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Legislators discuss session at midpoint

Priorities are everywhere in today’s game of politics and passing bills with bipartisan support is as hard as ever.

The 2014 Legislative Session hit a major cut-off date on Feb. 18, as non-budgetary policy bills that didn’t pass through either the state Senate or House of Representatives by 5 p.m. were dead for the year.

Though, typically, no bills would have passed through both legislative chambers by this point, one did. The “Dream Act,” an immigration-financial aid measure that would expand college financial aid to include students who were brought to the state illegally as children, passed the House on the first day of the session and the senate responded with a similar bill weeks later. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill.

The 60-day session ends March 13 and The Reporter asked the three House of Representatives in the 47th district and the two state senators in the 5th and 47th districts what they were most proud of thus far in the session, most disappointed in and hopes for the rest of the session.

Sen. Mark Mullet, D-5th

Proudest accomplishment

Mullet spent most of his energy on a health care transparency bill that passed through the Senate. The bill requires insurance companies to provide “an easy to use transparency tool” on a website that would give information, such as cost of procedures, and would also include a feedback tool similar to the online review website Yelp.

“We are getting run over by health care costs,” he said. “Health care inflation is going up faster than tax revenue. Until the health care sector becomes more efficient… like a regular market, I think the government is going to be broke.”

Biggest disappointment

The inability to put together a quality transportation package.

“There are a lot of Eastern Washington officials who have run on platforms saying they will never raise taxes, so we just can’t get it out of the Senate,” he said. “I get it, people in Yakima and Walla Walla don’t have traffic so they don’t see why this is so important. But people in our district… I feel like everyone you talk to in the Puget Sound totally gets that traffic sucks and we need to do something.”

Hopes moving forward

To put more money into the schools. He said there are two thought processes: waiting to move the extra money in the budget for schools until next year or distribute it now.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll just do it before we leave in the next 20 days,” he said. “But that will take some work.”

Sen. Joe Fain, R-47th

Proudest accomplishment

The balanced budget.

“As we go through some budget issues, at least we are in the black for the first time in a long time,” he said. “I think that’s something to be very proud of.”

Fain said he was also proud of learning the ins and outs of DUI laws by working with prosecutors and state troopers and coming up with three bills, which the Senate has already passed along to the House. He said one bill gives prosecutors more flexibility on DUI prosecution and another that helps state agencies be better equipped to stop paying state food benefits to people in jail.

“It’s designed to ensure we are preserving our state food assistance dollars for those who really need it,” he said. “Just making sure we are using our resources more effectively.”

Biggest disappointment

“It’s too early for disappointment because I think there is still time on the clock,” he said.

However, Fain said that he would like to see progress on transportation reform, specifically considering issues with the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Bertha.

“There are a lot of reasons that the Department of Transportation needs to embrace reform,” he said.

Hopes moving forward

Continuing to develop higher education options in Covington.

“We’ve had great success in higher ed — from keeping tuition flat to providing additional resources,” he said. “If we can continue to bring higher ed closer to Covington and closer to Southeast King County then that will be a real benefit.”

Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-5th

Proudest accomplishment

Behind the scenes work on a bill for student graduation requirements that would require an additional 24 credits for every student in the state before graduation. He said the bill is currently in the House Education Committee, where he is confident it will get support.

“It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time,” he said. “It’s a tough pitch. Raising the standards on everybody makes it challenging across the board. We want to make it so kids aren’t discouraged … We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the appropriate amount of flexibility and rigor. And I think we got it.”

Biggest disappointment

Receiving bipartisan support for an “Economic Success Metrics for Higher Education” program bill, only to have it pulled by the committee chair. The bill would have featured a website where parents and students could find the value of various higher education degrees,  such as expected starting salaries, wage growth and expenses. He said the chairperson thought the metrics might make the traditional liberal arts colleges look less appealing.

“It’s frustrating when you know you have the votes to get it out of committee but the chair won’t let it come to a vote,” he said.

Hopes moving forward

He’s been appointed to the governor’s work group on the McCleary ruling, which found that Washington state is not amply funding basic education. The group has started meeting and must decide how to comply with the court order and how to achieve results.

“It’s not going to be easy; we are going to have very meaty discussions on levy reform and compensation reform,” he said. “We’re basically running into what we know will be a very difficult discussion, but we’ve got motivation to fix it.”

Rep. Pat Sullivan D-47th

Proudest accomplishment

Shepherding the House through a number of pieces of legislation, including the Dream Act.

“We passed a little over 350 policy bills that deal with a wide variety of issues — from public safety to higher education to transportation,” he said.

Biggest disappointment

From a personal standpoint, the lack of public attendance at his town hall meetings.

“I wasn’t able to get more people to attend and share those views,” he said. “Each Saturday I’ve had a town hall meeting and I was hoping to have big crowds and I didn’t quite get there.”

As a group, Sullivan didn’t have much to complain about.

“We really got done a bunch of the work we wanted to get accomplished,” he said. “I was pretty pleased given the fact we only had a short amount of time. To this point I am pretty happy with how things have gone.”

Hopes moving forward

Finishing the supplemental budget and making additional progress on the state’s McCleary obligation.

Rep. Mark Hargrove R-47th

Proudest accomplishment

Working with the Department of Social and Health Services on a foster care bill and the Department of Ecology on a green technologies bill that would build a self-funding mechanism for local government agencies to reduce vehicle idle emissions.

“It’s been rewarding to work with those agencies and build that bipartisan support,” he said.

Biggest disappointment

There have been a few bills that are “a little off the mark,” where constituents aren’t quite understanding the full implications of bills, Hargrove said. He is trying to improve the communication process between various levels of individuals, including among his own caucus and between the House and Senate.

“We put up these structural walls,” he said. “Every once in a while I see some progress in breaking those down, but we are not quite there yet.”

Hopes moving forward

He is “cautiously optimistic” that the budget will be completed on time.

“It’s good for the state when we get our business done and move on,” he said.

Rep. Jay Rodne, R 5th

Proudest accomplishment

Co-sponsoring a bill that would make it easier for parents and close family members to involuntarily commit individuals who need psychiatric help. The issue partially stems from a 28-year-old man living in Seattle that attempted to commit suicide and made threats to others, but could not be committed by his parents. A Seattle SWAT team shot and killed the man in July of 2013.

“It will save lives,” Rodne said of the bill. “If the Reuter’s had been able to get their son (Joel) into treatment back in January and February when they identified he was slipping into psychosis, he would be alive today.”

Biggest disappointment

The failure to get meaningful reforms to the state’s transportation system.

“I’d hoped that the senate majority would sponsor a package of reform measures that I think are needed and that would have paved the way for a more comprehensive package,” he said.

Hopes moving forward

That the sessions ends on time with a budget agreement that focuses on a continued commitment to education.

 

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