Legislative Session: Week Two Preview
What to watch for this week in Olympia.
If process squabbles aren't your thing, i.e. last week's struggle for control of the state Senate (the Republicans won), you can now tune in to the policy wars.
This week’s committee hearing schedules for the Democratic-controlled House and Majority Coalition Caucus-controlled Senate are cueing up the sort of policy differences we’ll be hearing more about all session. Read on.
Today, Monday January 21, the Senate budget writing committee kicks off a week of work sessions: The first two days focus on Higher Ed and K-12, while the second two days focus on low-income healthcare and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The two policy areas – education and social services – compete for funding in a no-new-taxes budget. All hearings start at 3:30 p.m.
Underscoring the focus on social services: The Senate Human Services Committee will meet at 10 a.m. to consider a number of bills to reel in social services costs. One would tighten the Working Connections Child Care program, which provides a childcare subsidy for low-income families who are employed. The current program allows children to be placed either with a licensed childcare center or an unlicensed relative or neighbor. This bill would require unlicensed care providers to become licensed with the Department of Early Learning after a one-year grace period. The bill would also require anyone receiving the subsidies to seek child support. Currently, that isn’t a requirement—nor is child support counted when determining eligibility.
Fifty Five percent of income in Washington went to the top 20 percent, while 1.6 percent of income went to the bottom 20 percent. And the lowest income bracket paid tax rate 4-and-a-half times that of the richest Washingtonians when rates were calculated as a percentage of income. The committee is considering another bill to “limit public assistance benefits,” but it’s currently a title-only bill, so we’ll have to wait to see what that means and how it all fits together.
Meanwhile, the House Finance Committee is hearing an OFM report on income, wealth and tax distribution throughout Washington. The study found that in 2009, the most recent year for which there is data, nearly 55 percent of income in Washington went to the top 20 percent, while 1.6 percent of income went to the bottom 20 percent. The same study found that the lowest income bracket paid tax rate 4-and-a-half times that of the richest Washingtonians when rates were calculated as a percentage of income. The committee will follow that presentation by talking over ideas for improving Washington’s tax structure.
On Tuesday, January 22, Sen. Pam Roach’s Government Operations Committee will consider whether legislators should be able to send out newsletters during campaign season. Currently, legislators cannot send out newsletters written by legislative staff (on the state’s dime) to constituents while they’re running for office. This bill, sponsored by busy Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver), would lift that freeze. The hearing is at 10 a.m.
On the same day, the Senate Natural Resources Committee will consider a bill to increase fines for mislabeling seafood. Such mislabeling is rampant—a UWT professor has found as many as 38 percent of restaurant samples are mislabeled—in part, some suggest, because the fine is a paltry $200. This bill would create three levels of the crime of mislabeling seafood. That hearing starts at 1:30 p.m.
The House Government Operations and Elections Committee is meeting Wednesday, January 23, at 1:30 p.m. to consider a bill to require public records requesters to identify themselves. The reasoning: Washington state law allows agencies to deny public request to prisoners with intent to use the information to threaten someone’s safety. Agencies say that since current law doesn’t require requesters to identify themselves, it makes their job difficult.
And Wednesday’s Senate Commerce and Labor Committee is all about workers’ compensation issues. The committee will hold a hearing on five bills—all sponsored by Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry (R-13, Moses Lake)—and all making changes to the Workers’ Comp system she helped reform in 2011. One bill would allow workers to settle entire workers compensation claims with their employers (Republicans, who have pushed for this before, say settlements allow injured workers and businesses to negotiate the best solution rather than waiting out the lengthy L&I process. Democrats (and labor), however, have rejected that plan in previous sessions because they say workers who are injured and in need of cash could be pressured into settling before they know the extent of their injuries. That hearing starts at 1:30 and will air on TVW.
On Friday, January 25, the Senate Law and Justice Committee will hold a public hearing on a Constitutional Amendment to allow police officers stationed in schools to search students without a warrant if they have “reasonable suspicion.” The bill is in response to this case, in which the State Supreme Court ruled that a “school resource officer” employed by the Bellevue Police Department did not meet the requirements of a school administrator, and therefore was not covered under the school search exception to the warrant requirement. In short: The police officer violated the kid’s Fourth Amendment rights when he searched his backpack and confiscated a BB gun.
Also on Friday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee will look at repealing the Family Leave Act, a stipend created to piggyback on the federal Family and Medical Leave Act that has never been funded. That hearing starts at 8 a.m. and will be televised on TVW.
PubliCola is excited to welcome Niki Reading to our news team. Reading has covered state government and politics in Washington for five years at The News Tribune and TVW, where she wrote the excellent nerdy news blog, The Capitol Record. She has also worked for The Associated Press covering state government in Oregon. Reading will be posting a regular preview of the week's action in Olympia and a regular re-cap featuring her pick for Olympia's newsmaker of the week.
Full disclosure: Reading is married to the state senate Democrats' Deputy Chief of Staff, Jeff Reading. —Eds.