Op-ed from Sen. Mike Hewitt, Rep. Maureen Walsh and Rep. Terry Nealey: The 2016 legislative session: an overview
Unfortunately, the 2016 Legislature was unable to finish its work on a supplemental budget by the scheduled March 10 adjournment. As negotiators seek a bipartisan agreement, we must ensure it is a true supplemental budget, only funding emergencies and small adjustments to the two-year spending plan passed in 2015.
At the beginning of session, we predicted several issues to dominate the conversation in Olympia:
Education funding – Lawmakers passed legislation to keep the Legislature on track to meet the 2018 requirements set under the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision. Legislators agree more data is needed to determine the state's education funding burden and its reliance on local levies for the state basic education programs. This is just step one of a two-part plan. Next year, the Legislature will implement the solution consequent from the legislation passed this year.
Charter schools – The House and Senate approved a bill Wednesday to save Washington's public charter schools and tap a constitutional funding source. Charter schools provide another option for families when the traditional education system has fallen short. We are proud to stand with charter schools, such as Willow School in Walla Walla, and we're looking forward to seeing what future charter schools hold for our students.
Department of Corrections' scandal – Fallout following the Department of Correction's (DOC) failure to fix a sentencing calculation error that led to the early release of more than 3,000 prison inmates has led to two resignations, a demotion and some letters of reprimand. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus and the governor both began an investigation into the matter. Two lives were lost as a result of DOC's error. It is unacceptable and those responsible must be held accountable. Our own Dick Morgan from Walla Walla has been appointed to lead the DOC as the interim director.
Minimum wage – Legislative proposals seeking to increase Washington's minimum wage did not see the light of day this session. That said, an initiative has been filed that would incrementally increase Washington's hourly minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 over four years beginning in 2017. Concerns remain about the impacts an artificial increase in the minimum wage could have on employment opportunities throughout the state.
Governor's cap-and-trade “Clean Air” rule – For the time being, the governor's Department of Ecology has withdrawn the proposed rule and is working with stakeholders to refine the proposal. As we have said before, we have an obligation to protect our environment for future generations. We are proud to say Washington is one of the cleanest states in the nation, and contributes only 0.28 percent of the world's emissions. There's potentially two initiatives that could show up on the November ballot addressing these issues.
Though session has adjourned, we are your representatives year round. Here's how to reach us:
You may also leave a message on the Legislature's toll-free hotline: 1-800-562-6000.
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.