The big six
Sun., Jan. 23, 2005
In the wake of Washington’s closest-ever governor’s race, Secretary of State Sam Reed and several lawmakers are proposing a laundry list of changes to the state’s election system. Among them: shifting Washington’s September primary back to May, so that election officials would have more time to prepare for close primary races and recounts.
Where things stand: Reed plans to help lead a series of town-hall meetings around the state to run proposals by voters and see what they think. No itinerary yet. On Wednesday, a House committee will discuss several new election bills, including one to toughen security of electronic voting machines, which federal law will require at many polling places by 2006.
Teachers and other school staff are hoping that lawmakers will reinstate Initiatives 728 and 732, which were suspended two years ago to save money. The measures were supposed to steer hundreds of millions of dollars more into teacher salaries and shrinking class sizes.
Where things stand: The House Education Committee will hold a work session Friday to discuss school district employee compensation, as well as the way special education is financed. In the Senate, lawmakers will hold a hearing on something schools have long wanted: lowering the bar for passing a school district tax levy. Schools must now get the OK from 60 percent of voters; SB 5144 would lower that to a simple majority.
Everyone seems to agree that liability insurance costs much more than it used to and that something should be done. Agreement ends there. There are dueling initiatives to the Legislature this year, one favoring doctors’ solution – a cap on jury awards for pain and suffering in liability cases – and the other leaning toward lawyers’ proposal, which includes better discipline of bad doctors.
Where things stand: The Senate held an emotional hearing on these proposals last week. On one side: lawyers and patients horribly injured by botched medical care. On the other: doctors and a pregnant woman who said her beloved obstetrician-gynecologist was forced to get out of the business of delivering babies because of high malpractice insurance rates. One local lawmaker predicts that lawmakers will likely punt the issue to voters in November, but Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler warns that if both initiatives pass, residents should expect problems.
Business groups want an overhaul of the state’s workers’ compensation program for injured employees. Some industries will also likely seek tax breaks – or try to stave off lawmakers’ efforts to toss out old tax breaks.
Where things stand: Small businesses will make an economic development pitch to lawmakers in the Senate this week. So far, tax breaks have been proposed for tsunami-resistant structures, solar energy systems, people who work from home and international companies doing business here.
Democrats want to expand the state’s low-cost insurance program for children. They’re also considering proposals designed to increase Medicaid reimbursements to doctors who treat the poor and to help small businesses afford to offer health insurance to their employees.
Where things stand: In her first press conference as governor Tuesday, Christine Gregoire touted proposals to get more health care for poor children, drive down the cost of prescription drugs and allow private businesses to buy insurance coverage through the state.
Taxes and fees
New taxes are critical to avoid lasting damage to the state’s schools, colleges and social services, lame-duck Gov. Gary Locke said as he was preparing to leave Olympia. No way, say Republicans, who maintain that virtually any new taxes would hurt the economy.
Where things stand: Gregoire’s been coy on the issue, saying over and over that “now is not the time to talk about taxes.” She’s said she first wants to see what a budget looks like without new taxes and see if it’s bearable. But she’s also calling for some costly changes: more health care, cost-of-living raises for teachers and state workers, and more student slots at colleges.
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