1. The Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus in the state senate passed a batch of education reform legislation yesterday afternoon including: a bill allowing principals to reject underperforming teachers who've been reassigned to their schools; a (largely symbolic) measure that gives schools A-F grades; a bill putting limits on student expulsions in order to get them back in the classroom; and a bill that flags third graders who fail the state reading test for mandated intervention programs—including required summer school and perhaps holding the student back.
The vote count on the third grader bill, one of the more substantive and controversial of the package—which also necessitates increased funding—is the most newsworthy to Fizz because two of the chambers' most liberal Democrats, state senators Andy Billig (D-3, Spokane) and David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle), broke ranks with the hardcore crew of liberals who consistently vote against "education reform" measures because they are considered anti-union.
Republican Sen. Dammeier's bill, which got support from key liberals who broke ranks, isolated a holdout group of traditional Democrats on ed reform. As opposed to the roll calls on the A-F bill (26-23) and the principal bill (27-22), which the MCC passed largely on party lines (with Billig and Frockt sticking with the losing Democrats and the teachers' union), the third grader bill passed 35-13, giving that bid for ed reform, sponsored by Republican senator Bruce Dammeier (R-25, Puyallup), an undeniable bipartisan stamp of approval while isolating a hold out group of traditional Democrats, including the former K-12 education chair senator Rosemary McAuliffe (D-1, Bothell) and Seattle liberals senators Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard), Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill), and Sharon Nelson (D-34, Vashon, West Seattle).
Senator McAuliffe and stalwart labor Democrat senator Steve Conway (D-29, S. Tacoma), who both voted against the bill as well, sponsored a losing amendement to scrap the legislation if it is not funded by this summer.
2. There was a noteworthy vote on the house side yesterday afternoon as well: A tax exemption for wood products companies that use wood chip waste (known as "hog fuel") to power their equipment passed unanimously. What's the big deal about passing a tax break (it's worth about $1.8 million a biennium)?
For the first time ever, it came with some measure of accountability. An amendment to the exemption, which was being renewed, states that "any exemption claimed in the previous two calendar years to be due, if a taxpayer closes a facility in Washington, resulting in a loss of jobs."
3. This is little more than rumor at this point, but Fizz hears some city council members are pushing for a moratorium on so-called "aPodments"—essentially, boarding houses in which several small separate bedrooms surround a central kitchen and living area.
Some residents oppose the developments because they add the "wrong" kind of density to neighborhoods—lower-price, with minimal or no parking—and because they don't have to go through the same kind of land-use review as large apartment buildings.
Last year, the city council passed a moratorium on small-lot developments—small, but tall and skinny, houses on so-called "substandard" lots—after a similar outcry from neighbors who complained that the houses were unfairly increasing density and ruining the "character" of single-family neighborhoods.
4. Watch for a state house vote today on the local Voting Rights Act—which allows local communities to shift to district based voting for city council and school boards if there's a proven history of racially polarized voting that disenfranchises large voting blocs.