Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Noteworthy accomplishments in Olympia from the 2008 legislative session

We've spent quite a bit of time recently championing Senate Bill 6385 (the Homeowner's Bill of Rights) which is still stuck in the House Rules Committee, but we'd be remiss not to mention all the great legislation that has successfully made it through the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor's desk or will be shortly. We are grateful to Majority Leader Brown and Speaker Chopp for their efforts to make the most of a short session in a presidential election year.

Without further ado, here is a comprehensive breakdown of noteworthy accomplishments from the session, organized by topic.

Transportation. Although the Legislature did not consider Geoff Simpson's excellent bill to give Sound Transit back the authority to levy vehicle fees (which taxpayers prefer over other revenue sources, like the sales tax) a counterproductive transportation governance bill sponsored by Senator Haugen was defeated in committee, and Republican attempts to prevent Sound Transit from going to the ballot in 2008 were thwarted by Democrats. Thanks to Senator Ed Murray and Representative Simpson for defending Sound Transit.

Nondiscrimination. A huge kudos to the Legislature for passing House Bill 3104, which expands domestic partnership rights. Once the law takes effect, gay couples will be able to share bank accounts, hold property together, and enjoy immunity from testifying against each other in a court of law. A round of applause goes to Representative Jamie Pedersen for sponsoring this bill, and to Equal Rights Washington for rallying public support.

Our Environment. The Priorities for a Healthy Washington coalition, which includes nearly every major environmental organization in the state, is poised to have another very successful year.

As of today, all four of the priority bills have passed the Legislature and are on their way to the Governor (or will be shortly). The four priorities include:

  • Climate Action and Green Jobs: Creates a structure and timeline for implementing the state‚Äôs global warming pollution reduction goals as well as a program to prepare Washington workers for good jobs in the clean energy economy, providing pathways out of poverty for lower-income communities.
  • Local Solutions to Global Warming: Requires the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development to provide municpalities with a tool to measure greenhouse gas emissions and establishes a competitive grant program to give funds to municipalities that are implementing ideas to fight the climate crisis.
  • Evergreen Cities: Ensures state support for urban forestry management that keeps our cities green through the retention and planting of trees.
  • Local Farms, Healthy Kids: Brings school districts and nearby farms together by easing restrictions that currently make it difficult for school kitchens to buy locally grown food.
Thanks to the prime sponsors of all four bills: Representatives Dunshee and Kagi and Senators Marr and Hatfield. Thanks also to Representatives Dave Upthegrove and Sharon Nelson for their hard work in the House.

Healthcare. Acting to protect the health of Washington children, the Legislature has passed HB 2647, which makes it illegal for any manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer to sell or distribute toys with toxic chemicals in them, effective July 1st, 2009. The Senate improved the bill last week and the House agreed to the changes earlier today. Thanks to Representative Dickerson for sponsoring the bill. Credit also goes to the Washington Toxics Coalition for keeping this issue on the front burner.

Consumer Protection. While we still need a homeowner's bill of rights, the Legislature has made huge strides to reform mortgage lending. Several critical bills are on their way out of the statehouse already or will be within hours.
  • SB 6381 establishes a fiduciary duties for mortgage brokers, ensuring that they look out for the interest of borrowers - a responsibility that other professionals (including accountants, realtors, and lawyers) already have. The bill was toned down a bit in the House, but the language is still strong, and the Senate concurred with the House amendments today. It enjoyed broad support in both houses.
  • SB 6471 does away with a loophole between federal and state jurisdiction that allowed several hundred mortgage brokers to operate without any regulation or public oversight. When the bill takes efefct, all brokers will be regulated by the State Department of Financial Institutions. It is on its way to the Governor, who will be signing it into law soon.
  • HB 2770 sets up limits on pre-payment penalties and forbids brokers from tricking unwary borrowers into accepting a subprime loan when they know the borrower qualifies for a lower interest loan. This bill is also on its way to Gregoire, who will be adding her signature shortly.
  • SB 6711 awards financial assistance to families who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure. The amount of money budgeted is small (only $250,000) but it will still rescue some Washingtonians who are in trouble. The state Senate concurred with the House's amendments today.
  • SB 6272 expands financial literacy through education and counseling to promote greater homeownership security. It appropriates $1.5 million towards that purpose. Governor Gregoire signed the bill on February 11th. It took effect immediately.
  • HB 2791 will put a stop to scammers who are trying to take advantage of families by falsely promising a way to rescue them from foreclosure. The bill unanimously passed the House and was amended in the Senate. On Friday, the House refused to accept the Senate's amendment and asked the other chamber to recede the revisions. The two chambers have until Thursday to resolve their differences.
A big thanks to Senator Brian Weinstein for his tireless work on many of these bills. Props also to Representatives Phyllis Kenney and Steve Kirby for helping shepard legislation through the House.

