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Legislators offer opinions regarding success of recent session in Olympia

By Kevin Hanson and Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

Another state legislative session has come to an end with a number of significant bills that will affect the Plateau.

The 60th session was adjourned April 22 after 105 days with the approval of a two-year budget.

Both houses of the Legislature are heavily weighted toward the Democrats. In the Senate the Democrats have a 32-17 advantage and in the House the margin is 62-36. Gov. Chris Gregoire is also a Democrat.

The 31st District legislative team is split 2-1 between the parties with two Republicans, Sen. Pam Roach from Auburn and her son, Rep. Dan Roach, a Bonney Lake resident. The lone Democrat is Rep. Chris Hurst from Greenwater.

Sen. Roach described the session as “very liberal,” but with some successes for the four-term senator.

“We were fortunate to have a lot of money this year,” Roach said. “But it was unfortunate we didn't put more into a rainy-day fund. I thought more should have been spent on capital expenditures. We have to be careful about making promises.”

One the major success of the session for Roach was the victim information and notification bill that passed out of both houses and was signed by the governor.

The measure allows victims of crime to receive information about an offender's custody status 24 hours a day over the telephone, through the Internet or by e-mail. It also requires victims to be notified if an offender is scheduled for a court hearing.

Roach's foreign language bill that would created a two-year Spanish and Chinese language pilot program was passed in the Senate, but ran into a wall in the House Appropriations Committee.

The senator has been a strong advocate of introducing a foreign language at the elementary school level to help students stay competitive in a global economy.

Rep. Dan Roach also counted some personal legislative successes in a capitol controlled by the opposition.

“On personal level (the session) went pretty well.” Roach said. “But the 18 percent increase in the budget is a problem. If we thought it might be sustainable, that's one thing, but our state forecaster says we will be in the hole again in a few years. So we are put in a position of either taking things back or raising taxes.”

The highlight of the session for the representative was the passage of his funeral protest bill titled the “Washington Rest in Peace Act.”

The bill went to the governor in February and was one of the first two signed in the session.

Bonney Lake resident and Vietnam Veteran Chuck Lawrence was the first to let Roach know about the issue involving people connected to the Westboro Baptist Church showing up at funerals of veterans and protesting.

The measure outlawed protesting, disorderly conduct or fighting within 500 of a funeral or burial.

A thorny issue Roach dealt with on the education committee was the problem with the Washington Assessment of Student Learning or WASL, particularly the math portion of the test.

“I support high standards,” Roach said. “But the math test was a bad standard. People on both sides agree we need a good test. At the end of the day I would like to see options instead of the WASL. My preference is end of the course exams.”

Hurst believes state lawmakers invested wisely in Washington's future during the recently-completed session.

“We did what's right for education and did some good things for transportation,” he said, having returned home from the 120-day session that resulted in a two-year state budget.

“Overall, it went very smoothly,” Hurst said. “There were no real difficulties.”

Of course, smooth sailing can be expected when one party controls the state House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor's mansion.

“It makes it a little easier,” Hurst admits.

For Hurst, the recent session provided something of a homecoming. He served a pair of two-year terms in the House, elected in 1998 and 2000, and then stepped away, citing family concerns. Republican Jan Shabro took advantage of the opening, winning two terms, before Hurst returned last fall to defeat Shabro and reclaim his House seat.

Hurst said public education was a big winner this time around.

“We made probably the biggest investment in education in the history of this state,” he said.

And, speaking of education, Hurst was particularly pleased that two-thirds of both the House and Senate agreed to let voters decide the “supermajority” issue. Currently, school districts must get 60 percent support to pass levy or bond issues. In the fall, state voters will decide if that level should be dropped to a simple majority, as is the case for other taxing districts.

It's an issue Hurst has long championed. Dropping the requirement to a simple majority, he said, “is the ultimate in local taxing authority.”

Other policy issues Hurst was happy to see passed were quieter, but no less important to those directly impacted. He supported legislation that extended the time violent sex offenders can be returned to prison without review; current law says their sentences come up for review every two years but the new law will extend the period to five years.

Also, Hurst touts a bill that will improve access to disability benefits to the state's 18,000 volunteer firefighters. The bill died the last three years, he said.

Looking locally, Hurst was pleased to see a $4.2 million budget appropriation for wastewater treatment plant upgrades that will benefit both Rainier School and the city of Buckley.

Looking at the bigger picture, Hurst said putting money into Rainier School heads off talk that the state institution should be closed.

“The investment is a huge step toward the long-term protection of Rainier School,” he said.

Speaking of cash and wastewater treatment plants, the city of Enumclaw was earmarked for $750,000 in the Legislature's capital improvement funding. It's not a huge sum, Hurst admitted, but every dollar from the state is a dollar that won't have to be collected in higher rates for local citizens, he said.

A pet project for Hurst, and one that came to fruition, was securing funding for improvements to state Route 410 between 214th in Bonney Lake and the busy intersection at 234th. Money was included in the transportation budget to add additional lanes each direction, realign the 234th intersection and add a traffic light.

The project has been on the table for years, but was delayed as budgets grew tighter. Eventually, the traffic light was yanked completely, only to be replaced during the recent session.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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