Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp, was the guest speaker this afternoon at the King County Democrats Legislative Action Committee, meeting in South Seattle. Chopp emphasized that much of the 2009 Legislative session will be spent dealing with the upcoming budget that is constrained by a projected $5 billion dollar shortfall.
As noted by the Progressive States Network, “The Washington State Legislature passed strong laws protecting the environment, consumers and people affected by the mortgage crisis, making the state one of the leaders in progressive victories.” Speaker Chopp noted that under his leadership the legislature will be focusing on 10 key areas, continuing to move the state forward on addressing problems.
Apple Health is one of these areas – combining kids’ health care with getting a good education. “In order to succeed in school , kids need to be healthy,” said Chopp. By 2010 every kid in Washington State should be covered by a health care program – putting Washington State in the lead NATIONALLY in this area.
Another area is the Opportunity Grant Program – providing financial aid for training programs and colleges and universities. This program is expected to cover 1 million people over 7 years.
In discussing some of the areas the LAC was concerned with, Speaker Chopp reiterated his support for adequate funding for the Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing.
Under the banner of a Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, Chopp saw 3 areas being worked on:
1. raising licensing requirements and worker certification
2. an ombudsman’s office for consumer protection
3. providing remedies when things go wrong
On the issue of income source nondiscrimination, Chopp noted the House previously passed such legislation but the Senate didn’t.
On the budget, Chopp said we needed to put education first but support human services like Apple Health care and foster kids. He said that kids needed to come first in health care issues.
He praised the environmental community for their continued efforts to prioritize bills. He expressed some reservations about a cap and trade program to control carbon emissions noting the new terminology of cap and invest better explained what was happening to the money. He noted that the biggest carbon emitter in the state was the Centralia Coal plant and emphasized the need for alternatives as a way to change things.
On the issue of transit oriented communities he discussed the option of hotel and motel taxes going to help fund transit nodes, not just public art. On clean water he said the biggest problem was the need for a funding source and suggested that because of I-960 requiring a vote of 2/3 of the Legislature for a tax increase that submitting selected revenue proposals to the voters to raise new revenue made the most sense.
On the issue of public campaign financing, Chopp noted that the Legislature in its last session supported the local option for public campaign financing. Proponents for public financing are urging that the Legislature this year put in place a public finance scheme for State Supreme Court races. The problem remains one of finding a funding source this year. Chopp noted that several other proposals passed by the Legislature in the past face a similar funding dilemma – namely no money for the working family tax credit and the family leave program.
Chopp noted that several Legislators will be looking at voter registration issues. The LAC noted that nationally efforts are moving to promote automatic permanent voter registration or universal registration. Minnesota passed such legislation last year. Rather than opting in, voters would have to opt out of voter registration. Address changes to the Post Office and DMV and other government agencies would automatically transfer one’s voter registration to the new address, rather than forcing voters to re-register. The backup safety for voters is same day registration in case errors occur. Iowa is among the dozen states that already do this.
The LAC discussed the need for reform or repeal of the Three Strikes Law noting that inequities exist where a low priority 3rd strike can commit the state to paying for someone being in jail for the rest of their life. This was discussed as a possible source of funds that could be freed up if selective reforms took place.
Chopp avoided a detailed discussion of repealing non-performing tax breaks and other tax breaks that are not needed saying the Legislative Audit Committee was looking at this. He noted that repeal of a tax break required a 2/3 vote because of I-960, basically making reform difficult. The LAC noted that this more or less epitomized the problem, that once tax breaks were granted they became permanent, even when not fulfilling their original purpose and that tax breaks needed to be enacted for a set period of time, like 10 years and require a new vote to continue. Automatic sunsetting would help prevent the tax breaks for life problem.
The LAC voted to approve its draft Legislative Agenda and add 2 more areas in its coverage, “Education” and “Jobs and Labor”.
Under Education would be an education reform bill covering a number of areas, including closing the achievement gap and legislation to implement the recommendations of the basic education finance task force.
Under Labor and Jobs would be legislation for contractor compliance to help the state secure revenue lost by nondisclosure. This is sometimes referred to as the problem of the underground economy – where tax revenue is lost because financial transactions are not reported
Under Environment two additional bills will be watched. One is for a secure medicine return bill and the other is a bill to help foster recycling of compact fluorescent lights which contain mercury.