February 5, 2011
Introduction: This newsletter goes out to active Democrats in King County. Sarajane Siegfriedt is the legislative action newsletter editor. Sarajane Siegfriedt is the Co-Chair of the LAC. You can track bills and contact your legislators by going to their website at www.leg.wa.gov. or leave a message for your three legislators (and the Governor) at the toll-free Legislative Hotline, 1-800-562-6000. Your legislators' email addresses follow the form: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Legislative Agenda, passed by King County Democrats on January 24th, is posted on www.kcdems.org (look for LAC on the left tab). It directs us in our bill tracking. Please don't let this limit you from being vocal about other issues of importance.
Bill Status Chart: In addition to this narrative newsletter, we are tracking the bills in our agenda and posting these to our website for quick reference http://wa-demchairs.org/kcdems/lac/2011/billstatus20110204.pdf Look here to find recommended actions for this week.
Our annual Lobby Day will be held on Presidents Day, Monday February 21st from 11 to 1:30 p.m. The Governor and all our 39 King County Democratic legislators are our invited guests, followed by district meetings with your legislators (set up by LAC District Chairs.) The $20 cost includes a box lunch and materials. Please reserve your seat as seating in the Senate Rules Committee room is limited. (Find it by entering the Lt. Governor's office on the 2nd Floor of the Legislative Building. Contact Sarajane Siegfriedt at email@example.com to reserve a spot at our Lobby Day in Olympia.
For February 5th
This newsletter is longer than usual, because of the Supplemental Budget that will be completed this week and the introduction of several of our key bills. For brief status, go directly to the Bill Status Chart http://wa-demchairs.org/kcdems/lac/2011/billstatus20110204.pdf
Contents: This newsletter contains current news on the following issues:
• Initiative Reform Bill—Hearings this Week
• Revenue & Repealing Corporate Tax Breaks
• Environment: Decommissioning TransAlta’s Coal-fired Power Plant
• Protecting Human Services & Education in the Supplemental Budget
• A Balanced Approach to Unemployment Insurance—What Happened?
• Criminal Justice: Medical Marijuana
• Housing: Passing the Fair Tenant Screening Act
• Payday Lending: Don’t gut the law
• Progress on Washington Investment Trust
Election & Initiative Reform
Initiative Reform Bill Introduced—Hearings this Week
Introduced by Rep. Chris Reykdal, (D - Olympia) (D) on January 28, 2011, to clarify and update regulations concerning signature gathering for initiatives and to raise the filing fee for initiatives to $500. If the Secretary of State for the general election ballot certifies the measure, the sponsor receives a refund of $450. The bill allows a waiver of the filing fee if a sponsor demonstrates lack of sufficient assets and submits at least 1,000 valid signatures. (Companion: SB 5297).
Both ballot measure reform bills have a hearing this week - House State Government and Tribal Affairs committee on Wednesday Feb. 9th at 8 AM and Senate Government Operations committee on Thursday, Feb. 10th at 10 AM. If you are in Olympia either or both of those days, please sign in PRO to support HB 1668 and SB 5297.
Email House State Government and Senate Government Operations committee members know you support the bills (Representatives Miloscia, Hunt, Appleton, Darnielle, Dunshee, Hurst, McCoy and Senators Pridemore, Prentice, Chase). If you or your organization has a Facebook page, link to "Pass Bill to Prevent Fraud" page at http://tinyurl.com/4s87vga
Our main message is to protect the integrity of our ballot measure process by preventing fraud and other abuses to the system. HB 1668 and SB 5207 increase transparency and accountability and makes the process better for all the people of Washington. See the Win/Win Network www.winwinnwtwork.org for more information.
Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United Decision
House Joint Memorial HJM 4005 has been introduced and referred to the House Judiciary Committee. For more info and a list of co-sponsors, go here:
Summary Digest of HJM 4005: Urges Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution for the states' consideration which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States or any of its jurisdictional subdivisions. For a one-page flyer about this is posted on website:
(Look at section of Downloads page on Citizens United) --
Revenue & Tax Reform
Let Wall Street Pay for Basic Health
HB 1847 introduced by Rep. Eileen Cody, (D-West Seattle) (D) on February 4, 2011, terminates certain tax exemptions to provide funding for maintaining Basic Health Program. Places a cap on providers of the first mortgage reduction at $100 million per year. Eliminates the exemption for the airplane excise tax on ownership transfers of aircraft and sets a new excise tax rate for aircraft. Imposes a sales and use tax on cosmetic medical services. Repeals the TransAlta sales tax exemption for coal used at coal-fired electric generation plant at Centralia. Would take effect April 1, 2011. Referred to House Ways & Means.
From our Fuse coalition partner in the Our Economic Future Coalition:
28,000 activists spoke out, and legislators are listening.
Three weeks ago we delivered more than 28,000 petitions to the Legislature demanding an end to tax giveaways to special interests. Now Rep. Eileen Cody has released a bill (HB 1847) that would close tax loopholes for Wall Street Banks, elective cosmetic surgery, and private jets. The money we save would be dedicated to Basic Health, which provides health coverage for tens of thousands of working families in Washington.
Our state’s budget shortfall means we need to look even more carefully at every dollar we spend, and these tax giveaways simply don’t add up. But Wall Street Banks and other special interests have their lobbyists in Olympia fighting tooth and nail to maintain their lucrative, unfair loopholes.
It’s going to take a huge grassroots response to overcome their lobbyists’ insider influence. Tell your representative to stand with Washington families, not special interests by supporting HB 1847. Click below to send a message:
Rep. Cody’s bill will level the playing field and ensure that everyone pays their fair share – especially corporate special interests. At a time when teachers are being laid off, programs shuttered, and every cent squeezed, we can’t afford these tax giveaways that enrich big corporations and the ultra-wealthy at the expense of our communities.
Publicola’s Fizz spoke with state Rep. Eileen Cody (D-34, W. Seattle) about the legislation she introduced to close several corporate tax loopholes, including the $5 million tax break for TransAlta’s Centralia coal plant and an estimated $60 million break for banks.
Could she get the two-thirds vote required to pass tax increases (closing loopholes has been interpreted as a tax increase)? Cody acknowledged that she wasn’t going to get the two-thirds. (She also agreed that her proposal would require a two thirds vote.) “I’m just starting a conversation that we need to have [about these tax breaks],” she said. Cody also said she wanted to highlight how difficult it is to get a two-thirds vote
Last year, social service and health care advocates presented a list of tax breaks totaling around $1 billion.
Decommissioning TransAlta’s Coal-fired Power Plant
House Bill 1825 (Strengthening local economies by reducing emissions from coal-fired power generation through decommissioning) Introduced by Rep. Marko Liias, (D-Mukilteo) (D), requires a preliminary decommissioning plan from coal-fired by July 1, 2013. This act requires coal-fired plants to pay a fee to the Department of Ecology each year until such operations cease. This act only applies to plants located in the State which have combusted more than one million tons of coal during any of the five preceding years. Referred to the House Environment Committee on 2/3/11.
“At the end of the useful life, the closure of these facilities, including the removal of structures, site reclamation, and preparation of the site for future beneficial usage, requires significant planning and funding. To ensure that all toxic materials are removed from these facilities and that the surrounding communities are fully assured that all applicable and appropriate remediation standards are met, it is necessary to require that the facility owner demonstrate during the facility's operation that sufficient funding will be available for closure and post-closure activities.”
For more information, see Environmental Priorities Coalition: www.environmentalpriorities.org
Protect Human Services & Education in the Supplemental Budget
First, the Senate has taken quick action–contrary to earlier concerns that undue delay in enacting needed cuts would only result in the need to make even great cuts and also jeopardize the state’s credit rating (according to the State Treasurer).
