Although the legislative session that ended a day early on March 8 was only 59 days long, the pace was grueling. Short sessions are traditionally used for making modest adjustments to the biennial budgets. Nevertheless, nearly 900 bills were introduced in the Senate alone, with 376 bills among some 2,000 passing the Legislature.
With the economy still booming and the resulting additional $1.6 billion for the biennium ending June 2007, the Legislature took the responsible course of setting aside $946 million in three savings accounts. We targeted our limited spending at priorities for our families and our future - and left more than $227 million in the bank.
To create jobs and grow our economy, we provided $56 million in targeted tax incentives.
For the 36th Legislative District, $250,000 was earmarked for the Pacific Science Center's September 2006 exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Daybreak Star Cultural Center will receive $544,000 for an electrical system upgrade. And the Seattle Aquarium's renovations tab of $2 million will be covered.
We made big strides in helping students, teachers and schools. With $215 million for K-12 education, we'll assist students who are unable to pass the WASL, raise pay for school employees and extend the school breakfast program. We will fund nearly 500 enrollments at our public colleges and universities. Fifty foster-care youth will be able to attend college, thanks to Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson's bill.
Research tells us that high-quality early learning experiences are among the very best investments we can make to reduce future costs in special education, abuse and neglect services, health care, school dropping out, teen pregnancy and the criminal justice system. It's why I sponsored legislation to create the new Department of Early Learning. The House companion bill, signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, consolidates the state's childcare programs and services.
In transportation, we directed the Seattle City Council to determine by ordinance or place an advisory measure on the November ballot for voters to choose between replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and building a tunnel.
More of Washington's residents will be healthier, thanks to an expansion of the state's Basic Health Plan to reach an additional 6,500 low-income citizens and nearly 10,000 new enrollments in the Immigrant Children's Health Program.
We made headway on a number of environmental issues, including biofuels incentives, Puget Sound cleanup and "e-waste" disposal, and made investments in our state's incomparable natural resources.
Our families and communities will be safer against sex offenders, thanks to laws that increase penalties for sex offenders, drunken drivers and methamphetamine users.
After three decades of trying, we were victorious in enacting legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing and financial matters. And now homeowner associations can remove discriminatory covenants by a simple majority vote, as my bill was enacted into law.
Following the uproar over voter registration challenges made just days before last Novem-ber's election, I introduced legislation, now law, to eliminate confusion and protect voters' rights. It places limits on the filing of voter-initiated challenges and requires challengers to give the actual address of a challenged voter or file a signed affidavit that the challenged voter does not reside at the address provided or is not qualified to vote based on constitutional requirements. And it allows a challenged voter to transfer registration or re-register until the day before the election.
To safeguard the rights of military and other overseas absentee voters, the state primary election date was moved from the third Tuesday in September to the third Tuesday in August, effective in 2007. This will also ensure adequate time between the two elections to confirm that all votes are accurately counted.
We achieved a breakthrough in reforming our unemployment insurance system in my bill signed into law. It increases benefits for workers while reducing taxes for businesses, and caps the maximum tax rate for seasonal industries. In the long run, we will stabilize rates for employers and promote a stable trust fund.
Dubbed the "Costco Bill," my legislation was signed into law that levels the playing field between in-state and out-of-state wine and beer producers over how they can distribute their products. To bring Washington into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court Granholm ruling, another bill allows the direct shipment of wine from any producer directly to consumers, expanding the market for Washington wines.
Our public transportation projects are critical to keeping Washington's economy moving. My legislation adding the Washington State Department of Transportation to other state agencies already participating in the apprenticeship utilization program was signed into law and expands our work force by putting more apprentices to work on public works projects.
Although it did not pass, I will rework and reintroduce my "Fair Share Health Care Bill," which would require the largest employers to spend 9 percent (for-profit businesses) or 7 percent (non-profits) of their payroll on health-care coverage or pay the difference to the state for public coverage programs serving the uninsured. And I'll reintroduce my bill that allows consumers to freeze their credit reports if they suspect fraud.
Sen. Kohl-Welles serves as chair of the Senate Labor, Commerce, Research & Labor Committee. She is a member of the Senate Early Learning, K-12 and Higher Education; Ways & Means; and Rules committees.
Kohl-Welles invites 36th Legislative District residents to join her and Reps. Helen Sommers and Mary Lou Dickerson for their annual post-session town hall meeting to discuss the legislative session and answer constituent questions, Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m. to noon in Room 100 at Antioch University, 2326 Sixth Ave., in Belltown (Battery is the nearest cross street).