Fail: Congress Working on Toxics Policy

With the exception of education policy, there’s probably no other issue where states’ rights are paramount than when it comes to the health of its residents. Congress is currently considering a bill that would have devastating consequences to public health in Washington state if they don’t make major changes to the proposal. The federal Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA), currently being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is an attempt to update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. The 1976 act is in dire need of updating – something both parties agree on.

Unfortunately, the CICA not only falls well short of improving the current law, it will actually put communities at greater risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. It will impose weak chemical testing standards, create faulty cost/benefit methods, and prohibit states from adopting their own toxic chemical protections. Continue reading “Fail: Congress Working on Toxics Policy”

New Low-Income Healthcare Clinic in Bellevue!

New ICHS Clinic Under Construction

I went to the opening of the new ICHS clinic in Crossroads yesterday. It’s exciting to have this kind of facility here – one that is focused on serving our low-income population that have signed up in droves for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. All these newly insured people have to have somewhere to go, and this kind of facility will deliver the kind of care that works – culturally and linguistically appropriate high-quality medical care. It’s on 140th just North of NE 8th in Bellevue near Crossroads.

Teresita Batayola, the CEO was just leaving after the ceremony to receive an award from the White House for her work doing outreach about healthcare to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders here in King County. This is pretty cool.

Teresita Batayola receives “Champion of Change” White House Award  Continue reading “New Low-Income Healthcare Clinic in Bellevue!”

“This Washington” saves money on Medicaid costs

Arthroscopic knee surgery: one of the treatments limited in Washington state's Health Technology Assessment program.
Arthroscopic knee surgery: one of the treatments limited in Washington state’s Health Technology Assessment program. Shutterstock

In an interesting article on the “Center for Public Integrity” website Washington State is called out as having a cost-effective way to make decisions about what medical treatments don’t actually work, and to stop paying for them. This is not without controversy, as you might expect.

In order to cut costs and put Medicare on a stronger footing, many health policy experts say the program must stop covering procedures that do little to improve patient health or are not worth the price tag. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that administers the program, has for the most part failed to implement such cost-cutting measures, because its authority is limited, cuts are controversial and Congress frequently interferes.

Continue reading ““This Washington” saves money on Medicaid costs”

Education wins in final budget

2009-Smily-Headshot-medium.jpgA week has passed since the end of the second (and final) special session this year and I’ve finally put socks and shoes on and shaved. This was an exhausting exercise as the Senate Republicans figured out how they were going to make decisions. I’m pleased we were able to get it done at the end, but would have preferred to have not come so close to the deadline for shutting down most state services.

The final budget addresses most of my priorities:

  • $1 billion in new funding for K-12 education, part of our effort at addressing our constitutional requirement to amply provide for the education of all children. This is not as much as I believe the court is asking us to do, but it’s a significant step. Continue reading “Education wins in final budget”

Town Hall Wrap

Town Hall March 2013-1


Another town hall meeting. I should go back on the calendar and count how many we’ve done. These have been fun over the years and we keep fiddling with the formula. This time we had a full room so we took questions on index card. I read the cards exactly, and I think I read most of the questions. We get to more questions this way with fewer repeats, and some people like this. (We hear from them afterwards.) Some people would prefer to ask their question directly, and I think we’ll try to allocate more time for that as well. To do this we would have to be less long-winded.

Town Hall March 2013-3

We got questions on a variety of topics. I’d say the top were Education funding, and why are we even considering changing anything about how the system works, Healthcare, particularly the Medicaid expansion, overall budget/tax questions, including the 2/3 vote threshold issue on which Rodney and I disagree. Cyrus seems to be on my side of this. I gave the speech on super-majorities that I’ve done a number of times – referencing the founders of both the US and Washington State, the Federalist Papers, and other historical arguments about why the system outlined in the constitution actually works pretty well and we should stick with it. It’s available to read in the last newsletter I sent out.

You’ll hear more from me on education funding when we roll out our budget in a few weeks. (Secret knowledge: I think the that making “steady and measurable progress” on McCleary as the court has called for will require an additional $1.4 billion in new funds this year. If I can make this work in a budget I will do so.)

