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Meeting today’s needs, saving for tomorrow

As I look back at the 2008 legislative session, I’m proud to have played my part and grateful to have been given that opportunity. Faced with a slowing economy, we invested, but invested wisely. We said “no” to new taxes, but avoided slashing vital public services. We accomplished many things that really matter in people’s lives, and we left a substantial reserve to guard against future problems. As I said, I’m proud of what your Legislature accomplished in this year’s short session. But in the end, of course, you’ll be the judge.

Washington’s Marine Highways: I want to start by talking about the thing that’s on all of our minds much of the time: ferry service. My bill to end “lock-out” — which prevents two vehicles from paying with a single fare card — was incorporated into the supplemental operating budget, and we reinstated a legislative instruction for the ferry system to consider discounts for frequent users. During the session, Gov. Gregoire hired bright, capable new people to head both the ferry system and the Department of Transportation. The system is at long last buying new boats. We’re moving in the right direction.

The West Sound legislative team has fought hard for affordable, dependable and convenient ferry service, and as a result even lawmakers whose districts are hundreds of miles from saltwater recognize the importance of our marine highways. We’re not yet where we need to be, of course. But even though the Legislature has adjourned for the year, many of my colleagues and I are continuing to work on ferry legislation for 2009, and I expect to see ferry-district concerns in the forefront when the biennial transportation budget is written next year.

Education: It may be a cliché, but education really is the key to success. The Legislature allocated $101 million in additional funding this year to strengthen early childhood education, improve our K-12 math curriculum, expand career and technical education, redesign the WASL, increase access to higher education and give public school employees a long-overdue cost-of-living increase.

Protecting Washington’s families: We all deserve to feel safe. This year the Legislature enacted smart new laws to increase campus safety, to protect domestic violence victims, to come down hard on sex offenders who fail to register, to expand the use of ignition interlocks in drunk drivers’ cars and to prevent and suppress gang activity. We also acted to protect children from exposure to dangerous pesticides in the classroom, and to regulate the amounts of potential poisons like lead and arsenic permissible in toys and other children’s products.

Helping families own and keep a home: We all know that housing is in crisis. Throughout the nation, stocks of affordable housing are limited. We’re fortunate here in Washington to have been affected less by the subprime mortgage woes than many other states, but we’re not immune, including here in Kitsap County. Friends and neighbors are suffering. The 2008 session produced a long list of housing-finance laws, ranging from counseling services for borrowers to limits on pre-payment penalties, regulations for mortgage brokers and assistance for families at risk of foreclosure.

My space here is limited, and I realize that I haven’t even touched on a number of important issues, including health care, which could fill several columns by itself. Before closing, though, I have to mention a few victories that, though they don’t involve massive amounts of money, are truly important for our kids and communities, for small business and tourism here in Kitsap. In this year’s supplemental budgets we secured key grants for Kitsap Mental Health’s Keller House ($1 million); the Peninsula University study ($212,000); the Kitsap Well-baby Program ($155,000); and the Poulsbo Marine Science Center ($100,000).

I’m glad to be part of a Legislature that can talk about investing billions of dollars in much-needed statewide infrastructure projects, and yet still take the time to focus on the health of new babies in a single county and the wonder experienced by a youngster learning about life in a tide pool. That was your Legislature in 2008, and for me, it was a session to be proud of.

Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) represents the 23rd Legislative District.

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