EYE ON OLYMPIA: With cutoff past, lawmakers look to talks, votes on school funding

State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege

OLYMPIA — The cutoff date for policy bills and initiatives in both houses of the state Legislature is now past, and lawmakers from the 24th Legislative District are looking forward to discussion and votes on public education funding this week.

The cutoff last Friday was the end for any bill that had not been passed by a Senate or House committee.

There are lots of cutoffs for the Senate, said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, and each one helps drive discussions toward the grand finale on the budget toward the end of the session.

Van De Wege met with school directors, teachers and students from across the 24th District last week. Educators from Chimacum, Sequim, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Quilcene and other towns all presented their concerns, he said.

Principal among those concerns were school funding and the Legislature’s McCleary decision deadline, achievement tests and the condition of schools on the Olympic Peninsula.

Senate bill 5076 did not make it out of the Ways and Means Committee last week and did not make the cutoff. The measure would have allowed a simple majority of voters to authorize school district bonds.

Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, signed onto a companion bill, HB-1778, which was referred to the Education Committee but also failed to make the cutoff.

The bills would have taken effect if voters approved amendments to Article VII and VIII of the state constitution, which currently require supermajorities — 60 percent — for school bonds.

Healthcare Committee

Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, expressed satisfaction that two bills he helped sponsor, HB-1520 and HB-1492, made the Friday cutoff after votes last week in the Healthcare Committee.

HB-1520 would provide alternate payment methods for hospitals participating in the state’s rural access program. HB-1492 would set new penalties for violations to the state’s assisted living licensure statutes.

“We have to make sure our most vulnerable senior citizens are protected,” he said.

One bill that would have allowed public utility districts to get into the telecommunications business did not get out of committee last week, Tharinger said.

McCleary funding

Van De Wege voiced frustration with GOP legislators in the Senate over what lawmakers call the “levy cliff.”

The term describes the expiration this year of school districts’ current authority to levy the local portion of total funding.

The GOP proposal for McCleary funding in the Senate would incorporate the ability of school districts to fund the local portion of their budgets for one more year.

The problem, Van De Wege said, is that lawmakers are “not going to come to a McCleary agreement for a couple of months.”

School districts need an answer on the levy cliff soon, he reasoned. Without an answer, school districts putting together their next fiscal year budgets might start to mail out pink slips to teachers.

“It provides for a lot of uncertainty for school districts and a lot of uncertainty for teachers,” Van De Wege said.

Some teachers, he said, might end up looking at other job opportunities, “and that is not in the best interest of kids,” he said.

In the House, Chapman said Democrats plan to bring HB-1843 to the floor with a vote expected Wednesday or Thursday.

The bill, he said, would define the “basic education,” which the Legislature is being required to fund under the landmark state Supreme Court decision.

According to the House Office of Program Research, the bill would:

• Replace the state salary allocation model with minimum statewide average salaries in three state-funded staffing categories.

• Increase prototypical school allocations for parent involvement coordinators and guidance counselors.

• Increase vocational education funding by reducing class sizes for career and technical education and skills centers.

• Increase the state-funded instructional hours for the Learning Assistance, Highly Capable and Transitional Bilingual Instructional programs.

• Delay changes to the formulas for calculating school districts’ maximum maintenance and operation levy authority.

• Direct the Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a group to recommend revisions to school district accounting practices.

Funding basic education under these definitions would come later in the session.

Chapman expects a vote along party lines.

Tharinger noted that a record number of school bonds received approval last Tuesday and that this will impact the House capital budget, the committee he chairs.

He expects many hours of work and discussion on the capital budget in the coming week. A vote on the capital budget is expected at the end of March.

Real ID

Washington driver’s licenses and identification cards are not in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 and the state has received several extensions to the deadline for complying.

Washington, which was granted its final extension in 2015, is one of two-dozen states yet to comply with the REAL ID Act.

If the state does not bring state identification into compliance, Washington residents will need additional identification to board domestic flights starting in January 2018.

Bills currently in the Senate and House would address this by offering a four-year enhanced driver’s license for $90 that meets the requirements of REAL ID.

“We really don’t have a choice but to do this,” Van De Wege said. He voted against the measure when it came up in committee but noted it was a procedural issue — the committee chair, he said, was rushing the measure through when Van De Wege felt more time could have been spent on discussion.

Chapman said he will support the House version.

Still, Chapman said that a U.S. passport is just as good as an enhanced driver’s license and is valid for 10 years.

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Assistant Managing Editor Mark Swanson can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55450, or [email protected].

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