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January 13, 2017    
 Inside this issue
 
  • • New Legislature Convenes to Confront Longstanding Challenges
  • • 2017-2019 Budget
  • • Catholic Advocacy Day - March 16
  • • Inslee Issues Reprieve in Death Penalty Case
  • • Next Week in the Legislature
  • • Cornerstone Catholic Conference - October 20-21, 2017
  • • USCCB Releases Task Force Report on Racism
     
 
Jan. 9 was the first day of the regular session of the 2017 Washington State Legislature. The primary issue facing lawmakers is how to fund basic education in order to meet the looming deadline under the State Supreme Court's McCleary decision. Other important issues include improvements to the mental health system, criminal justice reform, and addressing federal requirements for state driver licenses.

The balance of power between Republicans and Democrats is even more evenly divided than it was in the 2016 legislative session. In the House, the Democrats control by a 50-48 margin. In the Senate, the Republicans control by a 25-24 margin, even though there are actually more Democrats (25). This is due to a decision several years ago by Democrat Sen. Tim Sheldon to join with the Republicans, thus giving them control of the Senate.
 

     
  The main requirement for the legislature when it meets in odd-numbered years (like 2017) is the adoption of a state budget for the next two fiscal years, known as a biennium (July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2019). There are actually three budgets: operating, capital (primarily construction of buildings) and transportation.

The budget process started in December when the Governor released his budget proposal. For the 2017-2019 period, Gov. Inslee proposes to spend $46.4 billion in operating expenses. This is an increase of several billions of dollars from the current 2015-2017 biennial operating budget. To have it balance, the Governor also proposes $4.4 billion in new revenue, nearly all of it going to increased funding for basic education. The two largest sources of new revenue come from a $25-per-ton carbon tax and an increase in the Business & Occupation (B&O) tax rate. While education accounts for more than half of state spending in the Governor's proposal, it also calls for adding more than 1,000 new beds and nearly 700 staff positions to the state's mental health system.

The 2017 legislature starts the budget-making process with a projected deficit close to $1 billion. More worrisome, the 2018 McCleary deadline will require an additional $1.5-4 billion to meet the constitutional requirement to fully fund basic education. Other court decisions require additional funding for beds to treat persons with mental illness.  There is also caseload increases and decreasing federal funds for health care. Without adequate revenue, it may be impossible to preserve current safety net programs at the present level of funding.  Maintaining funding for essential social services will be one of the top priorities for WSCC during the 2017 session.
 

     
   
Registration is now open for the 2017 Catholic Advocacy Day, Thursday, March 16. This year's theme, "Be a Neighbor and Advocate for All," is inspired by the new pastoral letter by the Bishops of Washington State, Who Is My Neighbor?. The day will begin at St. Michael parish with a briefing on the main legislative issues followed by Mass and district strategizing before the meetings with legislators on the Capitol Campus. To register, visit http://ipjc.org. You will also be able to download flyers in English and Spanish to help you recruit others from your parish to join you in Olympia.

For people living in Eastern Washington, there is the Eastern Washington Legislative Advocacy Day with a focus on statewide legislative issues of concern to people of faith. Mark your calendars for Saturday, January 28th, at St. Mark's Lutheran Church (24th & Grand Blvd. in Spokane). RSVP to the Fig Tree at 535-4112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Suggested registration cost is $20, including lunch. Representatives of the WSCC will be there to offer a legislative briefing and to speak to the newly-released Pastoral Letter on Poverty.
 

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  In late December, Gov. Inslee issued a warrant of reprieve to Clark Richard Elmore whose execution had been scheduled for January 19. The warrant prevents the state from executing Elmore unless and until the Governor lifts the reprieve. The warrant does not reduce Elmore's sentence. One of the other men on death row died recently as the result of a chronic health issue. There are now eight people on Washington's death row including Elmore.
 
On Monday, Jan. 16, Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) will hold a news conference in Olympia to announce his support for a bill to repeal the state's death penalty. He will be joined by former Attorney General Rob McKenna (R). The WSCC and other advocates also seek repeal of capital punishment during the 2017 legislative session.
 

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  Many of the legislative committees hold work sessions during the initial days of a new legislature. These work sessions allow new committee members with an opportunity to hear from experts about the main issue areas to be considered by the respective committee. Here are several key issues to follow during the week on January 16:

Mental Health - On Tues., Jan. 17 the House Capital Budget Committee will conduct a work session on the Governor's mental health proposal. It will include a stakeholder panel. This will take place in House Hearing Rm B, John L. O'Brien Building, at 3:30 pm.

Children and Families - On Mon., Jan. 16, at 1:30 pm, the Senate Human Services, Mental Health & Housing Committee will conduct a work session on Governor Inslee's Blue Ribbon Commission on Delivery of Services to Children and Families. The session will be held in Senate Hearing Rm 2, J.A. Cherberg Building. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), the state's largest agency, presently provides services to children and families. The Commission issued its final report last November.

Human Trafficking - The House Public Safety Committee will hold a public hearing on three bills concerning human trafficking on Mon., Jan. 16, at 1:30 pm, in House Hearing Rm D, John L. O'Brien Building

HB 1078 - Concerning human trafficking, prostitution, and commercial sexual abuse of a minor.
HB 1079 - Creating a criminal no-contact order for human trafficking and promoting prostitution-related offenses.
HB 1112 - Vacating convictions arising from offenses committed as a result of being a victim of trafficking, promoting prostitution, or promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

On Jan. 19, the Public Safety Committee will meet at 8:00 am in House Hearing Rm D, John L. O'Brien Building, to vote on the three bills.

Homelessness - The House Early Learning & Human Services Committee will conduct a work session to provide an overview of the Office of Homeless Youth of the Department of Commerce. It is scheduled for Tues., Jan. 17, at 8:00 am, in House Hearing Rm C, John L. O'Brien Building.

Affordable Housing - On Tues., Jan. 17, at 10:00 am, the House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee will have a work session concerning affordable housing policy and home ownership options. It will be in House Hearing Rm E, John L. O'Brien Building.
 

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The theme chosen for the 2017 Cornerstone Catholic Conference is "Together for Life & Justice." The Bishops of Washington State sponsor Cornerstone Conferences to inspire and educate Catholics and others to continue working together to protect human life:  the unborn, individuals who live in poverty or on the margins of society, and people at the end of life. Each of the three dioceses are asking Catholics to mark their calendars and to share the save-the-date flyer, which can be downloaded from the WSCC website.
 

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The USCCB Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities released its report last week. The report includes findings and recommendations for bishops to continue the vital work of fostering healing and lasting peace in communities across the U.S. through concrete action, ongoing dialogue and opportunities for encounter. A central component of the Task Force's findings stresses the significance of prayer as well as ecumenical and interfaith collaborations, along with building solid and unique models of engagement, particularly for at-risk young people.

General recommendations from the report to help promote peace in our communities include prayer, encountering others through local dialogues, parish-based and internal diocesan conversation and training, and fostering opportunities of encounter toward empowering communities to identify and begin to address challenges as a way to begin community healing. Another recommendation urged "outreach and awareness-raising ... within their own communities ... particularly within white communities."

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, appointed the Special Task Force in July, 2016 after incidents of violence and racial tension spread throughout communities across the United States. The USCCB Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities can be found on USCCB's Racism website.

 

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The Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC) is the public policy voice of the Catholic Bishops of Washington State.