Second, there is ample evidence that the Senate–like the House–seriously listened to budgetary input (including grassroots advocates in a number of instances) and at least tried to moderate and reconfigure the human services budget in order to limit harm. Legislators are at least trying, despite the miserable fiscal picture.
Looks like the Senate basically mirrors the House mental health budget, which is a vast improvement (i.e., much less damaging) than the Governor’s provisions. For instance, the cut to state only dollars for the non-Medicaid population is $12.6m rather than $18m – among several other improvements.
Disability Lifeline unfortunately takes a hit. The House preserved both medical benefits and cash assistance. The Senate preserves medical assistance but eliminates the cash grant. On the other hand the Senate at least heard advocates’ testimony about the cash assistance being critical to housing, as the budget also allocates $2m “for housing and other services aimed at stabilizing and transitioning the DL-U population.” (Not that we necessarily want to accept this compromise).
While the Governor eliminated Child Advocacy Center (child abuse victim support) and Street Youth (shelter) money, both the House and Senate preserve these items. The crime victim services funded through the Department of Commerce do not seem to be hit any harder than they were in the House.
Like the House and Governor, the Senate proposes to consolidate some of the institutions (residential rehabilitation centers) for people with developmental disabilities; and the Senate actually achieves about another $1m in savings in this manner. Many developmental disabilities advocates support this consolidation for a combination of fiscal and policy reasons. Besides the cost savings, they value the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in the community (with needed support services) rather than their isolation in institutions. (Democrats are on both sides of this issue.) Supported employment for people with Developmental Disabilities take the same reductions as in the House proposal.
Unlike the House, the Senate does not take a million away from Homeless Housing Assistance.
As did the House, the Senate reduces the Governor’s $9m cut to Food Assistance to $4.8m. In addition, the related Senate language is better in that it does not permit eligibility reductions.
--Thanks to Seth Dawson, human services lobbyist. To receive his updates directly, email him: firstname.lastname@example.org
Update on Thursday 2/3 by Niki Reading, the Capitol Record
The Senate version of early action cuts is out, and here’s what I’m learning as I go along:
- The Senate class size reduction cut is smaller than that proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire and the House
- The Senate budget eliminates the Higher Education Coordinating Board, saving $9 million
- Eliminate Council of Presidents
- The Senate reinstates the cut to Career and Wage Ladder in Early Education that Gregoire proposed and the House did not include
- The Senate version makes a smaller cut to the Basic Health Plan. The governor had proposed a $26.8 million cut, the House adopted a $19.6 million cut, and the Senate proposes a $10.3 million cut.
- It makes a big cut to the Disability Lifeline cash grant — to the tune of $18.5 million. The House version included no reduction and the governor had proposed a $20.3 million cut.
- It includes a DSHS “management reduction” of $1.7 million — neither the House nor the governor had this item
- It saves $3.4 million by cutting state employee pay and $1 million by cutting agency public relations positions.
Update 2: Here’s the bill report. The bill is sponsored by the Senate Ways and Means Committee — meaning it’s bipartisan.
Update on Thursday 2/3 by Josh Feit at Publicola:
Senate Ways and Means Chair Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill, U. District) released a statement:
“Washington cannot afford to keep spending at our current rate. Our conversation with the public is no longer about all the good ways we can spend their money. It’s about what we’re going to cut. It’s about doing less with less. We need to be honest about this.”
He also released his own highlights of how his budget differs from the House version:
• Reducing but not eliminating class-size reduction efforts in K-4 classrooms
• Eliminating the Higher Education Coordinating Board and Council of Presidents
• Transferring tuition funds for financial aid purposes
• Preserving state funded research
• Preserving the Basic Health Plan by tightening eligibility
• Tightening eligibility for the Children’s Health Program
• Eliminating cash grants for the Disability Lifeline
• Not cutting adult day health care
• Taking a three percent pay reduction for non-represented state workers three months early
The Senate’s budget preserved Disability Lifeline medical but nearly eliminated cash grants (reduced from $339 per month to $258 per month effective Jan. 1, 2011). This is very unfortunate since we know that cash provides stable housing for the DL population and will help recipients to achieve positive health outcomes from medical care. In addition, most people go to DSHS to sign up for cash grants. The medical benefits are an added bonus, so we may see fewer people accessing DL medical if cash grants are eliminated.