Town Hall March 2013-2

We are absolutely doing the Medicaid expansion as well. It saves hundreds of millions and covers hundreds of thousands of new people, most of them the working poor. My favorite example of why people don’t really understand how this impacts people was a moment at my drycleaners a few years ago. I was discussing the bill with one of the owners. She talked clearly about how hard it was to get medical care. They had coverage for the kids through Apple Health, but not for the parents. Another customer was there at the same time and I don’t think she realized until that moment that people can work hard, run a successful small business, and not be able to afford care. The Affordable Care Act will make care available to everyone at reasonable cost, and we’re working hard to bring it to Washington this year.

My most disappointing thing this year is our failure to get the votes to pass HB 1588, the bill requiring background checks for firearms sales. The bill is reasonably written, with exceptions for concealed pistol license holders, etc. I spent an entire day counting votes and came up 1 short to pass a bill that would not have had crippling amendments. This would have required a vote of the people before it was adopted. This policy is supported by over 80% of my constituents. I’ve been buried in mail on the issue – on both sides. I apologize for sending a form response. There are too many emails to address individually.

As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions we didn’t address. Thank you for coming and for keeping these civil experiences for 10 years.

Ross sig small

Legislative “Progress” – Early March

Cupola of the Legislative Building
Cupola of the Legislative Building

Each Legislative session has a rythym all its own. This one is waiting expectantly for something to happen. I think you’ll see a flurry of activity towards the end of the month as budgets start to get released.

At the beginning of the session I said we had three priorities this year: balancing the budget for both 2013-15 and 2015-17, funding the education improvements required by the McClary decision from the Supreme Court, and implementing the expansion of Medicaid made possible under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as “Obamacare.” I still believe these are the correct items to focus on, though a stretch goal would be to implement a reasonable package of road and transit improvements.

We’re making progress on all three fronts, though I think some new items have raised their heads and required attention.

  • Gun safety, for obvious reasons. Advocates came in with an expansive agenda, but seem to have focused for this year on finally closing the “gun show loophole” that allows people to purchase guns from private sellers without undergoing background checks. HB 1588 is a reasonable response, creating a way for background checks to take place on almost all sales without creating a centralized database of gun ownership, something very concerning to some people. I support the bill and am a co-sponsor.
  • Mental health treatment improvements. We trail the nation in the number of community mental health hospital beds, and don’t have a very strong system of providing support for people who have dangerous mental health issues. The ACA will change some of this, giving many more people access to care in reasonable ways, but we are going to need to strengthen both our civil involuntary committment procedures and our forensic system, closing some awkward gaps. More below.

I’ve also had a lot of questions about the Supreme Court’s ruling the Eyman initiatives requiring a 2/3 vote for tax increases unconstitutional. The ruling was pretty unequivocal – all bills pass with a simple majority in the Legislature, as the constitution intended. I’ve written a response to the many emails on this topic that I include below.

I’m going to write about the education bills in a different post because otherwise this one will get too long.

Continue reading “Legislative “Progress” – Early March”

A Good Deal for Washington

Medicaid Expansion infographicOne of the three key items that need to be resolved this year is the Medicaid expansion that is part of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare. (The other two are the overall budget and education funding increase as a result of the McCleary decision.) The policy choices are getting clearer and clearer as we go through the session, and the support has become more substantial as the numbers work themselves out.

In short,

  1. We will be able to provide coverage for almost 350,000 additional people in Washington.
  2. The federal government will pick up the tab, covering 100% of the cost of the newly eligible.
  3. The expansion will save the state money, with around $250 million in savings in the first two years.
  4. The benefits are spread throughout the state, with the biggest impacts in rural counties with high poverty rates.
  5. The expansion will generate about 10,000 new jobs in Washington, and bring lots of new cash into the state from Washington DC, instead of the other way around as it usually works.

Continue reading “A Good Deal for Washington”

Standardized Tax Rates for all Marijuana

Rep. Reuven Carlyle and I introduced legislation today to standardize state tax rates across medical and non-medical marijuana. The medical market would now look like the setup initiative 502 put in place for recreational use. The press release we issued is below. My concern is that if we have an identical product being sold with two different tax schemes we are likely to have significant leakage of recreational use into the medical channel. This will create a black market and put us at serious risk of federal intervention.

