SB 5177) — improves timeliness of competency evaluations for mentally ill individuals.
The Legislature also passed legislation to enhance data breach notification requirements and improve security standards, established new accountability standards for electronic home monitoring, removed most legal financial obligations for juvenile offenders, and more. We passed 300 bills during the regular session.
K-12 education in the final budget
Throughout session, we've heard loud and clear from teachers about their need for COLAs. I appreciate the work they do and understand the sacrifices they made during the recession. I'm pleased to share that both budgets currently being considered call for a 3 to 4.8 percent COLA restoration for teachers. With teacher walkouts occurring throughout our state, I appreciate many of our school districts being receptive to meeting with their lawmakers so we can work on solutions together that meet the needs of our students and educators. In fact, Rep. Terry Nealey and I met with teachers and principals from the Prosser School District last week to discuss teacher COLAs, student assessments and more.
Along with funding COLAs, both budgets make historic investments in K-12 education:
- Increase K-12 education funding by nearly 18 percent.
- $1.28 billion to $1.33 billion to address McCleary:
- $350 million to $412 million for K-3 class size reductions.
- $180 million to $188 million for all-day kindergarten.
- $741 million for maintenance, supplies and operating costs.
- $200 million for K-12 health benefits.
420 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
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