How did they do? Issues in the Legislature —

How did they do? Issues in the Legislature

Brad Shannon and Adam Wilson

Major bills this year

Here is a look at the status of major bills that went before the Legislature this year.

Education

Simple majority: Lawmakers approved a proposed constitutional amendment to lower the vote requirement to pass local school levies, dropping it to 50 percent plus one. Voters statewide now must approve House Joint Resolution 4204 to enact the proposal, making it easier to raise local property-tax money for K-12 schools.

WASL delays: Lawmakers still were negotiating how far to go to delay the high-stakes testing requirement for high school graduation. The House and governor favored keeping the reading and writing test requirements for the class of 2008 while delaying the math requirement to 2012 and the science requirements to 2013. The Senate at one point favored an approach to delay all of the sections. The bill in dispute is SB 6023.

Tuition caps: Tuition increases are capped at 7 percent a year for undergraduate students through 2017. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the measure, Senate Bill 5806, into law Friday.

Veterans survivors tuition: The bill waives college tuition for spouses and children of active-duty and National Guard members who die or are captured, disabled or missing in action. SB 5002 was sent to Gregoire.

School safety: A law requiring public schools to adopt safety plans passed the House and Senate in different forms; they had not been reconciled as of Saturday night. Senate Bill 5097 calls on schools to use instant-alert technology to communicate between buildings and gives grants for emergency-preparedness drills.

Health care

Children's health insurance: Second Substitute Senate Bill 5093 puts more state money into making health insurance available to 39,000 of the state's 73,000 uninsured children from lower-income families. It also expands eligibility in 2009 to middle-class children in a bid to cover all children by 2010. Gregoire signed it in March.

Blue-ribbon commission: Reform ideas produced by a bipartisan "blue-ribbon commission" on health-care costs were rolled into a mega-bill. The version sent to Gregoire drops a goal of coverage for every resident by 2012 but has action elements in areas such as health-care purchasing, management of chronically ill patients and use of information technology. Senate approval of SB 5930 on Saturday sent the reforms to Gregoire.

Small-business "connector": The legislation sent to the governor sets up a pilot program or insurance exchange in which small-business employers with low-income workers can purchase insurance. House Bill 1569 allows pooling of employer and employee contributions in the "connector" for buying insurance plans at rates negotiated by a state board.

Paid family leave: A compromise version of a bill creating a paid-leave insurance program for workers was scaled back to include a task force that will decide how to pay for the program. The House approved SB 5659, which still needed Senate approval Saturday before going to Gregoire.

Mental-health parity: Gregoire signed a bill requiring insurance plans to cover mental illnesses the same as bodily ailments, regardless of the size of employer plan. HB 1460 adds mental-health coverage for 540,000 residents now covered by 2005 legislation that covered 1.5 million people.

Children's mental health: The state would redesign its mental-health services for people younger than 21 under HB 1088, which has been sent to the governor. The bill prioritizes intervention before hospitalization.

Hospital infections: Hospitals will have to report how many of their patients pick up infections under HB 1106, which awaits the governor's signature.

Social issues

Domestic partnerships: A year after the state Supreme Court upheld a ban on same-sex marriage, lawmakers voted to create a domestic-partnership registry at the Office of the Secretary of State. Senate Bill 5336 lets same-sex couples and heterosexual couples with one person 62 or older register to receive 15 of the more than 400 rights of marriage. Gregoire signed the bill Saturday, and it takes effect July 21.

Veteran discrimination ban: The governor signed SB 5123 into law Saturday, barring discrimination based on a person's military or veteran status.
Sex education: Lawmakers outlawed sex-education programs that rely strictly on abstinence teachings. Senate Bill 5297 requires medically accurate instruction that includes use of contra-ceptives. The bill was sent to Gregoire.

State employees and spending

Pay raises: Most state employees are in line for cost-of-living raises of 3.2 percent July 1 and 2 percent July 2008. Workers in certain jobs who are considered to be paid less than peers outside state government will be brought to within 25 percent of the standard. Employee health-care costs are held at 12 percent of total premium costs under a contract that is part of the operating budget, which gets voted on today. Some state employees not represented by unions might have to wait until September for their raises.

Gain sharing: A bill is in the works to kill off a program that shared excess stock-market gains in the pension system with some employees' retirement plans.

Rainy-day fund: Legislation passed to amend the Constitution and create a difficult-to-tap savings account for state government. The measure locks up
1 percent of revenue in good years, setting it aside for years when the job-growth rate falls below a certain level. Senate Joint Resolution 8206 will go to the November ballot.

