Opinion

Rep. Appleton: '09 legislative session outlook

GUEST COLUMN

A couple of months ago, I wrote in this space about the highlights (and a lowlight or two) of the 2008 legislative session. ?More recently, I put together a brief column designed to shine a bit of light on the legislative process, and to help interested citizens effectively and positively influence it.?

Today, in what will likely be my final column of the year, let’s look ahead to the 2009 legislative session to see what we can tell about the future, based on what we know at present.? None of this, of course, requires a crystal ball; a passing familiarity with recent history and a glance at today’s headlines tell us next year’s Legislature, no matter who its members happen to be, will have to focus on:

Education — Our schools have one of the most vital roles of any institution in the state and making sure they have the resources to play that role well is the Legislature’s responsibility. Last winter, we created a school-financing task force to study our out-of-date education-spending structure and recommend reforms, with the twin goals of improving student learning and making our investment in the public schools more cost-effective.?The members of the next Legislature will receive these recommendations and they’ll have the opportunity to replace a mid-20th Century model with something geared to the fiscal and educational realities of the 21st.?A significant job also will be determining what, precisely, the term “basic education” means today, because the state Constitution says providing for basic education is the Legislature’s “paramount duty.”?This isn’t just about semantics; the bigger our lawmakers can make the basic education tent, the less pressure there can potentially be on local taxpayers.?

Healthcare — Over the past few years, the Legislature has been steadily whittling down the number of Washington kids who have no health insurance, and therefore little if any access to preventive medical care.? We’ve knocked down barriers that too often keep well-meaning small business owners from being able to provide health insurance to their employees.? We’ve worked to increase the nurse-to-patient ratio in Washington hospitals.?A new law gives the Insurance Commissioner the authority to reject uncalled-for hikes in individual healthcare premiums.?But as always, next year’s Legislature had best be prepared to tackle an array of healthcare issues, including long-term care, demands for increased coverage and the skyrocketing costs of healthcare — for families, for employers and for government.

The Economy — Between May 2007 and May 2008, Washington added more than 38,000 jobs.?That’s a pretty good-sounding number.?But like a lot of statistics, it doesn’t really tell us much without some context, so let’s try this instead:?During the last year, job creation in our state grew at a rate 13 times faster than the national average.?Thirteen times faster.? Surprising??It is if we take our cues from the national news, or from negative voices here in our own state.?For a variety of reasons, we’re doing much better here than the country as a whole – but even with those 38,000 new jobs, we’re feeling the economic pinch.?And if you’re someone who is unemployed or underemployed, it’s not just a pinch; it’s a life-altering blow.?That’s why the 2009 Legislature will find every facet of the state’s economy high on the list of things to focus on.

Transportation — I could have listed this first, because here in the West Sound this has been one of our most vital issues ever since ferry funding was slashed in the wake of I-695.?We’ve been fighting an uphill battle ever since, and even with the significant victories of recent years,?i.e.?the demise of the 30 minute lockout.?The new rule went into effect June 6, so now multiple cars can travel together on one pass — a fare freeze, new boats on the way, frequent-user discounts, new system management, strong accountability measures — there is still much to be done.?In addition to ferry concerns, look for tolling, congestion, safety and both the Alaskan Way viaduct and the 520 bridge to be hot topics.

Plenty More — The upcoming 2009 session is going to be a long one, 105 days, and I predict (again, no magic required) that in addition to the above big issue areas, the next Legislature will need to write three biennial state budgets, field a number of tax reform measures, deal with public safety and criminal justice concerns, protect the environment — including Puget Sound and Hood Canal — and finally, keep a watchful eye out for...

The Wild Card — We know there will be one, or more than one.?Some unexpected issue rises up, captures the attention of the public and the media and demands the Legislature’s time and energy.?In other words, I suppose I’ll close this column?by predicting that something unpredictable is going to happen.

It always does!

Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) has represented the 23rd legislative district (Kitsap County, including Bainbridge Island, Silverdale, Poulsbo, Kingston and parts of Bremerton) in the Washington State House of Representatives since 2005.

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