I expect this to be controversial, but I think it’s important to have an orderly market with no diversion.

Legislative news from Rep. Ross Hunter and Rep. Reuven Carlyle

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Leading Democrats propose standardized tax rates for all marijuana

Two leading House Democrats introduced legislation today that would standardize tax rates for all sales of marijuana.

Sponsored by Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48) and House Finance Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle (D-36), HB 1789 would create a consistent regulatory scheme for marijuana transactions.

“A responsible regulatory system requires that we have consistent, transparent oversight and tracking mechanisms, and that taxes be applied evenly,” said Rep. Hunter, “or we will create a lucrative black market.”

Washington voters approved recreational cannabis use last November with Initiative 502.

“We’re very concerned that having two systems, one almost completely without oversight, would make it difficult to win federal approval for overall marijuana legalization,” said Rep. Carlyle.  “It will distort the market and drive non-medical use inappropriately into the medical channel.”

The House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee will hear HB 1789 this Friday, February, 15th at their 1:30 PM meeting.


For interviews or more information:

Rep. Ross Hunter 360-786-7936 or

Staff: Kristen Mattern 360-786-7936 or

Legislative Update

We’ve gone through the first week. The governor and the state-wide officials have all been inaugurated, I fit into the same tuxedo I got married in 23 years ago for the inaugural ball, the Senate is in uproar about Senator Tom’s defection and the consequent change in partisan control, the sun came out (briefly) in Olympia, and we are back to work. The only real surprise to me was the tuxedo fitting.

The Senate is controlled by Republicans due to Democratic Senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon caucusing with them. Sen. Tom is the “majority leader” and Sen. Sheldon has a leadership role. I’m not sure how this will work out in the end but it’s gotten a lot of press. We have successfully negotiated a bipartisan budget for the last two years that I have been budget chairman, and I expect that to continue. The change in control of the Senate does not affect the budget as much as you might expect. It may have a profound effect on issues like women’s healthcare, gun safety and those that have more partisan differences of opinion. I am withholding judgment until the end of the session and we see how things work out.

We have three big tasks this year that we must complete, plus a few additional projects many of us would like to get to if we complete the important work.

  1. Adopt a budget that balances for both 2013-15 and 2015-17 in order to comply with the strongest balanced budget requirement in the country. (It’s interesting to note that the state has adopted balanced budgets every year since 1889 without this requirement so maybe it wasn’t as important as people thought it should be…)
  2. Resolve the supreme court’s requirement in the McCleary case that we live up to the constitutional requirement to “amply provide for the education of all children.” Current estimates are that this will require about $4.5 billion every two years by 2018, and we must make “steady progress” towards meeting this goal.
  3. Work out all the details of the Medicaid expansion enabled by the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare.) This will cover nearly 350,000 additional people in Washington and save the state over $100 million a year. The health insurance exchange will cover an additional 400,000 or so people, leaving almost everyone in Washington covered.

I’d like to adopt a transportation package that finishes the funding for the West end of the 520 project and invests in other important transportation infrastructure, but this should come after we address the base budget issues and McCleary. I’d also like us to take reasonable steps forward on gun safety in light of the recent spurt of mass killings, but this will be difficult as there are substantial differences between members on the issue. Perhaps the US Congress will be more functional than the Legislature on this topic, but that would be a real surprise.

This newsletter is made up of several recent blog postings I’ve done. If you’re interested in the topic you should be able to click through to the website to see the rest of the article. I find that if I share everything I write with you that the parts at the end don’t get read. Perhaps I should take this as a sign, but I can’t help myself.

For more posts that didn’t fit into this newsletter, and the stuff I post during session you can read my website.

Budget Outline

The current economic outlook calls for modest growth, but growth in tax revenue slower than our obligations. Our current projections show a shortfall of $904 million in the 2013-15 budget.

2013-15 balance sheet

The cryptic “NGFS + Op PW” title in the spreadsheet stands for “Near General Fund plus Opportunity Pathways” accounts, and is the sum of most state taxes that go into the overall budget. “BSA” stands for “Budget Stabilization Account” or the rainy day fund. We can’t spend this fund without a super-majority vote, so the problem is $904 million, not the $349 million on the bottom line.

