Whew! What an eye-opening adventure and learning experience my Legislative Internship has been so far. Thankfully, I have Doug’s wisdom and Ehren’s personal connections to guide and lead me to some pretty surprising experiences, one of those being a personal, 1:1, after-hours sit-down with one of our biggest champions, Senator Ann Rivers my first day here.
As Doug blogged last week, the Para Educator Bill (SB5070) passed 37-12 after a bewildering and mind-boggling series of events. However, this doesn’t mean we’ve hit a homerun yet and there still is lots of hard work to do to counteract very strong opposition by some of our lobbying friends to ensure its passage.
How do we do this you ask? Well, one of my biggest takeaways yesterday was that trust and money + highly involved membership often times far outstrips long and hard work at developing relationships. However, the little guys can overtake the big guys if they bank on trusting relationships and step up and get their voices heard.
This is where Senator Rivers and meeting with her comes into play. She is our champion, we have a STRONG relationship of TRUST with her and she is fiercely passionate about seeing our Para Educators have the opportunities to develop professionally to best assist our students and teachers. She needs our help NOW to get the message through to our Legislators that this bill is vitally important to us and for our schools and we, PSE, support its passage. We, as PSE members in solidarity, can help her by making our voices heard. My PSE Brothers and Sisters, I humbly ask that you contact your Legislators NOW by calling (Leg Hotline 800-562-6000)or email them to ask for their support of SB 5070. We may be the “little guy” on the field but if we come together – our voices can be incredibly loud and mighty.
My week in Olympia was like drinking water from a fire hose. If it wasn’t for the patient guidance of Doug and Ehren I imagine myself standing in the middle of the rotunda spinning around in circles. Fortunately that was not the case. I believe I was able to makes some good connections with several legislators and effectively express the needs of PSE members. Equally important I learned three valuable lessons.
First, watching the process is a bit like riding a rollercoaster with a blindfold on. Lots of long slow uphill climbs with the occasional sudden drop off, complete with loops and spins. Not for the faint of heart and definitely not if you expect things to be quick and easy. This was made abundantly clear on my first day of observing the Senate floor session when one side attempted to out maneuver the other and the whole thing came to a screeching halt. Effectively killing dozens of prospective bills and putting some PSE bills in jeopardy.
Which leads to my second lesson, never put all your eggs in one basket. PSE is a bipartisan organization for good reason. Not just because our membership is made up of people across the political spectrum, but because the support we need may come from unexpected places. Such was the case with the stronger senate version of the paraeducator bill (SB 5070). While it did pass with good bipartisan support (Y:37; N:12), there was a concerted effort on the part of two other labor unions to sway senators who otherwise support public education. No one side has all the solutions, we need both perspectives and this was a good example of that.
Third, and most important for members of PSE to understand; we, as classified employees, do not exist in the public discourse and debate surrounding public education. That is not to say that people don’t know we are school employees, certainly the families we serve and the teachers we work with know we are here. Lately, however, a realization hit me and was confirmed this week on the Senate floor, when there is public discussion on education, children are mentioned, teachers are mentioned, oftentimes administrators are mentioned, and frequently the community; all perfectly normal. What is not normal is that 50% of the equation is almost never specifically mentioned. Classified staff rarely, if ever, is included in the list of stakeholders in our public discourse. It is almost as if we don’t exist. I used to think of it as being invisible, however this week I realized that we are more like shadows, we are here, everyone agrees we are, but not clearly distinguishable.
It is our responsibility to create greater inclusion in the public debate surrounding public education. PSE’s strong paraeducator bill and the PEBB bill (SB 5726) both help in their own way. It really comes down to individual members and local chapters making sure that tens of thousands of classified staff are identified and included in our public conversations. What is your chapter doing, or can do, to increase public awareness of our important and unique roles in education?
Earlier I reported on a small bill, HB 1042, that has an innocent objective. Stop collecting K 12 insurance data and save the state $250,000 per year. I testified earlier that it doesn’t make sense to stop collecting information while the problem still exists. Otherwise, how will you know what you need to do to fix the problem?
Nonetheless, the House approved the bill on strict party lines: 50 democrats voting for it, 47 republicans voting against it. I was pleased to hear the democratic speaker mention classified employees and the republican speaker tie the K 12 insurance problem to a potential McCleary solution.
Not a lot to see or hear in the debate but here it is:
With an uncharacteristic bending of the rules, the House ignored all the steps of the legislative process and approved ESB 5023, the levy cliff bill on a 87-10 vote. What’s unusual is that the Senate approved the bill last night and 15 hours later the House approved it. Normally, it takes at least a day to assign the bill to a committee, have a public hearing, vote in committee, etc., which usually takes a couple of weeks. It shows how important it was to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible. I expect Governor Inslee to sign the bill within the next couple of days.
I wish they would treat PSE’s paraeducator bill or insurance bill the same way (just dreaming).
The good news on Wednesday was that, as Doug announced, the paraeducator bill (SB 5070) passed the Senate without amendments. As well, in an odd turn of gamesmanship, the levy cliff bill (ESB 5023) was brought forward by the Republicans; but more on that in a moment.
What was most interesting was watching the battle for status quo play out over the paraeducator bill. What many may not know is that not all education stakeholders are on board with SB 5070. In fact there are two very powerful lobby groups, one education labor union and one state wide labor union, that are working in direct opposition of our efforts and interests. Status quo is about power, those who have the power fight for status quo, those who don’t work for change. I admire those senators who resisted in the fight for status quo and stood up for paraeducators across our state. Doug and I watched this battle play out right in front of us when several senators changed their votes from “Yay” to “Nay” after receiving a sign from the opposition labor unions observing the debate. Fortunately there was strong bipartisan support and the effort was thwarted.
