Legislative actions protect state's citizens

(This is the second part of a two-part guest column focusing on the recent legislative session. The first part appeared in last week's issue.)

Protecting children, the vulnerable

Several significant measures I sponsored to provide enhanced protections for children and other vulnerable members of our society were approved during this legislative session.

To address the problem of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy, we broadened the list of mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse to include supervisors in nonprofit and for-profit organizations and supervisors of members of the clergy.

To address the problem of "groomers" (adults who use their supervisory positions to gain the trust of minors and exploit that trust by pursing inappropriate sexual relationships), we broadened the law against sexual misconduct with a minor to include private coaches, mentors or foster parents.

We also passed a measure requiring the Washington State Patrol to include all convictions data in all non-criminal justice in background-check requests, ensuring that information relevant to whether someone has the appropriate character and fitness for a particular job or volunteer position is more accurate.

Other protective legislation of mine to pass into law includes a measure to encourage schools, parks, fields, youth camps, day care and child-care centers to test for soil contaminants by providing financial and technical assistance for testing costs and logistics; another measure making child-care licensing status available to parents and requires licensed home day-care providers to have liability insurance or, if not, to inform parents that they do not; a requirement for landlords to begin providing their tenants with information from the Department of Health on the health hazards associated with indoor mold and steps that can be taken to minimize its growth; and a measure increasing access to social and health services for victims of human trafficking.

Improving jobs, economy

Significant legislation passed by the Legislature originating from the newly created Senate Labor, Commerce, Research & Development Committee, which I chair, includes a measure requiring at least 15 percent of labor hours on public works projects valued at $1 million or more be performed by apprentices.

Another mea-sure, supported publicly by The Boeing Co. and privately by many business leaders, will provide fairer unemployment benefits for seasonal workers without raising business taxes.

As chair, I worked with the business and labor communities to reach consensus on creating a task force to study the outsourcing of state contracts and its impact on the state jobs and the economy.

Additionally, the Legislature provided state employees with a 3.2-percent cost-of-living increase on July 1, 2005, and a 1.6 percent increase on July 1, 2006 - their first pay increase in five years - and established a child-care worker career and wage ladder in licensed child-care facilities.

We made significant efforts to promote research for which our state is already regarded as a national leader. I co-sponsored legislation that creates the billion-dollar Life Sciences Discovery Fund to invest in biomedical and bioscience research using interest from the 1998 tobacco settlement, and I prime-sponsored a measure to encourage the ethical transfer of technology between research institutions and commercial industries so that research products and inventions can get to the marketplace, and another measure to establish a Washington State Academy of Sciences to advise the governor or the Legislature on matters of science, technology and medicine.

Other highpoints

To protect the rights of law-abiding voters and restore public trust in our election system, the Legislature passed major elections reform bills.

To restore public trust in state government, we passed a bill that increases government accountability by requiring independent performance reviews of all state agencies, guarantees citizen input by establishing a Citizen Advisory Board and develops an audit schedule in order to identify weak areas and improve efficiency.

Some of the progressive environmental measures to pass into law this year included the adoption of strict "California-style" car emissions stan-dards to improve public health, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and give consumers more options when they purchase vehicles, and the requirement that public buildings begin meeting "green building" standards.

New revenue

We could not have continued just to make cuts to our state budget and still have expected to have a healthy citizenry, a vibrant economy and great schools. Without an investment, Washington and its citizens were guaranteed very little in the way of a return.

The budget passed by the Legislature does include some cuts. It also includes a modest revenue package, most of which will go toward funding education.

The amount of taxes raised for the budget is less than the amount lost to court decisions earlier this year, including the $500 million lost when the Supreme Court invalidated the estate tax. The budget reinstates a portion of that tax and increases the per-pack cigarette tax and the per-liter liquor tax.

But - to repeat - the budget contains no general tax increases and maintains a healthy reserve of about $200 million.


While this session was a success in many respects, it did have three notable disappointments.

Legislation that I prime-sponsored to support embryonic stem-cell research in our state, to allow our state's colleges and universities to consider race as one factor among many in admissions decisions and to provide equality for sexual orientation in our state statutes were among the hardest-fought and most contentious issues of the entire session.

Unfortunately, these measures did not pass. They did accumulate sufficient momentum to be back, however, and I am committed to working them very actively again next year.

To everyone who contacted me during the session to let me know the issues that matter to you, I thank you! I certainly kept your thoughts in mind as I cast my votes on the issues outlined above.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) represents the 36th Legislative District. She chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce, Research and Development committees.[[In-content Ad]]