A bill introduced by Representative Mosbrucker, HB 1057, was intended to improve student transportation safety by requiring seat belts on large school busses and stop paddle cameras on all busses. The harsh reality of the high cost of these changes has resulted in the House Education Committee changing the bill to a study bill. If the bill passes the legislature, by November 2020, a report would be provided the legislature regarding costs, benefits, and difficulties buying and retro-fitting busses.
Snow slowed things down for a couple of days but the February 22 deadline to get bills out of committee resulted in additional hearings this week to get their work done on time. I was interested in two school transportation bills heard this week: SB 5263 – making it easier to become a bus driver, and, HB 1813 – forcing transportation contractors to provide SEBB like benefits and funding.
It’s the last week of the first major deadline – February 22. Of all the bills under consideration next week, the only one I don’t like and wish would go away is HB 1803 – allows 10 more small school districts (less than 500 students) to waive the 180 day school year (go to school the same number of instructional hours per year but fewer days). I’m also looking forward to committee approval of two pro-labor bills: HB 1575 /SB 5623 (see earlier entry) and SB 5169 – requiring employer neutrality when employees are exercising their union rights.
Since there was little if any access to the Capitol because of the over foot of snow, the legislature had no choice other than to cancel hearings on Monday. They were back at it on Tuesday but even then it was a late start. It is very unusual for the legislature to close down during session (some legislative veterans couldn’t recall it happening over the last couple decades). That’s because they are on tight deadlines to get their work done on time.
They are back at it putting in a couple extra hours here and there to get back on schedule.
There are a couple paraeducator bills; SB 5413 – improving paraeducator ability to become a teacher and HB 1658 – perfecting upcoming paraeducator training under consideration. Also being considered are a couple of school transportation bills; HB 1057 – cameras and seat belts on busses, HB 1813 – requiring transportation contractors to provide SEBB like benefits to employees, SB 5263 – reducing hiring restrictions and training of bus drivers.
Requiring school districts to purchase new (big) busses with shoulder and lap seat belts and installing stop paddle video cameras on all busses was an issue I was most interested in this week (read an earlier blog). In the hearing there wasn’t much opposition (PSE signed in with concerns). The high costs of the bill is likely to slow down HB 1057 in future debates.
Another major issue I was closely tracking (read a previous entry) was changing state law to recognize the recent US Supreme Court Janus decision. HB 1575 received positive support from unions and not surprisingly hostile opposition by the Freedom Foundation.
Next Week’s Hearings
There are numerous hearings next week that bring up a variety of issues that we like and don’t like (I think democrats are giving courtesy hearings to republican bills that bring up issues important to them but hostile to us). On the “like” side are the rights of workers bills HB 1575/SB 5623, ensuring employer neutrality while employees exercising their rights (SB 5169), bilingual teacher and paraeducator bonus (HB 1468), updating paraeducator training requirements (HB 1658), requiring subcontractors provide their employees same insurance benefits as are provided by SEBB (HB 1813), paraeducator conditional scholarship improvements (SB 5413), sign language interpreter supports (HB 1623), and, simple majority passage of bonds (HJR 4203).
Once a week, legislative leaders from each party meet with reporters to present their perspective of the current issues facing the legislature as well as the progress of those issues during the give and take with reporters. Jim Camden, reporter from the Spokane Spokesman Review, asked the Democratic leaders at the press conference how the legislature will help school districts pay for the locally funded school employees that will receive insurance benefits because of SEBB.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, and Senate Floor Leader Marko Liias, provided a spirited explanation of the great policy behind SEBB as well as a solution for school districts (raise local levy capacity).
They did such a great job answering the question (both defending SEBB and explaining how it would be funded), I’ve included the four minute give and take at the press conference:
Since the Supreme Courts June 2018 “Janus decision”, public employee unions acrossed the State have adapted their procedures to implement the new federal law. Now we need to change our State laws to conform to the new requirements. In addition to taking out the requirement for all employees to pay their “fair share” of union costs to represent their members, the changes in HB 1575 and SB 5623 also describe:
….the union is responsible for keeping track of union membership records (not the employer). Employers no longer are the custodian of records of union membership though they will have to accept the union’s word which employees to deduct dues from their paycheck.
….local dues are collected in the same fashion as State dues.
….verbal and electronic dues authorization for union membership are acceptable proof of member approval of dues deduction.
….members who choose to revoke union membership must send their request to the union (not the employer).
….card check elections shall be approved by simple majority rather than the current super-majority of 70%.
Prospects for bill passage are good but I expect some elements to change during the session.
Yesterday, the House Education Committee heard HB 1507, sponsored by Representative Mosbrucker (14th LD, Yakima area). Though there are some things we like, e.g., video cameras on all busses to catch stop paddle violators, the seat belt requirement for all new busses purchased after 2020 concerns PSE. We know that there are seat belts on small busses however putting them on large busses leads to questions about bus driver responsibility and student responsibility. Though there are some states already using seat belts on large busses, and have been doing so for several years, PSE believes they should be introduced on a smaller experimental scale before we make it a state wide policy.
Underlying all of these measures is the requirement to come up with the significant cost to implement cameras and seat belts on all busses. In the past, the legislature has found it difficult to fund either one of these state mandates. I expect this legislature to be no different.
Though there were many bills considered this week, it was the safety work session in the House that was must see TVW (take a look at my previous blog entry).
All of us have heard about the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. At this week’s House Education Committee they heard from a mother from the Sandy Hook incident describe not only what happened (her 6 year old daughter, Emily, was one of 20 kindergartner and first graders killed), but also share with the committee some lessons learned. After she finished her one hour presentation, a fast talking professor from University of Washington, described two things school districts should improve: their “threat assessment” abilities, and, make a more positive school environment so that students feel more willing to report to adults the threats they are likely to hear.
If you have time, it is worth your time to watch the two hour hearing to give you an idea what you can do at your school or university to spark some change. Here is the link to the two hour hearing:
The next day, the Senate Education Committee took testimony on five school safety bills:
Another great article from the Seattle Times, this time from Sue Birch, the executive director of the Health Care Authority (HCA) – the agency responsible for implementing SEBB. Making it even more meaningful for PSE members, Patty Estes, the PSE representative on the SEB Board, is the focus of the article.
Thanks Sue and Patty!