Leg­is­la­ture to grapple with sev­eral costly is­sues

The News Tribune - - Front Page - BY RACHEL LA CORTE

The 105-day leg­isla­tive ses­sion in Wash­ing­ton be­gins Mon­day, with law­mak­ers set to write a new two-year bud­get.

Un­like pre­vi­ous years, when sat­is­fy­ing a court man­date on ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing was their driv­ing fo­cus, law­mak­ers re­turn to Olympia this year with a va­ri­ety of costly is­sues on their plate.

While the lat­est fore­cast showed state rev­enues for the next two-year cy­cle in­creas­ing to $50 bil­lion, Gov. Jay Inslee, a Demo­crat, has said that ad­di­tional rev­enue is needed to fund pri­or­ity is­sues like men­tal health and other pro­grams in ad­di­tion to main­tain­ing govern­ment ser­vices at cur­rent lev­els, in­clud­ing bil­lions pre­vi­ously ded­i­cated to­ward the state’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

A part of that on­go­ing cost is the in­vest­ment the Leg­is­la­ture has made in ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion as part of a multi-year court case — known as the McCleary case — that was re­solved last year.

As part of his bud­get plan un­veiled last month, Inslee’s rev­enue pro­pos­als in­cluded an in­crease in the busi­ness and oc­cu­pa­tion tax on ser­vices pro­vided by ac­coun­tants, at­tor­neys, real es­tate agents and oth­ers and a new state cap­i­tal gains tax, a pro­posal that is cer­tain to face push­back from Repub­li­cans and even some Democrats.

Democrats in­creased their mar­gins in both leg­isla­tive cham­bers af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tion.

Lead­ers in the House and Senate will re­lease their bud­get plans in the com­ing months and will work to ne­go­ti­ate a fi­nal bud­get be­fore the ses­sion con­cludes at the end of April.

Here are some of the is­sues law­mak­ers will be grap­pling with this ses­sion:

MEN­TAL HEALTH FUND­ING: Inslee has pro­posed $675 mil­lion in spend­ing over the next two years to ad­dress the state’s be­hav­ioral health sys­tem, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing treat­ment op­tions and ad­di­tional hous­ing sup­port. The gover­nor’s plan in­cludes fund­ing for his pre­vi­ously announced plan to move peo­ple hos­pi­tal­ized on civil com­mit­ments out of the state’s two psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals and into beds at fa­cil­i­ties in the com­mu­nity. West­ern State Hospi­tal — an 850-plus bed fa­cil­ity in Lakewood — has been plagued with prob­lems and has lost its cer­ti­fi­ca­tion by the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices and fed­eral fund­ing af­ter it re­peat­edly failed health and safety in­spec­tions. Repub­li­can Sen. Steve O’Ban has said law­mak­ers must con­sider be­hav­ioral health pol­icy and fund­ing to be a “McCleary-level” leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity. Law­mak­ers in both cham­bers say there will be a bi­par­ti­san ef­fort to ad­dress the prob­lem.

ED­U­CA­TION: While the state Supreme Court no longer holds ju­ris­dic­tion over the state’s fund­ing of K-12 ed­u­ca­tion, the on­go­ing costs from fi­nal com­pli­ance with that mul­ti­year law­suit con­tinue with the fu­ture bud­get. Law­mak­ers and Inslee have said there’s more work to be done on ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion. There have been bi­par­ti­san calls for ad­dress­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram fund­ing. Inslee’s bud­get pro­posal calls for a $146 mil­lion in­crease in spend­ing on

spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion in the next two-year bud­get. There will also be a push from some lo­cal school dis­tricts ar­gu­ing that the cur­rent lo­cal tax caps that were part of the leg­isla­tive plan on ed­u­ca­tion are un­sus­tain­able and will lead to bud­get short­falls in the dis­tricts.

EN­VI­RON­MENT: Among the cli­mate change mea­sures Inslee has pro­posed is elim­i­nat­ing fos­sil fu­els like nat­u­ral gas and coal from the state’s elec­tric­ity sup­ply by 2045. Af­ter vot­ers re­jected a car­bon tax at the bal­lot in Novem­ber, there doesn’t ap­pear to be any de­sire to take that up this year. An­other ma­jor ef­fort would im­ple­ment a clean fuel stan­dard — sim­i­lar to a Cal­i­for­nia pro­gram — by re­quir­ing fuel pro­duc­ers and im­porters to re­duce the car­bon emis­sions as­so­ci­ated with trans­porta­tion fu­els. Inslee has in­cluded $268 mil­lion in his pro­posed two-year bud­get to pay for his clean en­ergy ini­tia­tives. The ef­forts in­clude boost­ing elec­tric ve­hi­cle use, pro­mot­ing more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient build­ings and phas­ing out hy­droflu­o­ro­car­bon com­monly used for re­frig­er­a­tion. Inslee also has called for in­creased fund­ing for sal­mon re­cov­ery and water qual­ity projects in part to help the state’s strug­gling orca pop­u­la­tion. Demo­cratic law­mak­ers in both cham­bers have al­ready in­tro­duced bills on sev­eral pro­pos­als.

SEX­UAL HA­RASS­MENT: In the wake of the #MeToo move­ment, the House and Senate formed groups fo­cused on ad­dress­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the Capi­tol. Those groups have made rec­om­men­da­tions, in­clud­ing the hir­ing of an in­de­pen­dent hu­man re­sources of­fice where com­plaints can be lodged. In the past year, three law­mak­ers in the state have ei­ther lost re­elec­tion or announced their res­ig­na­tion fol­low­ing ac­cu­sa­tions rang­ing from rape to ha­rass­ment, in­clud­ing Demo­cratic Sen. Kevin Ranker, who announced his res­ig­na­tion, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately, late Fri­day in the face of al­le­ga­tions of im­proper con­duct. Law­mak­ers have said they’ll con­tinue their work on the mat­ter in the new ses­sion, in­clud­ing mov­ing for­ward with a process to hire a non­par­ti­san hu­man re­sources of­fi­cer who can in­de­pen­dently in­ves­ti­gate com­plaints of ha­rass­ment or dis­crim­i­na­tion.

PUB­LIC RECORDS: A year af­ter Wash­ing­ton law­mak­ers at­tempted to exempt them­selves from the state’s Pub­lic Records Act, a few have said they in­tend to ad­dress trans­parency at the Leg­is­la­ture this year. The de­bate over leg­isla­tive records was sparked by last year’s rul­ing by a Thurston County su­pe­rior court judge, who found that that while the Wash­ing­ton Leg­is­la­ture, the House and Senate were not sub­ject to the Pub­lic Records Act, the statute was clear that the of­fices of in­di­vid­ual law­mak­ers were cov­ered by the law. That rul­ing — in re­sponse to a law­suit filed by a coali­tion of me­dia groups led by The As­so­ci­ated Press — has been ap­pealed, and is cur­rently await­ing ar­gu­ments be­fore the state Supreme Court. Inslee ve­toed last year’s ex­emp­tion bill af­ter a pub­lic out­cry. A pub­lic records task force formed fol­low­ing the veto met four times last year, and agreed the Leg­is­la­ture should be more trans­par­ent.

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