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Wednesday February 21, 2018
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2016 Legislative Preview

The 2016 legislative session begins on Monday, January 11. The session is scheduled to last for 60 days, ending Thursday, March 10.   Our Catholic Advocacy Day is scheduled for Monday, February 8, the beginning of the fifth week. Click here to register for Advocacy Day.

Politically, the House and Senate are narrowly split.  The House Democrats have a 50 to 48 majority and the Senate Republicans are holding a 25 to 24 advantage. This session precedes the 2016 elections when all nine statewide offices, 98 House seats and 25 Senate seats are up for grabs.  

The budget picture is less than certain.  The November 2015 revenue forecast was up by $101 million, but to maintain funding of the budget passed in 2015, $500 million is needed.  The shortfall may have an impact on budget decisions made in this supplemental budget year. The costs associated with the wildfires and caseload increases are two immediate needs that will be funded in the supplemental budget.  It is expected that at least $178 million will be added for wildfire costs and at least $180 million in rising Medicaid caseloads.

This Legislature must address a variety of court mandates the largest of which concerns basic education funding.  The state's Supreme Court decision in McCleary requires full funding of K-12 education by the 2018-2019 school year.  Because this is a supplemental budget session, McCleary may not be addressed in the budget, though a plan to achieve full funding is expected.  There are several court cases that found the State deficient in how it treats those with mental health issues and it is expected the Legislature will continue to work on policies and budget levels to improve these systems.

Last fall the Supreme Court ruled that charter schools could not receive common school funding because their governing boards are not elected.  Several legislators have indicated a desire to "fix" this issue through alternative funding rather than through the common school budget.  The amount has yet to be quantified.

While dealing with the ramifications of these court cases, the Legislature ironically finds the budget dependent on the courts blocking the implementation of I-1366. This initiative, approved by voters in November, would force a devastating cut of one full percentage point to the state sales tax – amounting to a $1.5 billion loss on April 15th unless the Legislature places a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.   If approved by voters, the amendment would mandate a super-majority legislative vote to raise taxes.

Bills introduced during the 2015 session can still be acted on by the 2016 Legislature.   Here are some key dates for the upcoming session:

•    January 11 2016 session starts
•    February 5 last day for policy committees to act on their policy bills
•    February 8 Catholic Advocacy Day
•    March 10 last day of the regular session

Hearings on Governor's Budget

The Governor's proposed supplemental operating budget is one of the first issues of the 2016 legislative session to be heard. The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee will both hold hearings on the Governor's budget on Monday, January 11 at 3:30 pm.

Breakfast After the Bell

Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, HB 1295 would require each high-needs school to offer breakfast after the bell to each qualifying student and provide adequate time for students to eat. Each high-needs school may determine the breakfast after the bell service model that best suits its students. All public schools are encouraged to offer breakfast after the bell even if not required to do so. The House Education committee will hold a hearing on HB 1295 on Monday, January 11 at 1:30 pm. The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on January 14.  HB 1295 did pass the House during the 2015 legislative session, but failed to pass the Senate.  If a bill fails to pass both chambers in the first year of a biennium, it is returned to the chamber where it originated to begin the process all over again.

Justice for Immigrants

In late December media outlets reported that the Department of Homeland Security was planning raids to deport Central American children and adults who entered the United States seeking asylum and have had a final order of removal since January 1, 2014. It is now being reported that more than 120 people have been detained by DHS and will soon be deported. USCCB strongly disagrees with this action.

The chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Migration, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, has written that the migration surge from Central America is a refugee crisis because children and mothers with young families are fleeing extreme violence. Moreover, the USCCB has called on the Administration to offer a humanitarian response to these migrants and "protect and care for children and families fleeing violence in the region," which includes due process and legal assistance to adjudicate asylum and refugee claims as well as addressing the root causes of violence forcing so many individuals to flee.

Please call the White House at 1-866-961-4293 or the White House Comment Line directly at 1-888-907-2053. Here's a sample script:

"I urge President Obama to immediately STOP plans to deport Central American children and families. These individuals are refugees fleeing violence and should have access to legal counsel so that they can apply for asylum and protection in the United States."

Tell the White House to STOP planned raids on Central American children and families!
Click here to view this bulletin on the WSCC website.
The Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC) is the public policy voice of the Catholic Bishops of Washington State.