The short 60-day legislative session that concluded last week in Olympia was remarkable for a number of reasons. For one thing, we adjourned on time. As our state grows more complex and our population continues to increase - with corresponding demands for a range of government services - it becomes more and more challenging to neatly wrap up a full year's worth of the people's business in two months, or even in the 105 days allotted for odd-numbered years.
While progress was made in several areas, my general impression is that this was a session lacking in significant legislation. As I've said many times, much of my focus as a lawmaker is on what I have code-named The Three E's: education, the economy, and the environment. And while good things happened on all of those fronts, I regret that we were not able to do more.
I'd like to have seen a majority of legislators in both chambers step up and make a very significant move toward meeting our Supreme Court-mandated obligation to fully fund basic education by 2018.
I'd like to have seen our school teachers receive the cost-of-living allowance they've been denied for six years.
This Legislature should have come to an agreement on a long-term transportation package, rather than putting it off for another year.
However, our district can rejoice in the fact that Washington will be building a new 144-car ferry, the third to be authorized in recent years. As dependent as we are on tourism, on mobility, and on the maritime industry, this is a big win. I congratulate my seatmate, Rep. Jeff Morris, for crafting this bill.
I'm happy that our budget, while falling short on the McCleary requirement, did invest nearly $60 million for educational technology, books, and supplies.
And while this was not a banner year for environmental protection, we were able to help our cash-strapped state parks, and to innovate new ways to keep our waterways clear of dangerous, polluting and unsightly abandoned derelict vessels.
As for the future, I remain committed to continuous improvement in our schools, and to helping teachers, staff, and administrators who have devoted their life's work to making a high-school diploma in Washington State mean something special.
Certainly, this isn't something that the Legislature can accomplish on its own. Parents and families, communities, businesses and educators all are necessary partners, and they all will benefit if our schools help our young people leave school fully prepared for the next step in life. That might be a four-year university, a community or technical college, an entry-level job, or military service. We owe it to our kids, and to ourselves, to give them every chance to be career-ready.
Washington is in a competition, not just with other states but with other nations, and it's a competition that will be won by education. We all understand that a strong school system will provide employers with a work force which will allow our businesses to thrive, our economy to grow, and our students to have the career opportunities we dream of providing them.
Throughout the legislative interim I'll be meeting with educators, families, employers, and other elected officials, working on proposals to put on the table when lawmakers convene in 2015 for a new session. It's going to be a longer session, our economy is continuing its rebound from the depths of the Great Recession, and the decisions we make, especially about education, will be influential for years to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
State Rep. Kristine Lytton, D., represents Washington's 40th legislative district, which comprises all of San Juan County and significant portions of Whatcom and Skagit counties, including Mount Vernon, Burlington, Anacortes and much of Bellingham. She is a member of the House Education Committee and the budget-writing House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. She is assistant Majority Floor Leader of the state House of Representatives.