Dollars for kids, schools, environment: Legislature sends ‘rainy day fund’ to voters

Education, health, and environmental issues topped the state’s agenda in the Democrat-dominated 2007 legislature.

Now that the doors of the Capitol are closed, new laws and policies will increase college admissions and cap tuition increases at state universities while delaying some high school graduation requirements of the math and science sections of the WASL test until the class of 2013. Island lawmakers played key roles throughout the session.

At the UW Tacoma campus, enrollment will increase by 240 students each of the next two school years, totaling 2,349 students by the 2008-09 school year. For future and current university students, increases in full-time resident undergraduate tuition at UW and WSU may not exceed 7 percent more than the previous academic year’s cost. Other four-year colleges could see 5 percent increases and two-year community and technical colleges could go up by 2 percent.

Teachers and state employees will also be getting raises and possibly some bonuses as well. Most public school and community college workers will receive 3.7 percent raises this fall and 2.8 percent raises in the 2008-09 school year. Teachers may also earn a $5,000 annual bonus for 10 years if they achieve national certification. The bonus will increase with inflation as well. Board-certified teachers who choose schools with high numbers of students from low-income families will earn an additional $5,000 bonus.

Schools that teach sex education are now required to use medically accurate materials, including information about the various types of birth control. Parents will still have the option to exempt their children from such classes. Another law will require public schools to inform parents of sixth-grade girls about the human papilloma virus, its link to cervical cancer, and the availability of its vaccine.

A measure that will help school levies pass will also be on the ballot this November.

Currently, school levies need at least 60 percent of the vote to pass with at least 40 percent of registered voters casting their ballot.

The legislature set a limit on the emission of greenhouse gases at today’s levels along with a timetable for further reductions by 2050. Another law will provided the funds to start the long-term effort to clean the Puget Sound and an incentive to conserve forest lands is designed to create a regional marketplace for transferring development rights.

To help fund transportation improvements, the legislature approved a new law that enables local governments to enact a $20 car tab fee to pay for local road projects. Mercer Island, along with other state municipalities, lost a considerable amount of its revenues with the passage of Initiative 695 in 2000. In the past, the city brought in $1.1 million a year, or 9 percent of the its general revenues, from the excise tax on car tabs that I-695 abolished, according to city figures from 2006. All three Island lawmakers voted for this law. Island representatives, Judy Clibborn and Fred Jarrett, were also primary sponsors of the House bill, HB 1858.

In response to the wind storm last December, a bill approved in the House that would provide incentives for gas stations to built hook-ups for emergency generators did not get a vote in the Senate.

Just as Mercer Island often sends its criminal offenders to the Yakima, King County or Issaquah jails, other cities and counties along the state’s borders are now permitted to contract with the authorities of adjacent cities or counties in Washington’s neighboring states.

A new law allows auto theft victims to recover the costs of repairing damages to the car or its contents. It also allows the victims to collect up to $5,000 in addition to attorneys fees. A judge may suspend the offender’s driver’s license until such payments are made.

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