The 2016 session was one of change for the 36th Legislative District.
With the election of Jeanne Kohl-Welles to the Metropolitan King County Council, former Rep. Reuven Carlyle was selected by the 36th District Democrats to replace her in the Senate, while Noel Frame took his seat in the House. Rep. Gael Tarleton also had a new role, elected as majority floor leader by her colleagues.
Now that the session (and subsequent special session) are in the books, the legislators spoke about the successes and disappointments in Olympia and what’s on the horizon for next year.
Progress on several fronts
All three mentioned the importance of the progress made in funding for mental health and understanding the intersections between addiction and mental health treatment.
“We’re making progress,” Carlyle said, “but it is against a backdrop of years of failure and neglect. It feels like it’s around the edges, even though it’s really substantial dollars.”
For Tarleton, the integration of treatment for mental health and chemical dependency patients is “groundbreaking. That is a whole shift in perspective on how we have to address the problems of mental health,” she said.
Tarleton said the benefits of House Bill 1713 — which passed the House 89-5 and the Senate 40-2 — likely won’t be seen for several years, but she compared the impact to how the criminal justice system shifted the way it handled the victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking. That included changing the language in law enforcement to reflect a status as special victims, rather than criminals.
She was also happy with the support for homeless youths, a top priority in budget negotiations on both sides, after several years of work.
“We’re going to give a better life to those kids, and that is what we’re supposed to be doing,” she said.
Meanwhile, Frame partnered with Sen. Cyrus Habib (D-Bellevue) on a bill to reduce the barriers facing students with disabilities when transferring schools. She also believes progress is being made on tax reform and corporate tax accountability.
“I think the tide is really shifting, especially as we head into trying to fund McCleary next year,” she said. “I think the appetite for corporate tax reform and corporate tax accountability is there.”
While it was Carlyle’s first session in the Senate, he was happy to see the governor sign his final House bill. House Bill 1999 formally commits the state to the goal of becoming No. 1 in the nation in the education success of foster youths and expands King County’s Treehouse program to Tacoma and Spokane.
“It coordinates all the different silos of government bureaucracy to work together toward education — high school and post-high school graduation — success of foster youths,” he said.
Frustration with funding
Though there were legislative successes, all three also had their share of frustrations and disappointments.
For Frame, it was a preservation tax credit bill that the city estimated could have helped create thousands of more affordable housing units.
“It had all the makings of being a really successful bill,” she said. “It had big coalitions behind it, a diverse coalition — in terms of affordable housing advocates, as well as private landlords. I thought it was a real consensus bill, and I was actually really disappointed that it didn’t make it.”
Tarleton was frustrated that one senator blocked a bill regarding the state’s commitment to solar installation and to solar energy as a substantial element of the state’s energy grid.
“We missed an extraordinary opportunity, and I’m more than disappointed,” Tarleton said. “I’m astonished that the proven benefits of adopting solar, reducing energy costs, conserving energy, creating cleaner energy alternatives inside the whole energy portfolio of the state — it just is astonishing that one person had a tantrum, and he just didn’t want the governor to get a win.”
But for all three, the looming specter of the “balloon payment” of $3 billion to fully fund education is a big concern.
“I think in some ways the Democrats have to get outside of their comfort zone on some key policy issues,” Carlyle said, “and I think Republicans have to get outside of their comfort zone on revenue to pay for education.”
Tarleton took issue with the Senate Republicans’ unwillingness to look at alternative ways to fund education.
“It is always worth looking at a track record,” Tarleton said of the Senate Republicans. “They came in promising that they would deliver more effective, more efficient, more transparent government and that they would fully fund education — now look at their votes. Look at the votes that they have taken to the floor, and look at the votes they haven’t even allowed out of a committee. The vast majority of them are about revenue to fund the responsibilities of this state for K-12 public education.”
Meanwhile, the pair of representatives also stressed the need for Democrats to retain control of the House and regain the Senate, to make meaningful inroads on education funding.
If that progress isn’t made, she said, it’s a no-win situation.
“If we fail, we all fail,” Tarleton said. “Not a party fails, not an individual fails; we fail ourselves. We fail our state because we’re failing our kids, and that is inexcusable. There’s no defense. We have to get it done.”
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