Opinion

Breaking through the Legislature"s gridlock

By Judy Clibborn

Island Forum

After a delayed start to the 2005 Legislative Session, we were able to buckle down and break through the gridlock of years' past in order to pass some nation-leading reforms and new funding for health care, education and job creation.

We passed the best school-construction budget in history and fully-funded the voter-approved initiatives to lower class size and retain good teachers.

Our construction industry is at work all over the state with public works, transportation and other projects. Grants to cities, towns and other government entities for projects will create local jobs and promote community growth

We continued our drive to make government more accountable to the people by passing audit bills and landmark legislation to improve our elections system.

We also met the challenge of a $1.6 billion operating budget shortfall, passing a plan that focuses on what matters most to the people of Washington -- our children and families and their health, education, and safety.

And we did it without a general tax increase. Cuts were made and new efficiencies implemented in order to save taxpayer dollars wherever possible.

I'd like to share with you some more accomplishments from the '05 session.

To deal with the crisis in our health care system and help bring down the cost of coverage and increase access, we passed several pieces of legislation including:

? Restoring $80 million of $82 million in lost federal mental health funding used to serve people not eligible for Medicaid and to provide services not covered by Medicaid. Without care these people often end up in jail or on the streets.

? Creating a Joint Select Committee on Public Health Financing to review and recommend funding sources for public health services.

? Requiring mental health coverage as part of health insurance plans, just as we cover any other illness.

? Allowing small businesses, uninsured and underinsured the ability to join the state drug buying consortium.

Thanks to a bill I prime-sponsored, we set in motion a plan to provide health care coverage to all children in Washington by the year 2010, while maintaining 100,000 enrollments in the Basic Health Plan and expanding health insurance to cover mental health.

While we made great strides toward fixing our transportation system, there is an effort underway to overturn the gas tax increase passed this session -- a 0.3-cent increase this year, followed by a 0.3-cent increase the next two years. The Legislature has designated this money for repairing and replacing structures that are in danger of collapsing and endangering lives. We need a transportation system that is safe, efficient and convenient. I look at the $8.5 billion investment in our infrastructure as essential for keeping our roads safe and our economy running smoothly.

I am also proud of the contribution I was able to make to our state's business climate with the passage of HB 1625. Fewer and fewer employers these days are willing to give employee references for fear of opening themselves up to a potential lawsuit. This makes it difficult for employees to receive an adequate reference, and for employers to make good hiring decisions.

My bill would provide some protection to employers, allowing them to release information about their workers, both positive and negative, without fear of retribution. This bill in no way gives employers the right to give bad or misleading information about employees.

People often assume that the environment and growth cannot co-exist, but that is simply not the case. For example in this year's capital budget we passed the ``green buildings'' bill which made Washington the first state in the U.S. to require smart energy standards for all of its new schools and public buildings. Energy-efficient buildings save tax-dollars by lowering utility bills and promote better health for our children.

The Legislature addressed the growing concern surrounding Hood Canal. With growing ``dead zones'' that are void of aquatic life, the canal is increasingly becoming a problem.

With more than half of the greenhouse gases produced in our state coming from vehicles, it is time to demand higher standards from our car manufacturers. The Legislature joined eight other states in adopting stricter car emission standards.

Finally, I was proud to pass a bill that helps local communities join together for preserving parks and open spaces in our communities. Washington is a beautiful place and we must work hard to preserve it for out children and grandchildren.

I am very proud to be working for you in Olympia. It was a very productive and balanced session for Washington state and our communities.

Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, is a state representative in the Legislature.

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