On March 14, lawmakers in Olympia gaveled “sine die” to end the regular 2014 legislative session on time. Here are some important take-aways compiled by the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA) from the short session:
• Lawmakers pass Supplemental Budget: The budget adds $155 million to the two-year state operating budget. Legislators were unable to come to an agreement on a capital budget or transportation package.
• Small steps for K-12 education: Despite a state Supreme Court message that lawmakers were not moving fast enough to adequately fund public education, legislators added only $58 million for schools. This was far short of the $200 million Gov. Jay Inslee urged lawmakers to invest through the closure of tax loopholes. It is estimated that between $4 billion and $6 billion more is needed to comply with the court decision by 2018. How the new funding will be invested is crucial in closing the educational opportunity gaps.
• More access to higher education: A big win this session was the signing of the Washington State DREAM Act into law. In addition, more low- and middle-income students will be able to earn a college degree in a high-demand field with the addition of $25 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program. About half the students who applied last year were students of color.
• Better health outcomes: The budget adds $20 million for community mental health, including funding for home and community-based services for youth. The Legislature passed SB 6312, which will better integrate primary care, mental health, and chemical dependency services. In addition, the Department of Health will receive $1.5 million for tobacco, marijuana, and e-cigarette prevention activities for youth and at-risk populations. Data from the 2012 Healthy Youth Survey shows more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders and 10 percent of Asian Americans in 10th grade reported using marijuana.
The next regular session of the Washington State Legislature is scheduled to begin in January 2015. Lawmakers will have 105 days to pass laws and write a new two-year state budget for 2015-17.