Advocates should continue to email Ways & Means Committee members and our own legislators for Disability Lifeline cash grants and other human services. Low-income housing advocates should note that residents pay 30% of their income in rent, and that this will eliminate a source of income for low-income housing operations, possibly endangering them.
Labor—A Balanced Approach to Unemployment Insurance: What Happened?
From Sen. Adam Kline’s 37th District Newsletter
Senate Bill 5135 will provide immediate tax relief to 90% of employers around the state, to the tune of roughly $300 million in tax relief for businesses this year. It also makes a technical fix in state law that will make the state eligible for federally funded, extended unemployment benefits through 2011.
The legislation comes at a time when UI tax rates are set to increase by an average of 36 percent in 2011 and when nearly one in five Washingtonians is either unemployed or under-employed. In the latter part of 2008 and in 2009, with unemployment rates rising, the state paid out significantly more in benefits than it collected in taxes, causing a dramatic increase in the 2010 and 2011 tax rates.
The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. In order for the tax cuts to take effect this year, the legislation must be passed by the full Legislature and signed by the Governor by Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Labor—Unemployment Insurance—from WSLC’s David Groves
Passage of the federal extended Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits is necessary by mid- to late-March to continue allowing folks in Washington to receive UI benefits beyond 26 weeks up to 99 weeks. Both parties support its passage. But Republicans--and a handful of Democrats--are trying to pass it along with a one-year temporary tax cut for business so they don't have to pass a second UI bill later in the session. In doing so, they hope to avoid both the Governor's training benefits and Labor’s proposal for a children's benefit. In other words, business would get what it wants and struggling families get nothing.
Update from Labor lead Brad Larssen and from WSLC David Groves:
As we went to press Friday, the substitute Unemployment Insurance bill SSB 5135 was passed by the Senate by a majority of Democrats, who supported it because of the UI benefits extension for 99 weeks. However, the substitute version was amended by six renegade Democrats and a majority of Republicans. The six Democrats ignored their caucus leadership who hoped to pass some concessions to help workers in exchange for reducing UI rates at a time when unemployment is at its highest. [Several years ago, employers begged to have their rates reduced when unemployment was low and are now refusing to pay higher rates when the economy is bad. We want to know, what happened to their private “rainy day” funds?]
These Senators are: Hatfield (19th), Hobbs (44th), Kastama (25th), Pridemore (49th), Sheldon (35th), and Rodney Tom (48th).
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown scheduled a vote to advance the one-year tax cut bill (SB 5135) and House Speaker Frank Chopp planned quick action to get it to the governor's desk, and avoid the tax increase.
But then business lobbying groups hatched a plan to get what they wanted now, and avoid any bill #2 benefit improvements to balance the effort. They urged state Senators to defy the Majority Leader and amend the bill on the floor to add a federal unemployment benefit extension to SB 5135. That is the only remaining element of the governor's original bill that absolutely requires action this session. If it is added to SB 5135, there is no longer any motivation for a bill #2 this session. Business groups would simply come back next year, point to another inevitable spike in tax rates when their temporary tax cut is about to expire, and get it extended again.
Criminal Justice: Medical Marijuana
Medical Marijuana SB 5073 would establish a state-regulated system of licensed producers, processors and dispensers. The system would be overseen by the state departments of Agriculture and Health. Local governments would be free to adopt zoning regulations regarding siting of these facilities and advertising would be restricted.
