2/8/2013 3:59:00 PM Entering the second week of the legislative session
By Mark Schoesler Representative
The second week of the legislative session is history; it's continuing to be very busy, but it's been a good sort of busy. As I look at some of the legislation being proposed, I can't help but be encouraged. Ideas stifled for many years are finally being discussed openly and that alone is progress.
More jobs? Improve workers' compensation system If your auto-insurance rates go up, you have the freedom to shop around. Most employers in our state can't do that when it comes to industrial insurance - better known as "workers' compensation." Unless they're large enough to be self-insured, Washington employers have one choice: pay the state. Many see the workers' comp system as broken, given that it charges the highest rates in the nation (tax rates have gone up by more than 70 percent in the past decade) yet returns fewer workers to the job than any state. This past week, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, headed by a member of our coalition, held public hearings on a quintet of bills aimed at improving workers' comp. I'm a co-sponsor of each of these bills. Anything we can do to improve the workers' comp system is almost guaranteed to help employers save money that can be put to other uses.
Merger of agencies equals projected $37 million savings One of the few reforms adopted in 2011 appears to have been a winner for taxpayers. The Senate Ways and Means Committee (of which I'm a member) will meet to discuss how Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5931, aimed at improving government efficiency, is expected to save $37 million in the next two-year budget cycle.
Minority calls for new income and capital gains taxes So what did the Senate minority do this week? It proposed a state income tax to go with two other tax-code changes (proposed last week) that would effectively raise taxes on property owners and employers to the tune of more than $5.3 billion during the next 10 years alone. On Friday, the Senate minority leader, Senator Ed Murray, said he will propose a new capital gains tax, also.
Education-reform effort gaining steam Now that the Senate education committee is headed by a member of our coalition, people will see open debate about reforms that have - to the detriment of our K-12 students - been blocked for years. Among the education bills slated to receive public hearings is a bill focusing on the development of reading skills from kindergarten through third grade. Beginning in 2014-15, under Senate Bill 5237, third-grade students scoring below basic levels in reading would be retained in the third grade. Research tells us the earlier students are successful in reading and math, the better their long-term results. The goal is to put more focus on the early years when children's minds are rapidly developing. Once our students are exceeding state reading requirements in third grade, we're bound to see benefits down the road, in the form of a narrowing opportunity gap and improved high school-graduation rates.