Cheers for the Statewide Poverty Action network and the Alliance Against Predatory Lending for fighting to strengthen consumer protection.

Clean Campaigns. SB 5278 allows municipal governments to ask voters to approve public campaign financing systems for local races. Thanks to Senator Franklin for prime sponsoring the bill, and congratulations to our friends at WashClean for organizing the grassroots lobbying effort to get this passed.

Economic Security. The Legislature will soon take an important step towards a fairer tax structure with the passage of the Working Families Credit, which decreases taxes for lower income Evergreen State residents by adding ten percent to their federal earned income tax credit refund.

The idea, which has been adopted in many other states, was embraced by the Washington Tax Fairness Coalition (of which NPI's Permanent Defense is a member) and pitched by the Budget & Policy Center. Because the credit is funded by the surplus, the House has amended the proposal to allow legislators to withhold it in the future. The Senate has not accepted the amendment but is expected to.

(The projected cost to the state is $270 million over the next four years).

NPI will be urging Legislature to repeal unnecessary, outdated special interest tax loopholes and exemptions in 2009 - and reallocate some of the savings to permanently fund the Working Families Credit.

Thanks to Senator Craig Pridemore (Senate prime sponsor), Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, and Speaker Chopp for their enthusiasm.

The Legislature is also addressing workers' compensation benefits. HB 3139 would allow workers to receive the financial and medical benefits they are supposed to get when the Department of Labor & Industries decides they are in need. The purpose of the law is to allow workers to heal in comfort before returning to the workforce. But unfortunately, the law currently allows self-insured employers to suspend benefits to workers simply because they decide to appeal L&I's decision.

HB 3139 would tackle this problem by giving the Department of Labor & Industries authority to help self-insured employers recoup overpayments.

It will encourage employers to file their appeals quickly and not prolong the process by delaying resolution. It's an idea that has the potential to save employers and workers tens of millions of dollars.

The House and Senate haven't quite agreed on specifics yet. The Senate amended the bill but the House has refused to accept the changes, so a small group of representatives and senators will meet in conference committee to hammer out a compromise that both chambers can accept.

The Washington State Labor Council deserves recognition for helping with this bill, which was prime sponsored by Representative Conway.

Municipal Broadband. An effort to coordinate the development and deployment of high-speed internet statewide (SB 6438) is nearing completion. The bill, which NPI strongly supports, requires the Department of Information Services to work with a nonprofit organization to-be-named to implement a strategy that would improve access to broadband.

The Senate on Friday refused to accept the House amendments and has requested that the House drop the changes. Again, the chambers must resolve their differences by Thursday, the scheduled end of the legislative session.

Thanks to Senators Kohl-Welles, Rockefeller, and Oemig for taking the lead on SB 6438 in the state Senate.

Affordable Housing. Finally, the state is going to something about condominium conversions. HB 2014, sponsored by Representative Maralyn Chase, requires landlords to provide tenants with relocation compensation and extends the time period that tenants have to move out to a hundred and twenty days. It also forbids landlords from starting construction during that time. Finally, it allows cities to restrict the number of condominium conversions.

The House agreed to Senate amendments on Friday, so the bill is now on its way to the desk of Governor Chris Gregoire.

Lastly, there were a few outstanding bills that passed one chamber but couldn't get through the other. These include Senate Bill 6777 (protecting Maury Island), House Bill 2775 (bonuses for National Board certified teachers), and SB 6380 (enhancing school library programs).

Readers, if you know of something that we missed, please leave a comment.


Blogger Rick said...

This is a good flip-side to the hard hitting post targeting the "BIAW Seven".

Kudos to our State Government are a good sign that NPI is balanced in the coverage of the issues that matter to progressives.

March 11, 2008 1:39 PM  
Blogger book monster said...

"Thanks also to Representatives Dave Upthegrove and Deb Eddy for their hard work in the House."

Dave Upthegrove is to be commended but Deb Eddy?! She did nothing but work to kill anything that AWB and BIAW didn't like. Please correct your embarrassing gaffe.

March 11, 2008 1:54 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

book monster -

Corrected. I copied some information into my post about those bills which included Deb Eddy's name, and somehow she made it on to the list of thank yous instead of Sharon Nelson, the person I originally intended to thank. It took several hours to write the post and I was tired at the end. Anyway, it's fixed now.

March 11, 2008 3:23 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

Certainly, the hours of work that I put in to make the GMA/Climate Change bill actually PASS (which was not going to happen, as originally written, and many of you knew it) count for nothing.

I work for environmentalism because I care deeply about the world we are leaving for my children and grandchildren, and not to gain approprobation.


March 12, 2008 11:20 AM  

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