Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 legislative session is underway. The short, 60-day session is a supplemental operating budget year, so I am not anticipating any new, major policies and spending. The supplemental budget is for addressing caseload forecasts and emergency appropriations such as covering costs of wildfires and flooding. With that being the case, I am hopeful we will end session on time and be home in mid-March.
This email update will give you an overview of just some of the issues I am working on, as well as a wide range of legislation, court decisions and agency rulings we are trying to deal with this session.
Academic Bill of Rights: On college campuses around the country in the last year, we have seen events unfolding that infringe on student's First Amendment rights. My House Bill 2488 would address the trampling of free speech we are seeing on college campuses. The bill includes three provisions.
- Free speech may not be restricted to specified to zones on campus;
- Faculty members or students would not be disciplined or dismissed on the basis of a trigger warning or microaggression allegation; and
- It builds in due process for students.
The bill had a public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 27 in the House Higher Education Committee. A news and commentary site dedicated to higher education news called “The College Fix” published this story on my legislation: “Bill proposes fines for universities that infringe on students' free speech rights.”
Workers' compensation: I sponsored three bills this session House Bills – 2336, 2337 and 2338 – that would improve claims management and efficiencies in the workers' compensation system. The legislation is based on recommendations or support from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC). These are things other states are doing that we must look at in Washington state as we have one of the most complex and expensive workers' comp systems in the nation.
School safety: Recent school shootings in Washington and across the country have led to increased debate on guns and gun control. I am working on a different approach to school violence. House Bill 2254 would prevent school violence by training students on what to look for on social media and set up an anonymous reporting system to a teacher or administrator. My bill focuses on prevention, while respecting people's constitutional rights. The bill is modeled after Colorado legislation developed after the 1999 Columbine shooting.
Overreaching authority and rulings of the courts and agencies
The Legislature is also working to address a number of issues that have come up because of court decisions, state agency problems and commission rulings.
Two-thirds vote for tax increases: On Jan. 21, a King County judge declared Initiative 1366 unconstitutional, despite this being the sixth time voters in Washington have approved an initiative requiring a two-thirds vote to increase taxes. House Republicans tried a procedural move to bring the issue straight to the House floor for a vote, but House Democrats defeated it by a 48-49 vote. You can read more here.
Human Rights Commission ruling: Last month, the commission enacted a new rule allowing people to use restrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity – meaning if a man 'identifies' as a woman, he is allowed to use the women's restroom or locker room.
The commission failed to consider the rights of everyone. Instead, they put 99 percent of our citizens at risk to cater to about 1 percent of our population. It makes no sense. I have heard from many of you concerned about potential abuses of the ruling. Click House General Government and Information Technology Committee public hearing to watch the executive director explain why there was little oversight and input involved in the rule-making process. It is discouraging and a good example of why there is a breakdown in trust with government agencies.
Legislation has been introduced to repeal or amend the rule. However, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee has said she will not allow any bill to be heard on the issue. We will keep you updated on how this issue progresses.
Charter schools: In September, the state Supreme Court ruled our state's charter schools unconstitutional. The Senate did pass Senate Bill 6194 last week that would fund charter schools with lottery money and address the problems that caused the court to rule the schools unconstitutional. There is bipartisan support in the House for a solution, but no hearings have been scheduled in the House. The governor has also been slow to express his support for charter schools and a legislative solution.
Department of Corrections' (DOC) early release of prisoners: We became aware the DOC had released as many as 3,200 prisoners early since 2002 because a software coding error miscalculated sentences. The department knew about the glitch in 2012. Two deaths have already been tied to the early release. The Senate is conducting a separate investigation than the governor's office. It is essential we hold state agencies accountable for these types of situations. We hope to get some answers as to how this could possibly happen over such a long period of time, and to find out if any legislative action could help prevent this from happening in the future.
There are many other issues on our radar for only a 60-day session – the possible impeachment of Troy Kelley, the McCleary workgroup, gun legislation and even the banning of fantasy sports.
If you have any questions on any of these issues or others we may be considering this session, please do not hesitate to contact my office with questions, comments or concerns.