Such a system would be a major improvement over the current patchwork of unregulated entities that serve as the only practical source of medical marijuana for many qualifying patients.
The bill proposes to protect qualifying patients who comply with the law from being arrested and prosecuted. They would be treated no differently than patients who rely on prescription medications to help maintain their quality of life.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rep. Jim Moeller introduce changes to medical marijuana rules
Housing & Human Services: Portable Background Checks
Spotlight on a Low-Income Housing Alliance priority:
Passing the Fair Tenant Screening Act HB 1526 (Rep. Orwall)
The Fair Tenant Screening Act addresses three interconnected issues all related to tenant screening: The high cost of repeated tenant screening reports, the lack of transparency in those reports and the need to prevent inaccurate and misleading information from being included in the reports. By addressing these issues, the bill is designed to eliminate barriers to housing that tenants across the state struggle with.
The high cost of repeated reports: The tenant screening industry is a growing and largely unregulated sector that plays a central role in a landlord’s decision to rent to a tenant or not. The companies are both out-of-state and home-grown and charge fees between $35 and $50 per report. The tenant pays the cost of each report, frequently purchasing separate reports for each person over the age of 18. Tenants are forced to pay these costs each time they apply for housing. Only one company on the market provides a portable report and landlords are not required to accept it, which means tenants purchasing a portable report have no guarantee that their prospective landlord will accept it —and unfortunately few do. The costs of these screening reports are added on top of the high costs of moving, including reserving money for a new deposit, first and last month’s rent, utility set-ups and more.
The bill requires landlords to accept portable reports and that tenant screening companies make their reports portable or that the cost of the report be borne by the landlord.
Lack of transparency in the content of the reports: Tenants purchase tenant-screening reports each time they apply for a new home. Even though tenants pay the full cost, tenant screening companies refuse to share copies with any tenants. This presents maddening obstacles for tenants who are told that their applications for housing are denied because of the content of a tenant screening report that they can’t see or correct.
The bill requires that tenant screening companies give tenants a copy of the report.
Preventing inaccurate or misleading information in the reports: Tenant screening reports can currently contain information that can tell a misleading story about a tenant. For example, the report always highlights if a tenant has been party to an eviction lawsuit, but it never says if the tenant won or lost the lawsuit, or even if the lawsuit was dismissed. It is common sense that simply being named a party to a lawsuit does not mean you’re guilty. Unfortunately, tenant screening companies do not care and simply report on the gross fact, never expending the minimal time necessary to report on the actual facts.
Additionally, tenant-screening companies insist on being able to retain the right to report information that is illegal for a landlord to use in their consideration of an application. For example, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against victims of domestic violence. Allowing discrimination would continue the cycle of violence. Maddeningly, tenant screening companies fight for their “right” to continue to report that a tenant has filed protection orders, even though this hands information to a landlord that they are not supposed to use in their decision to rent to that tenant or not.
The bill changes the law so that tenant screening reports cannot include inappropriate information, such as information about a protective order, or the fact of an eviction lawsuit that was dismissed in court or won by a tenant.
Ask your representatives and the House Judiciary Committee to support the Fair Tenant Screening Act, HB 1526 or attend the hearing (TBA).
Banking, Foreclosure & Predatory Lending Reform
Don’t Gut Payday Loan Law—Instead Stop the Moneytree Abuses
from Sen. Adam Kline’s 37th District newsletter
Based on an anonymous tip from a constituent in the 37th district, the Department of Financial Institutions has succeeded in halting a shady payday loan practice.
Last April a constituent called me to blow the whistle on Moneytree, a payday lender. She claimed Moneytree was giving more than eight payday loans to individual customers during a one-year period, thus breaking a law passed by the Legislature in 2009. Over the course of several conversations, the constituent provided me with ample information about MoneyTree’ S practices, and I worked with the good folks at our State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) to figure out the shady bookkeeping strategies Moneytree was using to get around the law.