Many changes will happen to this budget before we are done, including the addition of the McCleary obligation. Adding all the problems together nets you about a $2.8 billion problem.

Keep reading about the budget… 

What’s the “McCleary Problem?”

In 2012 the Washington State Supreme Court found that Washington State was not funding our education system at anything close to the level the constitution requires. Just before the holidays the court opined again, that

“the overall level of funding remains below the levels that have been declared constitutionally inadequate.” (Washington State Supreme Court, 2012)

On the Legislative side the Joint Task Force on Education Finance report issued in December 2012 detailed an eventual cost of about $4.5 billion dollars per biennium in additional funding needed to meet the court’s definition of “constitutionally adequate.” Arguments that the court isn’t talking about funding are belied by the quote above.

Despite protestations to the contrary, this session the Legislature needs to make steady progress towards completely meeting the court’s requirement by 2018. There are 5 school years between now and 2018, and “steady progress” means we get about 2/5ths of the way to the complete solution, or about $1.7 billion.

I personally do not believe that just adding additional money to the system will resolve all the problems we face, particularly with respect to the achievement gap faced by many low-income students. The funds are necessary, but probably not sufficient to improve matters significantly. The same can be said about the proposed accountability changes. I believe we can do both, and have significant results. There will be much negotiation this year to come to a resolution.

For more information read What’s in McCleary?

Gun Safety

I’ve held off commenting on gun safety because I wanted to think about it for a while after the Sandy Hook incident. Writing new policy in knee-jerk response to a single incident typically is a bad idea. However, there have been enough incidents that I think we need to respond and create a safer place to live.

I have already received a lot of email on this issue and I try to address most of the issues that have come up. These are addressed in the actual blog post – there have been a LOT of issues raised.

Some people think about this issue from a “rights” perspective – “I have a constitutional right to own whatever kind of firearm I want” and some from a public health perspective – “it turns out to be a bad idea to let people with unresolved mental health problems or domestic violence issues, felons, and children own dangerous weapons.” We can balance these two perspectives in reasonable ways.

  • Ensure that people with domestic violence restraining orders, mental health issues, etc. are unable to purchase guns by requiring background checks on all gun purchases, including those at gun shows.
  • Keep guns out of the hands of small children and other unauthorized people by creating some kind of “safe storage” requirement. If you are going to keep a gun in your house or car you should be responsible to ensure that children do not have access to it.
  • Reduce the availability of military capacity guns that can fire many rounds very quickly. This is an extension of the principle we use in banning the private ownership of machine guns, bazookas and tanks and would fall under the supreme court’s definition of “unusual and dangerous” weapons. I believe this is a problem that can best be addressed at the federal level, not at the state level. I have no detailed knowledge of Sen. Feinstein’s bill or President Obama’s proposal and cannot comment on the specifics other than to say that it is an issue in the other Washington, not this one.
  • And, on a more personal note, I would feel more secure if most people (including elected officials, but not the numerous state patrol officers stationed at the capitol) were prohibited from carrying firearms on the floor of the House. A surprisingly large number of people who are not off-duty police officers feel a need to carry concealed pistols in a building filled with children, tour groups and sometimes angry protesters. The likelihood of accidents seems high.

For the much longer post read Gun Safety in Washington.

Education Voters Public Forum – Tuesday Jan 22nd

I’m appearing with Senator Steve Litzow at a forum hosted by the League of Education Voters on Tuesday of this week. I don’t expect the event to be a formal debate, but Steve and I will lay out some differences between the positions our caucuses have, and talk about the possibility of compromise and what that might look like. (I recognize that “compromise” is a word that is vanishing from our political lexicon, but in this Washington we try to maintain a quality vocabulary.)

Formal press release:

The League of Education Voters is hosting a forum to discuss education in Washington state with Rep. Ross Hunter and Sen. Steve Litzow on Tuesday, Jan. 22 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the King County Library Administration Building. (960 Newport Way NW, Issaquah)

The forum will allow residents to learn more about competing visions for funding public education in Washington.

During the event, participants will hear about the current budget shortfall, the costs associated with meeting the McCleary decision by 2018 and a comparison of the different legislative approaches to address the issue.

The forum is free and open to the public. Please register by emailing There will be more of these events.