Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 legislative session is now adjourned. Although we needed a 20-day special session to complete our work, negotiators produced a true supplemental operating budget. It makes small adjustments to the 2015-17 spending plan we passed last year, allocates funds for emergency spending, and makes needed investments in key areas, such as mental health and student homelessness interventions. The budget also doesn't raise taxes or raid the state's rainy day fund, which were problems that existed in the original House Democrat budget proposal.
The final budget increases spending by $191 million, or half-of-one percent of the biennial budget. Here are some highlights:
- $40 million directed for mental-health programs and the state's two mental hospitals;
- $14 million youth and young adult homelessness intervention and prevention;
- $29 million for overtime of home health-care providers;
- $18 million appropriated for state need-grant college funding;
- $8 million to help backfill costs to keep tuition reduced at state colleges and universities;
- $7 million to recruit and retain K-12 staff and support for beginning teachers;
- $190 million in budget reserves to pay for wildfire suppression.
The Legislature also approved a supplemental capital budget that includes $500,000 to extend Puyallup's Riverwalk Trail. The funding will go toward the design and construction of a 12-foot-wide path through the City of Puyallup's recently acquired Van Lierop property. In securing funding for this expansion, we are one step closer to connecting all of the trails in Pierce County that provide options for commuting, exercising, and enjoying our beautiful outdoor surroundings.
Before we adjourned, I was pleased to see bipartisan action to override the governor's vetoes of 27 bills. Several of the bills are important for our community, including Senate Bill 6569, which will reduce patients' out-of-pocket costs of prescription drugs, and Senate Bill 6466, which will reduce barriers for students with disabilities when applying to higher education institutions in our state. The veto overrides mean these bills will go into effect in June of this year.
Governor signs two of my bills into law
House Bill 2681 will help increase awareness that contraceptives can be prescribed by Washington state pharmacies. The Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission (PQAC) will be tasked with developing a sign to inform women about access to birth control in pharmacies throughout the state.
I truly believe education and awareness are precursors to birth control access, which is why this bill is an important step forward for women's health. It is crucial we continue working to increase access for women in our state, which will help reduce unintended pregnancies.
House Bill 2906 is focused on the rehabilitation and reintegration of our state's juvenile offenders. This bill adds rehabilitation and reintegration as a goal of the state's Juvenile Justice Act, eliminates mandatory fines for juveniles who commit motor vehicle-related offenses, and makes other important changes focused on expanding opportunities for juvenile offenders.
The inspiration for this legislation is the premise that young people who commit offenses are responsive to rehabilitation and have the potential to lead productive and law-abiding lives. It's vitally important we work to reduce the number of juveniles (currently about 20 percent) who re-offend within 18 months of their release.
Because of this bill, fewer juvenile offenders will face punishments that have no correlation to their offense and/or be laden with mandatory fines that disproportionately impact those with lower economic means. We must do what we can to provide these young people with opportunities for success so they can begin to turn their lives around.
House Bill 2906 is signed into law
Bill to establish maternal mortality review commission signed into law
Another bill signed into law by the governor last week was Senate Bill 6534 (I sponsored the companion bill in the House), which will make us the 24th state in the nation to establish a maternity mortality review commission. The commission will be responsible for conducting a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary review of maternal death so we can find ways to lower the maternal mortality rate in our state.
Senate Bill 6534 is signed into law
Working to improve educational outcomes for homeless students
A bill I co-sponsored to improve education outcomes for homeless students was signed into law last week by Gov. Inslee. House Bill 1682, the Homeless Student Stability Act, establishes grant programs to provide in-school supports, housing stability and identification services for homeless students. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma.
The grant programs available to local districts will:
- Pilot increased identification of homeless students and the capacity to provide support;
- Connect homeless children with stable housing; and
- Allow school nurses, school counselors and homeless student liaisons to provide consent for health care for homeless students.
There were more than 750 homeless students enrolled in the 25th District's three largest school districts – Puyallup, Franklin Pierce, and Fife – during the 2014-15 school year. That was an increase of 25 percent since the 2011-12 school year.
State funding for these grants will provide resources for school districts across the state. By engaging in these school-housing partnerships, we will be benefiting our local school districts and providing stability for our homeless youth so they have more opportunities to excel in school and in life.
The News Tribune's Debbie Cafazzo wrote a story on House Bill 1682 last week. You can read it here.
Community meeting in Puyallup on homelessness well-attended
Sen. Bruce Dammeier, Rep. Hans Zeiger and I hosted a community meeting on homelessness last night in Puyallup. There were about 400 people in attendance at the Pioneer Park Pavilion, which shows how important this issue is for so many. The evening began with our presentation about the work currently being done in the Legislature to address the issue of homelessness, and then we opened the floor for public comment. Dozens of people shared their thoughts with us — the homeless and former homeless, concerned citizens, community activists, former police officers, faith-based organization leaders, and more. Around 10 p.m., after everyone had an opportunity to speak, we brought the meeting to a close.
I took several pages of notes during the public comment period, as many people shared solutions they hope to see. I believe there is a path forward on this issue that will bring local, state, and community organizations together. We must find the right balance of compassion and accountability that will help reduce homelessness and maintain the safety of our community. I will continue to dedicate time to this crucial issue throughout the interim in preparation for the 2017 legislative session.
Rep. Zeiger and I recently sat down with the Puyallup Herald's Heather DeRosa to discuss the issue of homelessness in Puyallup. You can read her piece here.
Please continue to share your thoughts and ideas for how we can work together to solve the challenges facing our district and state. My contact information is below.
It is an honor to serve the 25th District in the state House.