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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It took nearly 20 days of special session, but the Legislature finally adjourned for the year March 29. During regular session, which ended March 10, we accomplished a lot for Washingtonians, including: establishing a framework for K-12 education funding in the state's efforts to comply with McCleary next year; taking steps to address the teacher shortage; saving public charter schools; providing Washington State Patrol troopers with pay raises, and; funding last year's historic wildfires.
When lawmakers were called back to wrap up their work March 29, we passed bipartisan supplemental operating and capital budgets, as well as voted to override all 27 of the governor's vetoes from March 10. You can read about those 27 bills in The News Tribune article here.
Here are some of the budget highlights:
- $190 million emergency appropriation from the Budget Stabilization Account (rainy day fund) for wildfire recovery from the 2015 wildfires;
- $4.2 million to keep charter schools open;
- $7.2 million for school staff recruitment and retention;
- $40 million for court-mandated mental-health system improvements;
- Avoided major tax increases proposed by House Democrats and the governor earlier this session, and kept the four-year balanced-budget requirement intact.
We also worked hard to secure $300,000 for the Pasco Early Learning Center in the supplemental capital budget, sometimes called the “bricks and mortar budget.”
Saving public charter schools
Coming into the 2016 session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle made it a priority to find a solution to the state Supreme Court's disappointing decision that invalidated charter schools just before the school year began in September. This disrupted the lives of more than 1,000 students and families, including the more than 100 students excited to continue their education at our own Willow School in Walla Walla.
In an important bipartisan vote March 9, the House and Senate voted to save public charter schools. Senate Bill 6194 reestablishes public charter schools in Washington state and provides for a constitutional funding source.
Rep. Terry Nealey and I voted in favor of the bill in the House, and I made a speech in support of the legislation on the floor. You can watch that speech here or by clicking below.
The bill will go into law without the governor's signature.
Empowering individuals with disabilities and their families
I was proud to sponsor House Bill 2394 to expand the Parent to Parent program statewide. The bill was signed by the governor on March 31. The program matches new parents of a child with a disability with experienced/veteran parents who can help families new to the system navigate available services and resources in their communities .
You can read more about the bill in my press release here.
This legislation makes a small but important investment to assist families who have a child with a disability feel less isolated and better informed as they seek resources and services.
I co-sponsored the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE), which was also signed by the governor this week. The bill creates a tax-free savings and investment program for eligible individuals with disabilities. It's similar to a college savings program, and would allow families and individuals to invest more into their futures without threatening their disability benefits.
The fact of the matter is, everyone deserves the same opportunity to live the best possible life, and this legislation continues our efforts to break down barriers for individuals with disabilities. I was proud to work with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who sponsored the federal ABLE Act legislation.
Visiting local media outlets
Last week before lawmakers were called back to Olympia to wrap up the special session, Rep. Terry Nealey and I traveled around the 16th District to meet with local newspapers as well as KEPR-TV and KONA radio to discuss what lawmakers accomplished during the regular session. You can read the article from KEPR-TV here.
Here we are with Rick Eskil (editorial page editor, left) and Brian Hunt (publisher, right) of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin:
District office now open
Now that session has adjourned, Rep. Terry Nealey and I have re-opened our joint district office at 26 East Main Street in Walla Walla. You can reach my office by calling (509) 527-4151. I encourage you to contact my legislative assistant, Skyler Rude, in my office with any questions, ideas or concerns you have.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you!
420 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7836 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000