Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 Legislature is just weeks away. The interim has gone quickly. Meetings, appointments, tours and events have filled up my schedule. I have received a lot of feedback and input on how we can improve things in the state of Washington. It is important to receive that input as you, the constituents, are on the frontlines in dealing with state agencies and their rules and regulations.
This email update will give you a brief overview of the upcoming session and issues I will be working on. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns about the upcoming session.
I hope you and your families had a Merry Christmas and are enjoying the holiday season.
Academic Bill of Rights
It seems that free speech hasn't been so free on college campuses lately, including higher ed institutions right here in our own state. It is appalling to see what is happening.
Colleges are supposed to pull you out of your comfort zone. They are supposed to force you to confront people and ideas that are new to you. It's supposed to be uncomfortable. That's how we grow intellectually. That's how we grow as people. Instead we are going the opposite direction, creating “safe zones” and restricting free speech and beliefs.
To address this increasing problem I am introducing an “Academic Bill of Rights.” This bill will remind us that the free speech movement in America was born on university campuses and we should be nurturing and fostering free speech, not suppressing it.
Addressing school safety
After two school shooting incidents in our state in a seven-month timeframe, I introduced legislation in May to focus on preventing school violence by training students on what to look for on social media. House Bill 2254 sets up an anonymous reporting system to a teacher or administrator.
We want all children to be safe in our public schools. My bill focuses on prevention, while respecting people's constitutional rights. The bill is modeled after Colorado legislation developed after the 1999 Columbine shooting. The bill sets up an anonymous tip line so students could report potentially harmful actions on Facebook or other social media.
Earlier this year, I was appointed to the House Washington Waters Task Force. The committee was established in the capital budget passed by the Legislature last session. The task force has been looking at three areas: storm water, flood control and water supply infrastructure in the state. We are still working on finding and funding water storage solutions in the Yakima Basin and the Odessa aquifer region. I will keep you updated on the specifics as the session progresses.
Workers' Compensation reforms
Washington state continues to have a workers' compensation system that is one of the most expensive and complex in the nation. Our state needs to reduce costs and increase efficiency in the system to provide a better outcome for injured workers and employers. Two bills I will be working on this session include:
- 60-month limit on temporary total disability: In Washington, “time loss” payments are a workers' compensation benefit paid to workers when injured on the job. Under current law, there is no time limit on the duration of eligibility for time loss payments. As long as the worker is recovering from the workplace injury, they will continue to receive time loss. It is a tremendous incentive to keep the claim open as long as possible. Other states have similar caps.
- Terminating time loss at maximum medical improvement (MMI): Under current law, an injured worker can continue to receive time loss compensation until they are found “employable.” This leads to a number of individuals being found unable to return to the workforce. Most states terminate time loss compensation at maximum medical improvement (MMI), also known as medical fixity. This is when the worker's condition is unlikely to improve further with additional treatment. My bill brings Washington into parity with other states, and terminates time loss compensation at MMI.
Both pieces of legislation will reduce costs and use efficiencies we are seeing in other states and supported by the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC). Meaningful reforms to the workers' compensation system are long overdue and these bills are a step in the right direction.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns about the upcoming legislative session please do not hesitate to contact my office.