Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2014 legislative session is underway. Before the session started the consensus seemed to be we would be done in the 60-day timeframe and there wouldn't be anything to keep us in Olympia for a special session. However, a January Order issued by the state Supreme Court claimed the Legislature was not doing enough to fund education, even though we pumped an additional $1 billion into K-12 education last year. And, our work with education is not done. The court has clearly overstepped its authority and is violating the separation of powers that is supposed to exist between the three branches of government. Justice Jim Johnson wrote the dissent and I believe was correct. His comments include:
- the legislature holds a constitutionally delegated duty specific to the funding of education. The judiciary does not.
- Such unwarranted extension of judicial authority violates both the constitutional separation of powers and the explicit delegation of definitions and funding for education to the legislature.
- This court's exercise of continuing jurisdiction in this case usurps what is intended to be and what expressly is a legislative function and duty.
- We are not–and should not be acting as–managers of the state coffers.
I want to thank everyone who has responded with the comment cards. I have received hundreds and your feedback is important to me. The most popular issues tend to be:
- opposition to any new gas tax;
- no new money for the Washington State Department of Transportation until we can show we are using the current monies effectively;
- if there is any new money for transportation it should go toward maintenance and preservation only;
- concerns about rising health care premiums and deductibles, and the implementation of Obamacare;
- lower taxes and regulations on employers so they can create more jobs; and
- fund the teacher COLA's.
Legislation moving forward
As many of you know, most sessions I sponsor very few bills. I am not going to draft legislation just for the sake of introducing bills, although there are occasional exceptions. But, I also do not want to draft anything unless I feel there is a legitimate chance to pass the legislation or it will lead to good debate and discussion and could be considered in future sessions. This year has been a different experience for me. I introduced more bills than I have in most sessions. Up to this point I have had public hearings or will have one in the next couple weeks. Issues include:
- Snowmobile license fees: House Bill 2002 – would raise the snowmobile annual registration and renewal fee to maintain the current level of service for trail maintenance and grooming operations.
- Audits of state universities: House Bill 2308 – would require the state auditor to conduct a comprehensive financial audit of the University of Washington and Washington State University.
- Independent contractor certification: House Bill 2147 – would simplify and protect independent contractor classification and provide more consistency under independent contractor guidelines. Read my news release here.
- Payment of property taxes: House Bill 2309 – Delays the imposition of penalties imposed on delinquent property taxes and allows a county treasurer to accept partial property tax payments.
- Legislation to enhance our wine industry: House Bill 2327 and House Bill 2355 – the first bill would allow wine to be sold in growlers, the second would allow multiple liquor licenses at certain locations.
- License plate recognition: House Bill 2606 – would address privacy issues around this new technology.
- Marijuana excise tax revenue: House Bill 2144 – would create a dedicated local jurisdiction marijuana fund of which participating counties and cities would receive a certain percentage of the I-502 monies – since there is no current tax collection at the local level.
We are obviously working on a wide variety of issues in our short timeframe. If you have any questions about any of the legislation I have mentioned in this update, or any other issues before the Legislature, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Proposed Minimum Wage Increase
One issue that came up late yesterday (Thursday) you will find very interesting, particularly those in the business community, House Democrats are proposing to increase the minimum wage. Click “House Democrats propose $12 minimum wage” for the story from The Seattle Times. You may know a $15 minimum wage this was a ballot issue in the city of Sea-Tac last November. The city of Seattle is also considering a minimum wage hike. I believe this would hurt our economy and actually decrease the amount of jobs as employers would struggle to come up with a way to pay for the increase in labor costs. It isn't as simple as just raising the price of your products as many of you in the agricultural industry know.
In January 2014, Bill Gates said: “Well, jobs are a great thing. So you have to be a bit careful: If you raise the minimum wage, you're encouraging labor substitution, and you're going to go buy machines and automate things – or cause jobs to appear outside of that jurisdiction. And so within certain limits, you know, it does cause job destruction. If you really start pushing it, then you're just making a huge trade-off.”
Our state already has the highest minimum wage in the country and Washington state's youth unemployment rate is fifth in the nation. An increased minimum wage would further reduce employment opportunities for low-skilled workers and teenagers. This also favors larger corporations over small businesses.
Health care numbers
You have likely seen news stories, including national stories, on state-based and the federal health insurance “Exchanges” that indicate our state-based Exchange (Washington HealthPlanFinder) is working well and that we have had good enrollment numbers. Here is a slightly different perspective:
- Of the 454,009 that have completed health plan enrollments using the Exchange as of January 9, 2014, 380,911 are Medicaid, and:
- The majority of Medicaid recipients now do their annual renewals in the Exchange. (183,141 of enrollments were Medicaid renewals)
- Another 63,070 were new Medicaid enrollments eligible under pre-Obamacare Medicaid eligibility requirements. (This includes typical new enrollees each month, and any “welcome mat” enrollment due to Obamacare.)
- 134,700 are newly eligible Medicaid recipients (i.e. Medicaid expansion enrollees/adults under 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level).
- Only 73,098 of the Exchange enrollments are for non-Medicaid health plans; and
- 56,285 will receive a tax credit/subsidy (i.e. funded by taxpayers).
- Only 16,813 individuals purchased a “full-price” health plan on the Exchange.
- It was estimated that 130,000 individuals would enroll in a non-Medicaid, Exchange health plan by January 1, 2014.
Finally, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, Rep. Brad Hawkins and I have scheduled a telephone town hall for Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. I will update you with the call-in information in a future e-mail update. Mark your calendars and I hope you will be able to participate. These forums are great to reach out to the entire 12th District.
I hope you find this update informative. Again, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.