Yesterday, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee delivered the executive’s annual State of the State address to the newly convened Legislature.
Inslee began his speech by listing some of Washington’s “firsts”.
He congratulated Representative My-Linh Thai (D‑41st District) as the first refugee to be elected to the State House, and Representative Debra Lekanoff (D‑40th District), the first Native American woman to be elected to the State House.
“It’s really great to look out and see faces that reflect the diversity of our state,” said Inslee. “These are firsts we all are proud of.”
Inslee noted that while the Legislature advanced many progressive ideas during the last session, lawmakers cannot rest on their laurels.
He detailed some of the biggest issues he believes should be tackled, beginning with the grave and ever-worsening threat of climate damage. Over that last few years, Washington has experienced record-high temperatures, record-low snowpack, higher ocean temperatures and higher seawater acidity, Inslee observed.
“I don’t know of any other issue that touches the heart of things so many of us care about: our jobs, our health, our safety and our children’s future,” he said. “But this doesn’t have to be our future. Science affirms the necessity of action – this day.”
Inslee argued that Washington should invest in clean energy and low-pollution technologies to ensure broad prosperity for every region in Washington.
“These kinds of jobs have propelled our clean energy sector to grow more than twice as fast as the rest of our economy. There is no greater job opportunity than the opportunity of clean energy,” he continued. “We will pass legislation to transition to one hundred percent clean electricity, transform our buildings with cost-saving efficiencies, and modernize and electrify our transportation system. We’ll phase down super-pollutants and phase in cleaner fuels.”
“This transformation has started, but we need to do more, do it bigger and do it faster,” Inslee stressed. “So when your grandchildren ask what you did to protect them from climate change, you can tell them you weren’t sitting around saying it was someone else’s problem. You took action.”
“Because that is who we are in the State of Washington.”
The next issue he addressed was mental health.
The Governor declared that we must transform our behavioral health system to act proactively instead of in a reactive manner, lurching from crisis to crisis.
“For those with a loved one who has waited too long for the right kind of treatment, we know this challenge is urgent,” he said.
“Our families and friends are suffering and we can do so much better.”
Some of the problems Inslee would like to see addressed include finding room for more people at new community-based facilities so patients are near families, homes, places of worship and their communities. He said the state should also expand the professional workforce dedicated to mental health issues. Inslee then announced a new partnership with the University of Washington to create a teaching hospital to serve these patients and to train behavioral health providers.
“We can turn this story around and direct it toward hope,” said Inslee. “And I’m pleased that we’re at the beginning of a bipartisan effort to do just that. We will create a story this year about a holistic model for behavioral health that encompasses the family, the community and the promise of timely care.”
Switching gears, Inslee then talked about saving the southern resident orcas.
He recounted the unforgettable story from last summer, when a mother orca carried her dead calf for over two weeks.
“We saw a mother’s grief. We felt it. Our hearts broke as we shared in her loss,” the Governor lamented. “This cannot be their fate.”
Inslee stressed the importance to make “unprecedented investments” to save the resident orcas, because the “demise of any species is a warning in our natural systems.” Through an orca task force led by Dr. Les Purce and Stephanie Solien, Inslee presented recommendations to save the pod, which includes increasing salmon stocks, fixing culverts and decreasing vessel traffic risks.
“We have just one last chance to save these orcas,” he said. “In this perilous moment, we must answer back with action.”
He did not propose any restrictions on fishing, which Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has argued may be necessary to save the southern residents.
Inslee then moved on to education.
“I thank everyone in this chamber who has been part of the years-long effort to fully fund basic education,” he said, referring to efforts to purge the State’s contempt in the now-ended McCleary court case, which dragged on for years.
“This was an enormously heavy lift that I’m proud we accomplished together last year. This was a remarkable bipartisan effort; both parties shared in that success.”
The Legislature cannot stop now, he said. McCleary compliance isn’t enough. Funding special education and early learning is “the best way to secure a strong start for every child, regardless of their family’s economic circumstances.”
He hopes to expand preschool programs, as well as create a statewide referral system to connect families with early learning services and facilities. He’d like to see universal home visits, which would allow new parents the opportunity to get a visit from a nurse during the first weeks at home with a newborn.
“And once those children reach the other end of their education and prepare to graduate from high school, we want to open up as many pathways as possible, including apprenticeships, certificates and degrees,” he said.
“For high-school students or individuals who seek an experience outside a four-year program, our Career Connect Washington initiative gives them that option.”
The initiative connects students with real-world experience in their chosen careers, which ultimately gives them a better chance when they eventually apply for their first job after school. Inslee’s proposed budget would also provide 100,000 students over the next ten years an option to explore their interests through apprenticeships and paid internships.
“This means more Washington students can take advantage of great careers here at home in one of the best economies anywhere,” he explained.
“Don’t our kids deserve that?”
Inslee also detailed the Washington College Promise, a new statewide free college program that guarantees financial aid to eligible students.
“As we grapple with these challenges in our state, we must also confront other forces seeking to undermine our progress,” said Inslee.
“We are the state that invests in our people.”
Inslee praised the previous Legislature’s major accomplishments, like passing the Access to Democracy package and taking a first step to ending the death penalty. He encouraged the 2019 Legislature to build upon those successes. He concluded by saying that he believes this next chapter “must show that we pushed the limit and moved beyond our plateau, that we always looked for the next beginning.”
“So let this be our profound story. Let it be bold,” he said.
“And most of all, let it make history.”