1. The Democratic-controlled house kicked off the legislative session in Olympia yesterday by passing the DREAM Act, which gives the children of undocumented immigrants the right to state college aid, 71–23 within minutes of taking the floor.
Saying the legislation was creating false dreams, Republican Rep. Larry Haler (R-8, Richland) was the only one to give a floor speech against the legislation. He cited the number of students, about 36,000, who are already on the wait list for the higher education State Need Grant.
Never mind that Haler's data simply highlights how prohibitively expensive college is (and how the state is failing to provide financial aid), which is hardly a good justification for continuing discrimination. But Haler's logic follows the same Catch-22 spiral as telling a Mitt Romney voter not to vote for Romney because he's down in the polls—and is going to lose anyway.
Meanwhile, after speaker of the house Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) got a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle for putting the legislation into play, bill sponsor Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-11, Tukwila) had the quote of the morning by amending the inscription on the Statue of Liberty (America's symbol of offering open arms to immigrants) saying: "Give me your smart students, so we can compete globally."
"Give me your smart students, so we can compete globally."
2. And continuing to push their progressive list of unfinished agenda items from last year, later in the afternoon, the Democratic house held a hearing on the Reproductive Parity Act, which, with fears about the Affordable Care Act's limits on abortion coverage, mandates that insurers that cover maternity care must cover abortions.
Like the DREAM Act, the RPA was blocked by the Republican-dominated state senate last year. Unlike the DREAM Act, however, the RPA didn't seem to have much support from the Republican minority in the house as GOP committee members antagonized proponents who came to testify (with speeches, mostly, more than questions). One Republican member, for example, told a pro-RPA rabbi from Olympia that his claim that limiting abortion coverage was tantamount to unconstitutionally mandating one religious view over others was "egregious."
But then kind of making the rabbi's point (when a GOP lawmaker asked the rabbi rhetorically, by the way, whether he was a lawyer, he noted comically that, to his parents chagrin, he "chose the rabbinate over law"), opponents argued that their personal religious views should take precedent over the state's abortion rights and dictate public policy.
A panel of opponents, such as Angela Connolly of the pro-life Washington Women's Network (who called the bill a "bullying bill,"), criticized the bill for offering too many choices. Her contention: opponents' free exercise clause first amendment rights would be trampled because they'd be forced to pay into insurance companies that provided abortions even though they didn't support abortions.
"You have a right, under the Second Amendment, to buy a gun," one opponent pointed out, "but that doesn't mean I have to buy it for you."
The Democratic legislators did not challenge the opponents, but committee member Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma) did tweet during the hearing:
Listening to testimony on the RPA. I am breathing so deeply while opponents testify that I may hyperventilate. #waleg
Even if the RPA passed, there would still, by federal mandate, be eight plans in the state's health care exchange that would not provide abortion coverage.
3. Last week the State Supreme Court decision urging the legislature to fund K-12 education specifically called out inadequate teacher pay.
And yesterday, teachers were out in force on opening day of the legislative session in Olympia, rounding up signatures from Democratic and Republican lawmakers to support a bill to give teachers the legally mandated cost-of-living raises they've been denied for six years running; union activists were carrying placards with six zeros to symbolize their plight.
And, by the way, they're not looking for a comprehensive retroactive fix, which would be something like a 16 percent jump; they're asking for a 1.3 percent raise to keep up with the latest figures on inflation.
The union, the Washington Education Association, reported that they'd gotten 46 legislators to sign on to the bill by the end of the day.