Legislators talk transportation, schools at Town Hall

March 4, 2014

By Peter Clark

As the regular legislative session draws closer to an end, 5th District policy makers gave an update to residents Feb. 22.

Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet and Republican Reps. Chad Magendanz and Jay Rodne welcomed the public to a Town Hall at the Issaquah Highlands Fire Station 73. There, they answered questions about bills hearing discussion in this session, bills that may come in the future and the general state of the Legislature.

Moderator William Shaw gathered questions from the audience and led the discussion, beginning with a possible transportation package.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this session,” Mullet said of a large agreement to fund major transportation projects around the state.

Disputes over the package led to three special sessions last year, without the Legislature ever reaching an agreement.

“It has been really difficult getting people on the east side of the state to support raising the gas tax,” Mullet continued, referring to a proposed gasoline hike of up to 10 cents to fund the package. “They don’t have the same sense of urgency because they don’t experience the same traffic problems.”

The Democratic-controlled House has had a hard time selling a potential gas tax to the Republican-controlled Senate, which has asked for any package to include large reforms. Rodne expressed as much in the Town Hall.

“I think I’ve been consistent in my message,” he said, pointing out overages and failures in the state Department of Transportation’s use of funds. “Before I ask my constituents to participate in a $12 billion tax increase, we need to have reforms. God bless her heart, but Big Bertha’s still stuck somewhere under Seattle.”

Bertha is the name given to the tunnel-digging machine that has not moved since Dec. 7.

Another large topic was education. Magendanz was recently appointed to the governor’s work group for education funding and he explained his role within that organization.

“Our task has been to find how we’re going to find stable funding for our kids,” he said, mentioning 2012’s McCleary decision in which the state Supreme Court took Washington to task for poorly funding its education. “We basically received a court order saying, ‘Listen, you are falling down on the job.’ The process of prioritization has not been well-adhered to in state legislation.”

That discussion led to the topic of Senate Bill 5246, which regarded tying teacher evaluations to student grades. It concerns a small bit of language, but would mean the state losing its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, and school performance would again be subject to federal oversight. The bill failed in the Senate, but it may come back for another vote.

“They were looking for a one-word change,” Magendanz said of the bill’s language. “It seems like a very reasonable thing to pass. Blame the teachers’ unions. They were flexing their muscles.”

Mullet said he wanted to keep the state’s waiver and he believed the bill could find the votes.

“According to No Child Left Behind, all our schools are failing,” Mullet said. “I think all of us in Issaquah know that isn’t true. There were seven Republicans who voted no. I’m confident I’m going to find seven other Democrats who are going to support that, but we’ll see.”

Legislators have introduced marijuana bills of all kinds, but at the Town Hall, the policy makers talked mostly about changing the medical marijuana program. While Magendanz said he did not agree, Mullet and Rodne approved of extending medical marijuana restrictions.

“I voted for the bill that proposed tighter regulations for the regime,” Rodne said. “I do not agree with legalization. I think were going to have really negative societal impacts, but medical marijuana needed some tightening up.”

The legislators also gave opinions about the right-to-work topic, which has made some waves in and out of Olympia. It would bar compulsory joining of a union upon employment.

“I think that workers should have the choice,” Magendanz said.

Rodne agreed.

“I think individuals should have the ability to not be a part of a union as a condition of employment,” he said.

The regular legislative session ends March 13.

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