This week, Gary Locke’s decisions on which bills to veto, which bills to partly veto, which ones to sign, and which ones to quietly look the other way on while they become law, marks the merciful end of another particularly brutal legislative year in Olympia.
The high point of the session was Republican senator James West of Spokane, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, calling up building industry lobbyist Tom McCabe and leaving the following message on his home answering machine: “McCabe, you son of a bitch, you better get me, ’cause if you don’t, you’re dead.” (Is that a promise?) Instead of taking him up on the offer, McCabe filed charges against Sen. West, and Olympia cops rousted West from his home, read him his rights, and questioned him. That didn’t stop West from supporting new “tough on crime” bills, though.
The low point of the session came Feb. 17th, when the Association of Sheriffs and Police Officers begged our state legislators to stop passing new crime legislation, because police departments all over the state can’t keep up with the new statutes. Lawyers and judges are struggling, too, since many of the new laws contradict each other, making it impossible for courts to tease out the meaning and intent of the law. The next day, our Republican state reps said “no dice,” and blithely continued one-upping each another with new crime bills to wave in front of voters and corporate donors in November.
So how much did these bozos stomp on over our basic rights to adequate food, housing, and decent medical care? Here’s a run-down of the worst bills that passed this season:
Institutionalize your family! In a nightmare revisit of the Becca Bill, legislators passed a law (SSB 6208) making it easier for parents to commit their children to private psychiatric wards–without the evaluation of a neutral doctor or public health official. Aside from the obvious scenario of sick parents acting out their problems by persecuting their kids, this bill will give private-sector mental hospitals the liberty to aggressively diagnose mental illnesses in young patients to boost admission rates (and income). With recent headlines about pre-teen boys shooting up a school, the push is on for Gov. Locke to sign this nasty bill into law. The Seattle P-I’s recent “expose” on the Wenatchee child sex- abuse scandal begs for the obvious connection to be made: there’s no difference between the state legislature and cops who railroaded, abused, and locked up children, their parents, and child care workers in Wenatchee. And tacked onto the bill was an extra $7 million dollars to fund prior provisions of Becca I. Youth groups are demanding that Gov. Locke veto this truly awful piece of legislation.
Lawmakers pulled a similar trick on disabled folks by grossly underfunding the COPES program, which provides money to families caring for disabled people. These funds pay for basic necessities (rent, food, medical care, etc.). The legislature allocated only $3 million of the $10 million needed to keep the program going past December; cynically enough, about 2,000-3,000 disabled folks will get their termination notices right around the holidays–and just after the election season is over. At the same time, our reps threw extra money at nursing home operators, who didn’t have any funding shortfall at all. That’s family values for you!
Kids forced to stay home. While pushing single parents off welfare and into jobs, the legislature refused to provide child care reimbursements or vouchers to low-income, single parents.
Cutting off child care. As if the above wasn’t bad enough, our reps cut all food reimbursements for family day care homes and child care centers. As a result, many centers are now closing their doors.
Feed horses, starve children. Kids who survive on subsidized lunches during the school year need food in the summer, too. But our state reps have reasoned that kids should eat 3/4 less during the summer (they allocated a stingy $25,000 to a $100,000 program). In the meantime, our reps scrounged up a nifty tax break for people who board and feed horses. Priorities …
Let them drink Pepsi. As housing prices skyrocket in the Puget Sound and unemployment reaches double digits in rural areas of Washington, food banks (staffed by volunteers) are increasingly running out of food for a growing population of hungry families. Child care workers, disabled folks too sick to work, single parents who can’t afford child care and so lose their jobs, minimum wage workers–all these people rely on food banks. But our reactionary reps refused any funds to purchase food, and allotted only 20% of the funds that are needed for the basic operating costs of food banks (i.e., rent and utilities).
Yet all is not lost! In their infinite wisdom, our reps gave a $3.9 million per year B&O tax credit to soda pop syrup manufacturers (SB 6602). The pop tax was originally passed by voters by a wide margin … but that didn’t stop lawmakers from going against the will of the people, in a stunning 75- 18 vote. That $3.9 million could have funded the summer lunch program 39 times over.
Want to see the doc? Take a number and wait. The state’s basic health plan was intended to provide health insurance coverage for low-income working families. Three years ago the legislature set a goal of enrolling 200,000 people in the plan. There are currently only 130,000 enrolled, with another 600,000 (and growing daily) on the waiting list. Our reps refused to raise the number of funded slots by a meager 8,000 this year.
Nullify housing laws. Lawmakers supported landlords by passing a state law (SHB 1043) to pre-empt local housing ordinances. This bill will make it impossible for affordable housing advocates or tenants rights groups to push for changes in local laws, and it will reverse decades of work by Seattle housing activists.
Spare change for farmworkers. Fortunately, the inane “English-only” bill died in the legislature. Unfortunately, our reps gutted a proposal to fund safe farmworker housing. Instead of the $18 to $22 million that the program needs over the next ten years, the legislature only committed a one-time grant of $1 million, plus a $1 million set-aside from the overburdened Housing Trust Fund. Farmworker groups are rightly indignant about being tossed crumbs from the master’s table (especially when their hands pick and pack our food in the first place), and are asking Governor Locke to veto this insulting bill (2S6168).
Better start walking. Republican lawmakers passed the worst transportation bill imaginable. It directly robs the general fund to provide only a fraction of the money needed to fix roads and infrastructure. It relies on two sources of funding: a tax credit to vehicle owners in the form of cheaper licensing fees (forget about taxing users), and a huge bond issue which shoves the burden of paying for this year’s inadequate maintenance onto the shoulders of the next generation. It has the effect of charging capital improvements on the state’s American Express card. And when the bill arrives, these jerks won’t be around to pay the political price. Fortunately, the bill won’t pass directly into law–it goes to the ballot in November, along with the anti-affirmative action I-200, for voters to have the final say.
For those who want to lobby the governor, you can contact his office at 360-753-6780, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Governor Gary Locke, Legislative Bldg., PO Box 40002, Olympia WA 98504-0002.
Special thanks to Nancy Amidei at the University of Washington for her weekly e-zine entitled “Policy Watch,” which provides updates on selected bills during each state legislative session. Policy Watch only appears when the legislature is in session. To receive future issues, send a friendly e-mail to email@example.com. You can also access it via the UW School of Social Work’s website at http://weber.u.washington.edu/~sswweb/ (click on the “Policy Watch” link).