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Legislators look ahead to 2006 session

The legislative session for 2006 starts Jan. 10, and legislators for the Valley are already looking ahead to see what issues will be important.

"Because it is a short session, all the work is being done now," said Rep. Jay Rodne, (R-Snoqualmie). "If people enter the session without having their goals and priorities in place, it's too late."

Rodne, Sen. Cheryl Pflug (R-Hobart), and Rep. Glenn Anderson, (R-Fall City) each have their own priorities for the session, but all three agree that education is going to be a hot topic.

This year's sophomores will be the first class required to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) in order to graduate.

The current statewide average is that 50 percent of students are passing, and Anderson said the Legislature is "going to have to come up with a package of proposals on remediation; on how to make sure that we provide the curriculum and instruction and resources to get the maximum number of kids over the hurdle in the next two years."

Pflug agreed that remediation is key.

"I'm encouraging first that we at least have some funding targeted at a menu of programs so that districts can have flexibility to use something that fits inside their program," she said. "The important point is that every school needs to have a plan."

Pflug said remediation programs would not be an alternative to focusing on earlier grades and getting students to a level of competency before it becomes a crisis, but "the class of 2008 is our first class and for them we need to make sure we have a plan in place."

Rodne said any attempt to water down the WASL is not the right approach, and that there may be a need for alternative testing methods since not everyone performs well on a standardized test. As far as remediation, he said one-on-one tutoring is a good approach and that additional teacher training may be needed. One of the most important things, he said, is more parental involvement.

Pflug said the latest revenue forecast is considerably over what was expected, so the Legislature will have a little money to fund remediation programs.

Pflug's other priorities

The senator said there is going to be pressure from many legislators on the transportation budget, in "making sure we're really going to get something for this new gas tax money.

"A lot of us were pretty unhappy with the plan, so we'll be looking for accountability," she said. "We want to see that the transit money actually results in better transit service and reducing congestion."

Another big issue Pflug is focused on is being prepared for a public health crisis.

"I hosted an international forum in July on this issue and it's one of great concern," she said.

The Seattle area has done some preparedness around bioterrorism, she said, and King County is far ahead of the rest of the state for disease surveillance. The equipment the county has would "enable us to pick up a bunch of cases of a specific illness and recognize what we had."

Pflug said there has been some preparation for an outbreak like SARS, but something like the avian flu would be different.

"Specifically, what's different is that it's a virus and it would transmit a couple of weeks before people had symptoms," she said. "That's a disaster because you can't quarantine people. By the time they have symptoms, they've already passed it on."

Pflug said the only way to stop the spread of something like that is just to ask everyone who can stay home to do so.

"What we're finding is that there's a huge need for the private sector and industry to think about how they would run their core function with a skeleton crew," she said. "There are questions like, 'Can the power company keep the lights on?' We will be taking a look at how well-prepared government services are and what we can do to help the critical services that are provided by the private sector."

Pflug also has concerns about providing for the older generation as more and more of the population is getting older and living longer.

"Pensions are a tremendous priority," she said.

Pflug will also be focusing on an energy initiative and a bill she is sponsoring that will give a tax credit to businesses that hire high-school juniors and seniors and community-college students as apprentices.

Anderson's focus

In addition to the WASL, Anderson said teacher quality is a huge issue in the topic of education, and he said several questions need to be addressed:

"What makes for a highly qualified teacher? What are reasonable expectations about what is fair and challenging to ensure that teachers are at the standard we need to achieve at levels we want to see?"

He also has concerns about the state's budget.

"Last legislative session, the Democratic majority removed the tax and spending limitations on Initiative 601, which had been a real checks and balances system," he said. "There's going to be a strong effort to see that those are reinstated in some manner. We need to make sure that spending limits are anchored to something."

Anderson said Initiative 912 brought up concerns about the abuse of the emergency clause provision in state government.

"Legislation will be put forward to require a 60-percent supermajority to attach that clause to any piece of legislation," he said. "If an emergency is an emergency, getting 60 percent will be no problem."

Anderson said there are still lingering concerns about election reform and that there needs to be a solid system for identification so that "it's ironclad; this is who you are and this is what you need to exercise your right."

He also has concerns about emergency management and how prepared the state's emergency systems are. He said there is a proposal to upgrade emergency communication programs statewide, which may require a dedicated property tax surcharge since the source of funding for that is unclear right now.

On transportation, Anderson echoed Pflug's sentiment that there is a window of judgment for the Legislature and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to "really prove that they can live up and move beyond the public's cynicism."

Rodne on the session

Rodne said that while transportation will be a back-burner issue during the session, it is now time to see if the DOT can deliver.

"A key part of that is obviously going to be accountability," he said.

He said it's important to note that the success of the state's transportation package is dependent on voters approving regional packages.

A big issue for Rodne is how to deal with sex offenders. The issue has come up in Fall City, Issaquah and now in Maple Valley. He said there needs to be something at a state level to address the overall approach. That would include a standard buffer zone, as well as stricter monitoring and supervision for proven sex offenders.

Rodne said his overall agenda is "excellence in schools, maintaining a healthy environment and also promoting a healthy economy that will pay for the other two."

He said he is trying to make Washington more business friendly in terms of regulations. Businesses are heavily regulated in the state, and he said that causes many businesses to leave or opt not to come here at all.

Health care will also be an important topic in the upcoming session, as well as many sessions to come.

"Everyone is in agreement that something needs to be done with respect to making health care more affordable and accessible to everyone," he said. "There is especially the issue of long-term health care and how we're going to pay for it."

Rodne is also working on a lot of court funding issues. He said he's trying to make the courts more responsive and more accessible to people across the state.

To contact Pflug, e-mail pflug_ch@leg.wa.gov or call (360) 786-7608.

To contact Anderson, e-mail anderson_gl@wa.gov or call (360) 786-7876.

To contact Rodne, e-mail rodne_ja@leg.wa.gov or call (360) 786-7852.

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