Skip to content

House, Senate leaders discuss priorities for 2015 session

by caprecord

The Washington State Legislature’s top priorities for the 2015 session should be education funding, mental health and tax reforms, state House and Senate leaders said Thursday.

Senate and House leaders at the AP Legislative Preview

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, House Speaker Frank Chopp and House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen discussed their agendas for the upcoming session at the Associated Press Legislative Preview.

Education is the top priority this year, they agreed. So do voters, as an Elway Poll revealed this week. The Legislature must meet the demands of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fully fund K-12 education.

Kristiansen said House Republicans will continue to push for ¨Fund Education First,” an approach first introduced by their caucus nine years ago that would restructure K-12 funding.

“We do need to make sure we’re prioritizing based on our constitutional responsibilities, and we just haven’t done that in the past,” Kristiansen said.

Nelson, D-Maury Island, criticized the proposal. ¨We keep hearing ‘fund education first’,” she said. ¨I say fund children and families first … This is not a simple solution, it’s not time for a slogan. It’s time to work together to find real solutions.”

Lawmakers will also have to decide how to implement Initiative 1351, a measure passed by voters in November that would reduce class sizes at an estimated cost of $2 billion for the first two years. Voters approved another class size reduction initiative in 2000, but it never received full funding from the Legislature. This year, lawmakers will decide whether to fulfill the new class size mandate or suspend it.

Initiative 1351 is expensive, but Chopp, D-Seattle, said they will have to address voters’ wishes. ¨It’s a very important step forward for people in Washington,¨ he said. ¨You can’t just ignore it.¨

Each of the legislative leaders also identified mental health as a priority.

¨Some of the priorities we have should fall way below (mental health) on the list,¨ Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said.

Chopp said the House plans to reintroduce “Joel’s law,” a bill named after a Seattle man who died in a shootout with police that would have allowed families to petition the courts to order their loved ones into mental health treatment. It passed out of the House last year, but did not get a vote in the Senate.

Chopp said the Legislature must also seek additional funding for mental health facilities and transitional housing. “It’s a societal issue,” he said.

The state has a bed shortage in psychiatric state hospitals and, in December, a federal judge ruled the time an inmate must wait before receiving a court-appointed mental health competency evaluation was unconstitutional. The state Department of Social and Health Services on Wednesday asked for more funding to cut wait times ahead of a federal court trial in March.

The leaders also discussed a proposal from two Senate Republicans that would change the Senate’s voting rules to require a two-thirds majority vote on bills that include tax increases.

Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Senate Republicans will discuss in caucus whether to go forward with the proposal on opening day, Monday. ¨I’ve always believed a two-thirds vote was a good idea,” he said.

Nelson disagreed. ¨I’m disappointed,¨ she said.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget calls for a capital gains tax, as well as a cap-and-trade proposal. Republicans on the panel said they don’t support the cap-and-trade plan.

Chopp said Democrats are open to considering the capital gains tax. ¨We do not have a fair tax system,” he said. ¨We need to look at how this would improve fairness.¨

The Washington State Legislature convenes for the 2015 session on Monday, Jan. 12.