Washington state Legislature finishes 2008 session

It's a wrap.

After the close of their 60-day session March 13 state legislators are heading home.

With a recession pending and elections around the corner, the House and Senate were low-key. Peninsula representatives said while the overall legislative concentration was on transportation and budget issues, they were able to bring some dollars and policy back home.

Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, was a lead on the 2008 supplemental budget's creation. She said the budget is family-friendly, spending the state funds on children and education, while keeping some dollars in reserve.

"This is a good supplemental budget, allowing for $1.2 billion to be added into education for early learning and all-day kindergarten and allows for more funding to go toward mental health issues, which keep getting more and more expensive as federal funding for treatment is cut back," Kessler said. "Plus, we saved about $835 million in reserves, which is $100 million more than last year and is the second highest level of reserve in the last 22 years."

Included in the budget is funding for 52 projects, including $10 million earmarked for the Port Angeles sewer expansion project.

Kessler said she has heard calls for less spending in the shadow of a possible recession, adding that she feels more than comfortable with the budget.

"Although recession may be at the doorstep of the nation, Washington state is doing very well and hasn't been affected the same way as the rest of the nation," Kessler said. "The national recession can affect us if it lasts for many years or if it comes at all, which is why we have maintained a high level of reserves. The state will be able to hold its own for years; we are the most efficient government in the nation and we were recently named by Forbes as fifth-best place in the nation to run a large or small business."

Kessler represents District 24 with Kevin Van De Wege,

D-Sequim, in the state Legislature. District 24 includes Clallam, Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties.

The Washington Legislature meets every January. Sessions vary in length, from 60 days in even years and 120 days in odd years. Budgets are created on a two-year spending cycle during odd years and can be supplemented with additional items in even years.

Van De Wege said he saw a lot of activity in his first short session.

"I was particularly proud to see the Neah Bay tug get summer funding, the climate change bill get approved, the Port Townsend ferries get funded and the passage of several more bills dedicated to my district," Van De Wege said.

The climate change package will require the state to cut greenhouse gases.

Van De Wege amended a bill to allow small timberland owners to harvest downed trees immediately, without being moved into the large harvester tax rates.

Kessler sponsored a bill allowing victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to take leave from employment to seek counseling and make court appearances.

"Half of these victims are losing their jobs by coming to court to get protection from the person who assaulted them, which is double victimizing the person," Kessler said. "What happens then? People will not testify and will not be protected if they don't show up for fear of losing their job."

Two bills the legislators were unable to pass but expect to see next year would provide tax incentives for biomass-based energy production and tape recordings of government executive sessions.

"Both of these issues are important to the state as well as our district on the peninsula," Kessler said. "You haven't seen the last of them."

Sen. James Hargrove,

D-Hoquiam, is the only senator in the Legislature from District 24. He continued his pursuit to represent agencies that serve behavioral health on the local level, fine-tuning previous legislation that set up county-based funding for mental health programs and creating new bills to expand treatment in other arenas.

Senate Bill 5959, sponsored by Hargrove, sets up an opportunity for transitional housing construction to assist homeless individuals and families. Other Hargrove bills created a sex offender policy board, set up alternatives in behavioral health networks and created a standard for identity theft reports.

"For people to get themselves out of the (identity theft) problem, it's probably going to take months and it's probably going to take a lot of time and effort," Hargrove said. "At least we can make the first step easy by allowing people to go to their local police to file that report instead of having to spend several months trying to figure out who's going to accept the case so that you can get started on it."

The bill requires law enforcement agencies in either the victim's hometown or in the location of the identity theft to take a full report from the victim.

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