Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during the annual AP Legislative Preview at the Capitol in Olympia last Thursday. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during the annual AP Legislative Preview at the Capitol in Olympia last Thursday. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

Education funding is top priority as state Legislature starts session today

By Rachel La Corte

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Lawmakers kick off the 2017 legislative session today with few Capitol watchers expecting that they’ll finish this year’s 105-day legislative session on time as they wrestle with the final piece of a court mandate on education funding.

While education will be the top issue lawmakers are dealing with this session, it won’t be the only thing they have to address. Here are some of the top issues:

• EDUCATION FUNDING: Lawmakers are working to comply with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling requiring them to fully fund the state’s basic education system, but are currently being held in contempt by the court for their lack of progress.

The ruling became known as the McCleary decision, named for the lead plaintiff, Stephanie McCleary, who is the human resources director for Chimacum Schools.

Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries.

School districts currently pay a substantial chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies. Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal released last month, the state pays its part of that salary obligation.

The proposal — quickly criticized by Republicans — seeks more than $5 billion in new revenue, with a majority of it — about $3.9 billion — dedicated to education-related costs.

About $1 billion of that education funding would come from a proposed carbon tax that would charge the state’s emitters $25 per metric ton starting in 2018.

The court has said that the state has until Sept. 1, 2018, to fully fund education, but that the details of how to do that — as well as how lawmakers will pay for it — must be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.

Senate Republicans and House Democrats will both release their own budget proposals in the coming months. A task force charged with coming up with recommendations failed to reach a bipartisan agreement. Republicans in the Senate are set to release their budget proposal — which would include the education solution — in the coming months, followed by Democrats in the House.

“Democrats and Republicans are joined at the hip this year by a joint challenge in a joint responsibility,” Inslee said last month. “They’re all in the soup together.”

REAL ID: Lawmakers have long grappled with how to bring the state into compliance with a federal law that requires driver’s licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they’re legally in the U.S.

If they don’t find a solution this year, it will affect Washington state residents at the security line at the airport starting next year.

Under the latest schedule released by the federal government, unless lawmakers pass a law that puts the state in compliance — or the state gets an extension from the government — Washington residents will need additional identification to board commercial flights starting Jan. 22, 2018.

Residents of other states that currently have extensions will have until Oct. 21, 2020. Republican Sen. Curtis King and Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn have both already introduced bills seeking to bring the state into compliance.

The Real ID Act, approved by Congress in 2005, set minimum standards for licenses in response to security concerns following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Enforcement of those requirements has repeatedly been delayed. Washington state already offers, but does not mandate, enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are valid under the federal law.

The bills introduced by Clibborn and King would create a two-tiered licensing system that would keep the current enhanced license and would create a standard state license that would indicate it is not valid for federal purposes.

MENTAL HEALTH FUNDING: Gov. Jay Inslee has called for spending an additional $300 million in the next two years to improve the state’s mental health system by improving capacity and adding staffing.

His plan also seeks to move people hospitalized on civil commitments out of the state’s two psychiatric hospitals and into beds at facilities in the community.

Western State Hospital — an 800-bed facility in Lakewood — has been plagued with problems, including staffing and bed shortages and is currently under scrutiny by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over concerns involving patient safety.

LAW ENFORCEMENT USE OF DEADLY FORCE: A bill filled by a House Democrat would adopt a task force’s recommendations in lowering the bar for prosecuting police who use deadly force in Washington.

The measure filed by Rep. Beth Doglio would remove language from state law that shields officers from prosecution unless they acted with malice and without good faith, as a legislative task force recommended in November.

The bill would go a step further from those recommendations, requiring police officers to have “a reasonable belief of an imminent threat” for the use of deadly force to be considered justified. It would also restrict when police can shoot at vehicles. A companion bill has been filed in the Senate.

POTENTIAL REPEAL OF AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: Gov. Jay Inslee was among Democratic governors last month who warned top Republicans in Congress that repealing the Obama health care law would stick states with billions of dollars in costs for providing medical care to residents made newly uninsured.

In a letter from the Democratic Governors Association to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the governors estimated that states could face nearly $69 billion in costs for uncompensated care over the next 10 years if the health law is repealed.

States traditionally shouldered a hefty share of such costs. Bob Crittenden, senior special assistant for health reform to Inslee, said that the impacts on Washington state from repeal would be significant, affecting 750,000 residents.

He said that last year, Washington state received $2.7 billion in federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, tax credits and other expenses. The state is set to receive an estimated $3 billion this year.