Dear Friends and Neighbors,
There are only three weeks left of the 2017 legislative session. The cherry blossoms are out, the sun is shining and lawmakers are busy at work trying to get legislation in order so lawmakers can adjourn by April 23.
So far, House Democrats and Senate Republicans have passed their 2017-19 budget proposals, and negotiations are underway. Here's a comparison of the two budgets as they stand now. Thoughtful work is being done in both chambers on behalf of Washingtonians, but the hard work must continue if lawmakers want to wrap up on time.
House passes $44.9 billion budget on party-line vote
House Democrats passed their 2017-19 budget proposal on a 50-48 party-line vote Friday. While a number of the state programs and services they have included in their plan are ones House Republicans support, we cannot support the budget as it stands now. Here are some of my concerns:
1. Their spending plan would grow state government by 17 percent in 2017-19 and 15 percent in 2019-21, significantly outpacing the earning rate of those, the taxpayers, being asked to pay for it. This at a time when state revenues have reached historic levels. For perspective, their plan proposes to spend more than $51 billion in 2019-21. Just eight years ago in the 2011-13 budget, they only spent $31 billion.
2. Their proposal relies on $8 billion in tax increases. Some of these taxes would include a capital gains tax and a 20 percent B&O tax increase, which hurts day care providers, hospitals, grocery stores, and shops up and down Main Street. A hearing on their tax package took place today and is scheduled for a vote in the House Finance Committee tomorrow. You can check here for updates on the legislation. Without the full House chamber voting on the tax plan, their budget proposal they passed last week is nothing more than a wish list.
3. Despite billions of dollars in tax increases, they only leave $12 million in the rainy day fund. That's only enough to fund state government for a few hours in the event of an emergency.
While two budget proposals are on the table, it's important to know neither plan will be the final version of the budget. Negotiations are ongoing, and the result will likely be a hybrid of the two plans.
As budget negotiations continue, I'll keep you apprised of any major developments.
Erin's Law gets hearing in House committee
Rep. Gina McCabe (left) and Erin Merryn (right), along with her daughter, wait to testify on House Bill 1539 during the House Education Committee.
It was a privilege to have Erin Merryn, an Illinois mom and childhood sexual abuse survivor who is responsible for introducing Erin's Law in legislatures throughout the country, join me to testify in favor of my House Bill 1539 last month.The legislation would create the Erin's Law Legislative Task Force and would charge the group with developing evidence-based, age-appropriate sexual-abuse prevention curriculum for grades K-12. Additionally, the task force would be required to identify funding sources for curriculum implementation.
With the passage of the congressional Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, school districts throughout the country will be able to qualify for federal education dollars starting in July 2017 to fund sexual-abuse prevention education programs.
For those of you who don't know her story, Erin was sexually abused by two perpetrators during her childhood. It took her years to come forward but she's turned the horrific abuse she suffered into hope for children throughout the nation. She succeeded in passing her first Erin's Law bill in her home state of Illinois in 2011. Since then, she has helped 27 other states enact similar legislation. Her efforts have led her to appear on CNN, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and many other programs.
It's my mission to make Washington the 29th state to have Erin's Law legislation signed into law. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. That's unacceptable.
My bill was given a hearing in the House Education Committee in March and is now included as a proviso in the budget as passed by the House last week. I'm hopeful Erin's powerful testimony (which you can watch here) will help get this bill over the finish line.
April is Autism Awareness Month
Rep. Gina McCabe (left) and Travis King (right) wait to testify on McCabe's Travis Alert Act legislation in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
Started by the Autism Society about 25 years ago, April became a month to promote the work being done nationwide to raise awareness about autism. According to 2014 research from the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 68 children in the U.S. are born with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Important work is being done at multiple levels of government to make everyday life more inclusive for individuals with ASD. Here in Washington, I sponsored a bill that will help autistic individuals, as well as others with disabilities, during emergencies. House Bill 1258, or the Travis Alert Act, would enhance the existing 911 program to alert first responders when a person with special needs is present at the scene of an emergency. It would also require existing procedures be reviewed and a training program be developed for first responders to determine best practices for responding to emergencies that involve persons with special needs.
It's promising to see other state's making headway on similar legislation, too. For example, a bill requiring autism awareness training for law enforcement officials is up for consideration in the Florida House of Representatives.
The Travis Alert Act passed the House 97-1 and unanimously passed the Senate Law and Justice Committee last week. I appreciate Travis King, the bill's namesake, and his mom, Threasa, driving to Olympia to testify. They are committed to getting this bill passed to give families like theirs some peace of mind if an emergency occurs.
Youth from district serve as legislative pages in Olympia
Rep. Gina McCabe with Hayden Tweedy (left), Ciara Brown-Kemp (center), and Tyler King (right).
Last week, I had the privilege of sponsoring three legislative pages. Pages serve a key role in helping state government function effectively during session. Each week, 30 or more students travel to Olympia to assist lawmakers with daily tasks. Two hours of each day are spent in Page School where they learn about the legislative process. The rest of their time is spent delivering important documents and amendments to legislators and staff, and meeting with representatives.
In addition to their regular page duties, Tyler, Hayden and Ciara participated in my most recent video update. Watch it here.
Most the spots to be a page are full for the session but there will be plenty of opportunities next year! Pages must be between the ages of 14 and 16, and have a legislator sponsor their week-long service in the state Legislature. To learn more, visit this website. If you have any questions or know someone who would like to serve as a page, feel free to contact my office.
Telephone town hall recap
On the evening of Tuesday, March 28, Sen. Curtis King, Rep. Norm Johnson and I hosted a telephone town hall. Thank you to everyone who took time out of their evening to join us! We called 20,276 phone numbers in the 14th District. During the hour-long call, listeners were able to ask questions and receive an update on the 2017 legislative session.
Listeners were also able to participate in poll questions. Here were the results:
1. Budget decisions require setting priorities. Which area is of the highest priority to you?
29.2 percent – Taxes
28.8 percent – Education
22.3 percent – Protecting the vulnerable
19.7 percent – Law enforcement
2. Should state law require insurance companies to disclose significant reasons for a premium increase at least 20 days before expiration of the policy?
97.9 percent – Yes
2.1 percent – No
3. What do you think about the regulatory climate in our state?
53.9 percent – Overburdening employers with unnecessary regulations is the single biggest hurdle to economic growth.
24.7 percent – It is manageable and existing regulations are not a hindrance to job creation.
21.4 percent – We need more regulations on employers to protect our environment, consumers and public safety.
If you were unable to participate in last week's telephone town hall, you can answer the above poll questions here. I encourage you to give my office a call or email me anytime. My direct contact information is below. I look forward to hearing from you!
Honored to serve you,