OLYMPIA - As the legislature passes a key committee cutoff deadline, freshman Sen. David Frockt is working on a number of measures to address problems in health care, child care, housing, financial aid, and local transportation.
In the past week, bills to assist low-income families in need of basic dental care, struggling home owners attempting to complete the sale of their homes, low income tenants seeking housing, low income families needing help with child care, and students needing financial aid counseling have all cleared their respective committees and moved to the Senate Rules Committee. These measures include:
Senate Bill 6126 – a bill to create a mid-level dental practitioner in Washington State. Modeled after successful examples in Alaska, Minnesota and internationally, the goal of the bill is to allow for more affordable dental care for low-income residents and to provide easier access to dental care in underserved communities. Frockt is working closely with groups representing both dentists and health advocates to develop a safe and smart solution to this vexing problem. The Washington State Hospital Association has come out in favor of the bill noting that in 2008-2009, 53 hospitals reported nearly 54,000 dental related visits to emergency rooms costing at least $35 million.
Senate Bill 6315 – a bill setting standards for tenant screening, requiring landlords to disclose information about the screening process to prospective tenants. This bill flows out of a stakeholder process that Frockt began working on last summer. This effort marks the first significant point of agreement between landlords and tenant advocates, both of whom testified in support of the current measure. The bill would require better disclosure and would also direct a continued process to address outstanding issues surrounding portability, cost and content of screening reports. It does not solve the entire problem, but it advances the ball down the field.
Senate Bill 6337 – a bill to assist upside down home owners at risk of foreclosure by giving them more financial certainty if they choose to undertake a short sale. The new protection, similar to those recently passed in California and Oregon, would prohibit a lender from seeking a deficiency judgment if that lender has already received a tax benefit by writing off the same mortgage. The idea is to help the overall health of the real estate market by encouraging sales and clearing out excess inventory. Frockt and his House counterpart, Representative Kenney, are continuing to work with key stakeholders on the bill.
Senate Bill 6121 – a bill which would require colleges and universities provide a counseling curriculum of “best practices” to better prepare students for the requirements and responsibilities of agreeing to a financial aid package. There is a national student debt crisis. Student debt loads in Washington are rising due to the chronic underfunding of higher education in this state and the cost shift to parents and students. Overall, higher education funding needs to be addressed, but in the interim this legislation would provide better, and greatly needed, counseling to assist with financial literacy as students take on greater debt loads.
Senate Bill 6215 – a bill establishing an optional Transportation Benefit District (TBD) rebate program for low-income individuals. This purely local option would allow more flexibility under existing TBD authority for needed transportation investments by making some measures less regressive, thereby enhancing the prospect of public support.
Senate Bill 6226 – a bill establishing a 12 month authorization for the state’s Working Connections childcare program. Low income families need certainty to know that they will have steady and dependable childcare in order to allow them to find steady work. A recent WSU study showed such benefits in moving from a 6 month to 12 month authorization. The federal Office of Child Care has also recommended that states adopt a 12-month authorization period for subsidized child care because it provides greater continuity for all involved, especially the children. This is good, smart policy that has the potential to generate administrative savings.
A bill sponsored by Frockt that did not make it past the cut-off date, SB 6447, would have partially funded the State Work Study program, currently slated for elimination, with a $10 business license surcharge. Members of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee heard compelling testimony as students and administrators from institutions of higher education spoke in strong support of finding a way to fund State Work Study. From 2010-2011, 7,500 students, 2,000 employers, and 55 institutions participated in the Work Study Program Statewide.
“We can’t cut state support, allow for increased tuition, and then cut a key financial aid investment. State Work Study dollars leverage private sector income for students. It is one of the ultimate public private partnerships,” