Sen. Jim Honeyford's Olympia Report - Jan. 16, 2016 Edition

 15th District Olympia Report

January 16, 2016

2016 session begins
On Monday, my fellow legislators and I returned to Olympia for the start of a “short” 60-day session. Our state Legislature runs on a two-year cycle. Last year was a “long” 105-day (and then a lot more) session that tackled the state’s budget. This year lawmakers will be focused on small tweaks to the budget and issues that can be addressed quickly.

For the fourth straight year our bipartisan coalition holds the majority of the Senate’s 49 seats. This keeps us in charge of the agenda and, more importantly, puts us in the position to build on the remarkable results we achieved in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

It won’t surprise you that my priorities haven’t changed much from years past. I still believe that providing a great education for every child is our number-one priority. I also think that lawmakers need to find ways to ensure that small business has the tools – not more barriers – to create family-wage jobs and that our state budget should be responsible and sustainable.

Felon-release scandal at the Department of Corrections
My office has heard from many people who are justifiably upset about the premature release of thousands of felons from our state prisons. I too am upset about this so-called “error,” but even more concerning to me is the culture of apathy that appears to exist at DOC. Our Senate Law and Justice Committee questioned the DOC chief on Monday and quite frankly, we were all disappointed by his inability to answer questions as well as by the agency’s withholding of information. As a result the chair and vice chair of the committee are taking the unusual step of using the Senate’s subpoena power to investigate the scandal further.

While a subpoena is rarely used, it is within the Senate’s authority and would ensure this fiasco is investigated by someone independent of the governor’s office before the Legislature adjourns. The governor immediately and publicly attacked this approach; it is true that he has tapped two former federal prosecutors to look into the matter, but they would answer to his office, raising questions about independence. Also, their findings may not be available until after lawmakers leave the Capitol, which to me and my colleagues is not soon enough.

We have seen felons in our state commit murders and other serious offenses after they had been released from prison as scheduled but were still under state supervision. This scandal is different, and worse: now Washington residents have died because felons did not fully serve their sentences. I will keep you posted as we learn more.

Education funding – still in the spotlight
Education funding will be a major topic again this session. Our Senate majority believes that adequately funding schools is our top priority as lawmakers, not because the Supreme Court is mandating it, but because every child in Washington should have access to a first-class education. Although 47 percent of our state budget is now dedicated to K-12 education, my colleagues and I continue to look for ways to shrink class sizes, provide more brick-and-mortar classrooms and address the statewide teacher shortage.

As much as I wish we could solve the entire issue with one bill or in one session, changes to our education system must be done thoughtfully. I want to make sure what we are doing is truly for the kids, not just the adults.

Always controversial: water issues
As a longtime resident of Sunnyside, I know just how important a clean and abundant water supply is to our farming community. As a member of the Legislature, I know all too well how controversial any legislation involving water can be. I’ve come to expect whether it is storm water, flood control or water rights, there is sure to be a host of stakeholders in the room, each with a different perspective.

I was pleasantly surprised this week when Senate Bill 6179 my proposed legislation that addresses water banking was thoughtfully considered by all parties offering testimony. While there is still work to do, ensuring that people have access to a reliable source of water is something we all agree on.

Local students welcome in Olympia
During the legislative session students ages 14-16 are able to serve as legislative pages. Students spend a week working at the Capitol performing duties like distributing mail, running errands, delivering messages on the floor of the Senate chamber and making new friends. Part of their day is also spent attending Page School, where they learn about the legislative process and the role elected officials play.

 Week 11

Last year I had a number of local students travel to Olympia to work as pages including Milenne Quinonoez from Zillah High School (pictured above) and Ryan Mead (pictured below) from Selah Middle School. Students who participate in this program get a remarkable behind-the-scenes look into state government that few citizens ever see.

 Week 14

If you know a student who would be interested in this unique opportunity during the 2016 legislative session, more information and an application can be found here. As my former pages can tell you, the week in Olympia goes by quickly. If you have questions regarding openings for this program, my office may be able to assist you as well.

In closing...
While I’m excited to be back in Olympia representing you, I will miss being in the community and visiting with my neighbors and friends every day.

I hope you’ll reach out to contact me. Your feedback is how I serve you better as your state Senator. I answer my email personally. You may also call my office at (360) 786-7684 to voice your opinion or make an appointment.

It remains my honor to serve you in the Washington State Senate.


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