Environment

Flame-retardant ban: The bill makes Washington the first state to start phasing out fire-retarding chemicals used in consumer products as furniture, televisions and computers. The sale and manufacture of products containing the chemicals, known as PDBEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, is prohibited if safer alternatives are available. Gregoire signed House Bill 1024 last week.

Climate change: Senate Bill 6001 limits greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants and bars utilities from entering new long-term power contracts with coal-fired power plants. The bill went to Gregoire.

Cleaner fuels: HB 1303, which encourages school districts to replace diesel-fuel buses with cleaner-burning vehicles, was sent to Gregoire. It also sets goals for state agencies to use alternative fuels by 2015.

Puget Sound Partnership: Senate Bill 5372 creates an agency requested by the governor to clean up and restore Puget Sound, an $8 billion task. It replaces other agencies, such as the Puget Sound Action Team, and sets goals for cleaning up the Sound by 2020. It goes to Gregoire.

Recreational funding: The capital-construction budget scheduled for approval Saturday included a record $100 million for Washington Wildlife Recreation Fund projects.

Public safety

Offender re-entry: Legislation to change the state's preparation of prisoners for release into communities survived late Saturday in the House, and the Senate was expected to concur with a minor amendment. Senate Bill 6157 sets up new educational, drug-treatment and other programs as well as goals to assist offenders' re-entry into society and the state's monitoring of their progress.

Foster-care reforms: Several bills aimed at improving foster care passed, including HB 1334, which requires agencies to give courts documentation of parents' substance abuse and mental health, as well as injuries to a child.

Cell-phone driving ban: Legislation bars drivers from holding cell phones to their ears while driving. The violation would be a secondary offense requiring a traffic stop for other reasons and carries a $101 fine. SB 5037 was sent to Gregoire.

Text-messaging ban: A separate bill bans text-messaging while driving. It carries a $101 fine. House Bill 1214 was sent to the governor.

Real ID rejection: Gregoire signed a bill that rejects a federal mandate for identification cards. Gregoire is working on a $40 high-tech ID card for crossings into Canada, but she and lawmakers balked at federal requirements claiming they could cost up to $250 million. SB 5087 says the state won't implement new U.S. rules without federal financial help and guarantees on privacy and data security.

Auto-theft penalties: Stealing a car becomes a more serious crime under HB 1001, which awaits Gregoire's signature. Jail time is possible after three offenses, as well as home detention on the first.

Legal issues

Public-records review: Legislation sets up a committee to review the more than 300 exemptions in public-disclosure law. SB 5435 was sent to Gregoire.

Lawyer invoice disclosures: This declares that the Legislature intends for state and local governments to publicly disclose attorney bills, with some details protected. HB 1897, prompted by Thurston County's refusal to disclose bills for a sexual-harassment lawsuit, was sent to Gregoire.

Eminent domain: The government must notify property owners via certified mail 15 days before condemning land under HB 1458, which the governor has signed.

Government and elections

Online voter registration: Residents with Washington driver licenses or ID cards can register to vote online. HB 1528 goes to Gregoire.Primary ballots: Gregoire has signed SB 5408, letting elections workers count votes in some cases when voters using consolidated primary-election ballots fail to mark a party-affiliation check box. The votes would count if the voter's partisan choices were for candidates of one party.

Failed proposals

SuperSonics arena: Lawmakers never managed a floor vote on a public-financing plan aiding the Seattle SuperSonics' and Storm's $500 million arena proposed at Renton. The owners have threatened to move the teams to Oklahoma.

NASCAR racetrack: A proposal to let NASCAR build a car-racing track in Kitsap County never came to a vote.

Property-tax reform: Lawmakers let more than 40 property-tax bills die, including a homestead exemption that would have freed the first $75,000 of home value from the state property tax. A bill to renew the 1 percent yearly cap on an individual local government's property tax collections also died.
Judicial campaign financing: Gregoire's proposal to test public financing of state Supreme Court and appellate judicial races died.

Homeowner rights: A proposal to require builder warranties for buyers of new homes passed the Senate but died in the House, where Speaker Frank Chopp put his foot on SB 5550.

Health-care subsidies: House lawmakers were unable to muster votes to move HB 2094. It proposed requiring that large businesses reimburse the state for its health-care costs if their employees were receiving state-subsidized health services.
Medical discipline: A proposal to tighten controls over the investigation of doctors, nurses and other health-care providers died waiting for a vote in the Senate. HB 1103 would have transferred disciplinary authority from independent boards to the Department of Health.

Iraq War protest: Despite a well-attended hearing by anti-war activists, the Senate never voted on resolutions to seek a congressional impeachment investigation of President Bush or to urge Congress to resist sending more soldiers to Iraq.

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