By painstakingly reviewing MoneyTree’ S lending records, DFI was able to establish that the company appeared to be allowing borrowers to obtain the maximum allowable number of small loans and then repackaging those loans into a single, larger loan so they can take out even more loans. Moneytree was giving some of these folks upwards of 30 loans. Based on their research, DFI issued a temporary cease and desist order to Moneytree to force them to stop the allegedly illegal practices while the courts looked into the practice.
I'm happy to report that in mid-January, the court agreed with DFI, and ruled that the practice is indeed illegal. Moneytree and other payday lenders won't be able to use this strategy anymore.
Unfortunately payday lenders have found other ways to skirt the law. Very recently DFI started going after other payday lenders who appear to be circumventing the 8-loan limit using a different strategy. This time the payday lenders are selling gift cards to borrowers. The transaction works almost the same as a normal payday loan transaction. A borrower gives the lender a post-dated check, but instead of giving the borrower cash, the lender issues a gift card to a retail establishment like Wal-Mart, for example. The borrower pays the same amount of interest and fees they would receive in a cash loan. The lenders say since they're selling a product (i.e., a gift card) rather than handing out cash, they don't have to comply with the 8-loan limit. But DFI and the Northwest Justice Project (NJP is working separately from DFI on a lawsuit against a lender engaging in this practice) maintain that since the transaction works exactly the same except for the fact that the borrower gets a gift card instead of cash, it's still a "payday loan." NJP filed a lawsuit against one lender, Cash 1. DFI has issued a cease and desist order against a different lender, Checkmania (also known as Checkmate), for making illegal loans.
Along with these various strategies to skirt the 8-loan maximum, payday lenders are trying to entirely do away with the limit through legislation. SB 5547 and HB 1678 would both eliminate the 8-loan maximum, and would allow lenders to go back to making an unlimited amount of loans to individuals. I'd like to outlaw payday loans entirely. That year, I proposed a bill to do away with this usurious industry. Instead, we passed a narrower law that placed some limits on the industry, including the 8-loan maximum. I'll do my best to make sure we don't increase the ability of payday lenders to rip off their customers.
Progress on Washington Investment Trust (state bank) bill
From Rep. Bob Hasegawa, sponsor and prime mover of the Washington Investment Trust (state bank) bill
The State Treasurer’s argument that HB 1320 is unconstitutional is wrong because it (HB1320) doesn’t create an operational bank. It creates a Blue Ribbon Task Force, weighted toward bankers and financial institution experts, that will recommend trailer legislation for the 2012 session in order to become operational. So, the constitutional question will be addressed at that time, if necessary. You’ll recall the 2007 session when we passed a constitutional amendment HJR 4215, supported by McIntire, that was necessary to implement an underlying bill that allowed investment of the state’s Permanent Higher Education Trust Fund into the stock market. The constitutional amendment was necessary because there was a prohibition against investing that money into something that could lose money. It was passed by the people in the next general election.
As for the banks, I’m working on language to address their concern against competition and hope they’ll at least go neutral if not in support. Remember, the commercial banks in North Dakota have a great working relationship with the Bank of North Dakota as a bankers’ bank and as a lending partner. In fact, they feel more comfortable partnering with BND than other commercial banks because they don’t have to worry about their “partner” stealing their customer in the future, because BND doesn’t compete with them.
I believe this is about doing what’s best for small businesses—creating access to capital—and as a small business advocate yourself, you know this is their #1 problem, and our #1 way to help them and create jobs.
--[Rep.] Bob Hasegawa
The Education news this week is in the Supplemental Budget for 2011. The Senate treats K-12 education with fewer cuts than the House, which uses the money to preserve Basic Health and Disability Lifeline grants. The Senate imposes severe cuts to Higher Education. Olympia watchers expect that the 2-year budget will generally follow the outlines of the Supplemental Budget.
Contact the respective Ways & Means Committees on these funding issues.
We are looking for one or two education issues issue leads.
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