State Legislative update from Rep. Ruth Kagi

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-32
Last week marked the first major milestone of this legislative session – the policy committee cut-off. Thursday, February 17, was the last day a bill that originated in the House of Representatives could be passed out of a House policy committee for further consideration. Hundreds of bills did not make that deadline, but that doesn’t mean they are completely “dead” – they will remain in their respective committees until next session when they have the chance to be heard again. Bills that remain in committee at the end of the second year of the biennium (the even-numbered year) are officially dead, however.

This week is the “fiscal committee” cut-off, which means any bill that costs money must be out of Ways and Means by Friday. Given the severity of the fiscal crisis, few bills were voted out of the policy committees that require new funding. As a result, I do not expect to spend the long, long days and nights in Ways and Means Committee hearings that have been typical over the past decade. It is about the only silver lining of this terrible fiscal crisis.

Next week we will be on the floor of the House voting on bills full-time. The last day for a bill to get out of the “house of origin” is March 7th. If a House bill doesn’t get voted on by then, it is most likely dead for the session…although there are always a few exceptions.

Budget update
The vast majority of calls, e-mails and letters I receive are related to the state budget. Everything in the budget has support from somebody in the community and no one wants to see their service reduced or eliminated. Education, public safety, care for our elderly and sick, support for families and children’s services, job training and college financial aid – all of these are services people in our neighborhoods have contacted me about saving.

Unfortunately, the deep recession that has plagued our entire nation still has Washington tight in its grip. And, unlike the federal government, the state must produce a balanced budget every year. Just since the end of the last legislative session, state revenues have dropped almost $2 billion, wiping out our reserves and forcing even deeper cuts in services and programs.

Although we are not required to have the budget in balance until June 30, the earlier we take some action, the more savings we’ll see. To that end, the House and Senate both approved a supplemental budget bill on Friday that closes the majority of the current shortfall.

In addition to the cuts made to the current budget last spring and again last December, this budget:
  • Cuts $22.9 million from K-12 education programs and $25 million from higher ed.
  • Limits enrollment in the state Basic Health Plan to those eligible for federal matching funds.
  • Continues the Apple Health for Kids plan for all children with family incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level, and allows families with incomes between 200-300% of the FPL who are not eligible for federal matching funds to purchase the coverage, but at an increased cost.
  • Maintains the Disability Lifeline for those unable to work because of a disability with a reduced grant.
There are lots more details available here (download in pdf format). This is not the end of the fiscal work for this session, however. Budget writers are already at work on the 2011-13 biennial budget which will have to address the $5 billion short fall that we face. I’ll keep you updated on that as we move forward.

House Bill 1265: Point Wells
One of my most important bills is HB 1265, which would require Snohomish County, prior to the approval of a permit, to reach agreement with Shoreline and Woodway on density, traffic impacts and on addressing the provision and funding of urban services related to this development. Without a doubt, the Point Wells development proposal is spectacular. The site’s location along the Puget Sound is magnificent and I support plans to clean up the negative environmental impacts of the existing asphalt plant and develop a family- and business-friendly community. However, many of you have raised serious concerns regarding the impact this development’s size will have on the surrounding communities. I share these concerns, and am working through this bill to ensure that the scope of this project does not adversely affect the City of Shoreline and its Richmond Beach Road neighborhood.

House Bill 1265 was reported out of the House Committee on Local Government with unanimous, bipartisan support last week. I am pleased the committee voted 9-0 in favor of moving forward with this legislation, and I look forward to the next step- voting for it on the floor of the House.

Fircrest
Another issue of concern to the 32nd District is RHCs – the Rehabilitative Habilitation Centers that include Fircrest. The Governor has proposed consolidating RHCs by closing the two smallest – Francis Haddon Morgan in Bremerton and Yakima Valley School in Yakima. A number of the residents of these facilities have indicated their desire to come to Fircrest if their RHC closes. My concern is assuring that the state fully funds any special education costs resulting from the enrollment of these new students in Shoreline Schools.

The Governor is also proposing that severely developmentally disabled children be placed in the community in State Operated Living Alternatives (homes staffed by state employees) or in community foster homes or residential facilities rather than in RHCs. I support the Governor’s proposal, as I strongly believe that children should be raised in environments as close to a home setting as possible.

HB 1667
Another bill of interest to the district is HB 1667, which recognizes Highway 522 as a critical link between I-405 and I-5, and states the legislature’s intent to fund improvements to traffic flow and freight through this corridor. I sponsored this bill at the request of the City of Kenmore which, along with Bothell and Lake Forest Park, are anticipating a significant increase in traffic when the tolling of I-520 begins in the spring. The bill was reported out of the Transportation Committee and should be voted on in the House in the coming week.

Final Note
I have really enjoyed the opportunity to meet with many constituents over the past few weeks – especially Monday. For Presidents’ Day, the PTAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, Youth Care, Junior League, the King County Democrats, SEIU 925, The Washington Federation of State Employees and the ferry workers were all in Olympia. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to talk with those who came down, and hope that many more will come to visit and discuss their concerns and suggestions as we move through this most challenging of sessions. It is very valuable to hear your opinions and perspectives.

Regards,
Ruth Kagi

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