Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I can hardly believe we are just three weeks away from the end of the 2014 legislative session – March 13. We have been incredibly busy debating and passing legislation this week. We will now begin public hearings on legislation from the Senate and the Senate will be addressing legislation from the House. I appreciate all the feedback you have given me as we tackle education, transportation and many other issues, such as how we address mental illness.
Rep. Chad Magendanz, Sen. Mark Mullet and I are hosting three town hall meetings this Saturday Feb. 22. We look forward to seeing you there! The meeting times and locations are as follows (please note the updated address for the Maple Valley event):
10 – 11 a.m.
Maple Valley Community Center
22010 S.E. 248th Street
1 – 2 p.m.
Issaquah Highlands Fire Department
1280 N.E. Park Drive
3 – 4 p.m.
Snoqualmie Police Department
34825 S.E. Douglas Street
I have been working hard on legislation that would help families and friends help a loved one suffering from mental illness. House Bill 2725, which would create a new appeal process for family and close friends when county officials decline to order an involuntary commitment of someone suffering from severe mental illness. In these dire situations the bill would allow immediate family members to ask a Superior Court judge to consider the case, and if an involuntary commitment is approved, to oversee the treatment and progress of the patient. This bill passed the House last week and will now be considered by the Senate.
We do not take the issue of involuntary commitment lightly – there are issues with civil liberties, but we cannot stand by and watch as a crisis unfolds and do nothing. As we passed the bill, the parents of Joel Reuter were in the House chamber. I am in awe of the hard work they have done to have this measure finally get the approval it deserved. Their son suffered a schizophrenic episode that friends and family could see was dangerous to himself and others. They tried desperately to have the state counselor approve an involuntary commitment, but to no avail. He was killed by law enforcement as he was endangering others, and himself.
I linked three of these great articles in a previous e-mail update and added the most recent on the passage of House Bill 2725. I thought you may want to read them as we debate how we address those suffering with mental illness:
- House passes involuntary mental health treatment bill
- 'Boarding' mentally ill becoming epidemic in state
- Some mental-health officials oppose commitment bill
- COLUMN: Time to overhaul Washington state's broken mental-health system (Jonathan Martin)
I take very seriously the need to overhaul our system that treats the most vulnerable among us. Those with mental illness often need special care and extraordinary treatments to save their lives and spare families a tragedy like what happened to Joel. My hope is the Senate passes and the governor signs the bill quickly.
We have had a lot of discussion on K-12 education this session. I have held off updating folks on this issue because we are still considering how to address the recent McCleary state Supreme Court order to the Legislature on teacher COLAs and education funding. And, we are working to address the Teacher-Principal Evaluation Program, or TPEP, to comply with national standards so we keep the millions of dollars that flow in from the federal government for K-12 education. So far, the governor has proposed a two-year, $400 million tax package to pay for some of the teacher COLAs, among other programs. The proposal has not gone anywhere in the House, despite the majority party controlling the chamber.
Many of you know I supported the 2013-15 bipartisan state operating budget. I supported the spending plan because it was the first time in many years K-12 education was prioritized. We were able to allocate an additional $1.6 billion to K-12 education, which included funding for full-day kindergarten, pupil transportation, K-1 class-size reduction and materials, supplies and operating costs (MSOC). But, we didn't stop there. We added funding for the Learning Assistance Program, or LAP, and gave school districts more flexibility with the money so they could serve the most at-risk students in meaningful ways. School counselors, TPEP and many other critical areas in K-12 education were boosted. Driving dollars into the classroom is the best way to improve student outcomes and support teachers.
The debate on transportation taxes is ongoing. The Senate released a proposed tax package last week and the governor has discussed it a lot over the past year. However, the discussions seem to be at a standstill. For my part, I believe that the discussion on transportation infrastructure spending should start with cost-saving and transparency reforms within the system. We need to regain the trust of the people if we want to ask them for more of their paychecks.
I will continue to keep you updated on these and other issues throughout session. I hope to see you Saturday.