ESB 5023 was an entirely different situation, remember the gamesmanship earlier. In the proverbial eleventh hour the Republicans brought forward the levy cliff bill, a Democrat bill. By all appearances the Democrats were caught off guard by this maneuver. Then it got weird. While all 10 pages of the bill were being read out loud each party left the floor to caucus and were gone for an hour. Doug had warned me that odd things were often done at the last minute but even he had not seen this before. By all appearances this was a move by Republicans to extend an olive branch to Democrats and end the session in a strong bipartisan manner by bringing up the Democrat’s bill. In the end it provided a great PR moment and a necessary bill passed 48-1.
PSE’s effort to provide affordable, quality health care insurance for all school employees has stalled for now. SB 5726 continues to get plenty of favorable attention but also receives some negative attention. One thing that gets in the way is the cost to provide K 12 employees “parity with state employees”. What this means is K 12 employees, including part-time classified employees, would receive the same funding as state employees.
K 12 employees currently receive $780 per month while state employees receive $888 per month. A second major cost is that part-time state employees who work half-time or more receive the same funding as full time employees while in K 12 they are prorated. For instance, a 4 hour part-time classified school employee receives $390 per month while a 4 hour state employee receives $888 per month.
It costs nearly $330 million per year to treat all K 12 employees the same as state employees. $82 million of that is to provide part-time classified school employees the same benefits part-time state employees receive.
Not surprisingly, that makes this issue more difficult to fix. However, one insignificant victory in this struggle is that OSPI’s first estimate of the cost of the bill was $700 million per year. Yea we were successful reducing the cost but that doesn’t make our opponents go away, unfortunately.
Tuesday was a day of anticipation. We started the day with every expectation that the Senate paraeducator bill (SB5070) would make it to the floor, and heard late Monday evening that the public school employee benefits bill (SB5726) had also been added to the list. Tuesday was going to be a long but good day. It was also going to be a day that the belief our stories matter was driven home.
After a flurry of non-contentious bills it was looking promising for our bills and then a resolution to amend the constitution on income taxes hit the floor. Suffice to say that things really slowed down after that. Followed by a death with dignity bill, a religious objectors to union membership bill, and a bill to prevent political contributions to the Governor by state employees while collective bargaining. Suddenly what had begun as a long but promising day was looking like just a long day. Fortunately, we received notice late in the evening, again, that both bills still had a good chance of being heard before Wednesday’s 5 o’clock cut-off.
Throughout all this, Doug continued to work tirelessly with Senators who support our bills. Providing them with updated fiscal information, information that he had found to be in error in the fiscal report and was able to get changed, and working with Senators on possible amendments. All while keeping tabs on several other bills that still had the breath of life in them.
While observing, and participating, in this process one thing became abundantly clear to me. It is all about stories. I know that sounds like an oversimplification. However, whenever I met face to face with a legislator they wanted to know specifically how I, or my members, were directly affected by a specific bill, they wanted to know our stories. When they debate a bill on the floor they tell stories. When people present before a committee, they tell stories. If there is one thing that PSE members can do it is to tell our individual stories to our elected officials. All the facts and figures aside, it is stories that move hearts and minds, and no one tells my story as well as I can.
In a strong bi-partisan vote, the Senate approved a comprehensive paraeducator development program. SB 5070 passed on a 37-12 vote and will require standards, professional development, a career ladder, an easier path to teacher certification, and, training for teachers who supervise paraeducators.
What’s next? It goes to the House for consideration. And not to confuse you too much but the Senate will now consider the watered down House version – HB 1115. We are encouraging the Senate to amend 1115 to look like 5070; and in the House we are encouraging them to approve 5070 without amendments.
You’re at the big game. Your team is looking solid. Barring any mistakes they stand a good chance of pulling it off. All of a sudden you see the other team set up a play that sets your team back on its heels, the momentum shifts and BAM! it’s over.
That is a bit how today felt. Doug, Ehren, and I spent our entire day meeting with legislators, keeping the interest of PSE members at the forefront of their minds and working to make sure Paraeducators get the training and recognition they deserve. We had received word that the Senate’s version of the paraeducator bill (SB5070) would be coming up for a vote. Doug and I settled into the gallery to watch how the vote unfolded when there was a ruckus on the floor, adjournment was called, and BAM! they were done for the day. Talk about whiplash.
Wednesday is the cutoff for bills to make it through to the next step. Missing the cutoff is not necessarily a death sentence for a bill but it does put it on very tenuous footing. Given that the prime sponsor is Republican Senator Ann Rivers, and the Republicans control the Senate, there is still a good chance there will be a vote on this bill. We will be watching very closely over the next couple of days.
My week as an intern for PSE taught me more than I could’ve imagined. I met my representatives and senator as well as many others. I followed bills that affect PSE members, like HB 1115 that was passed, giving Para educators training.
I sat in a hearing about the McCleary decision and how the state would fully fund schools. There is a republican proposal would collect new local property tax levies for schools. This would be set at a uniformed statewide rate along with $1.4 billion per two year budget supplement to fund education. This is just one of a few proposals being made. The McCleary decision and its deadlines are of the utmost importance to everyone that I met with.
The most exciting part of my internship was watching Doug work on SB5726 that would put public school employees on PEBB insurance. This is a complicated bill and Doug is working diligently to get it passed. On Thursday, we were able to go behind the curtain, where the Democrats caucus, and speak to Senator Hobbs about this bill and its importance to PSE members. So far there has been positive feedback and Doug has been able to show that the cost to add PSE members to PEBB is much lower than predicted.
The overall sense that PSE members are being represented by highly competent and talented people was something I was proud of. I learned that working with both democrat and republican sides gets more done as we have support of PSE on both sides.