Op-ed from Sen. Mike Hewitt, Rep. Maureen Walsh and Rep. Terry Nealey: It’s back to work in Olympia for the 2016 session
It seems like we barely left Olympia after a regular session and three special sessions that finally ended in July. With the 2016 session kicking off on Jan. 11, we are back at the state Capitol with an entire “to-do” list and 60 days to get the job done.
This year, we predict several issues will dominate the session, including:
- Education funding – A bipartisan, bicameral group has been working to keep the Legislature on target for meeting the 2018 requirements of the state Supreme Court under the McCleary decision. Some believe levy reform is needed to place more of the education funding burden on the state and relieve dependence upon local levies. But it is a complicated issue that will require more data we don't have now. So Step 1 this year is to show the court we're on a path to a solution, and Step 2 next year is to implement that solution.
- Charter schools – The timing of the state Supreme Court decision to invalidate charter schools at the beginning of the school year was terrible, unsettling and unfair to families. There's bipartisan support for a solution that would seek to restore some form of a public charter school system, including proper accountability.
- Department of Corrections' scandal – The early release of thousands of prisoners over a 13-year period erodes trust in state government. We need a thorough, independent investigation, and those responsible need to be held accountable.
- Minimum wage – After Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, restaurant employment in the city declined by more than 700 jobs in the past year. Last week, an initiative was filed that would incrementally increase Washington's $9.47 an hour minimum wage to $13.50 over four years, starting in 2017. There's concern in the Legislature that such an increase would create more job losses. Should lawmakers move forward with a $12 minimum wage bill sitting in the Legislature from last year that may have less impact than the ballot measure?
- Governor's cap-and-trade “Clean Air” rule: We have an obligation to protect our environment for future generations. However, Washington is already one of the cleanest states in the nation. We are concerned the governor's proposal would increase costs for gasoline, electricity, food and basic necessities, and eliminate jobs, while doing nothing to reduce overall global emissions. Also, at least one carbon reduction initiative has been filed that may reach the November ballot.
Many more issues are likely to emerge in the 2016 session — some of which could affect citizens here in the 16th District. That's why we encourage your input and involvement.
You'll find committee hearing schedules, bill information, and even a way to track and comment on bills on the state legislative website: www.leg.wa.gov. We also invite you to visit our websites where you will learn about legislation we are sponsoring and issues that have captured our attention. You can sign up there for our regular email update newsletters.
Here's how to reach us:
You may also leave a message on the Legislature's toll-free hotline: 1-800-562-6000.
We are now here in Olympia, ready to represent your interests and concerns, and those of your neighbors. Please contact us any time you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and state government.
Editor's note: Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla), Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-College Place), and Rep. Terry Nealey (R-Dayton), serve the 16th Legislative District.