OLYMPIA – Lawmakers should create a legacy of a cleaner environment, a stronger democracy and safer workplaces in their 2018 session, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday. And they should come up with money to speed the improvements they approved last year on public schools.
In his annual “State of the State” address to a joint session of the Legislature, Inslee urged lawmakers to find the money to start all changes to the state’s public school system by this fall, in line with a state Supreme Court decision that the last year’s improvements pass constitutional muster but the timing does not.
“It is crucial that we implement the McCleary plan now, because a child is only a third grader once and you don’t get that year back,” Inslee said, referring to the name of the court ruling on the need to improve public schools.
Republican leaders indicated they might ignore the court’s order to speed up payments, saying they came up with the best way to cover costs in a complicated system.
“I would say there’s no urgency at this time,” Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, said of the GOP’s attitude toward the court’s mandate. “My personal opinion is we ignore the court and thank them for their input.”
Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the plan meets the intent of the state’s constitutional duty on education. “We are the body that writes the budget,” he said.
In a speech punctuated by applause about a dozen times from his fellow Democrats – but less enthusiasm on most points from Republicans – Inslee urged lawmakers to buck the Trump Administration’s decision to walk away from an international agreement on climate change and enact a state tax on carbon pollution.
He quoted former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in saying the state must be victorious over climate change because “without victory, there is no survival.”
“We are joined across geography, across age and across political interests,” Inslee said. “Now is the time to join in action and put a price on carbon pollution.”
Inslee also asked legislators to pass a $4.4 billion capital construction budget as their “first order of business.” That budget stalled at the end of last-year’s record overtime and did not get final approval. It has money for projects all over the state, and would support 19,000 jobs, he said.
Republican leaders, however, said they have not wavered from last year’s demand that a vote on the capital budget be tied to a revision in state water law to address problems with the ability of landowners to get permits to drill wells for projects in rural and suburban areas.
Schoesler said any reference to that problem, known as the Hirst decision after the court case, was “totally missing” from Inslee’s speech.
“It’s not even mentioned, something that impacts families in all 39 counties,” he said.
House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said the Hirst decision affects the ability to add low-income housing in rural areas Inslee didn’t even mention that problem during his speech.
Although the session is scheduled for only 60 days, the governor’s “to-do” list for legislators is extensive. Beyond his call for a carbon tax and more money for schools, Inslee asked them to:
- Pass a Voting Rights Act, as well as laws to allow automatic voter registration and Election Day registration.
- Guarantee reproductive parity and contraceptive rights for women.
- Commit to safe workplaces where everyone is safe from sexual harassment and assault.
- Protect so-called Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children – and make sure they will have access to college scholarship programs even if the federal government won’t renew their deferments.
- Pass gun control legislation that includes a ban on bump stocks, make it tougher to purchase military-style semi-automatic rifles and require safe storage of firearms in homes.
Correspondent Rachel Sun contributed to this report.
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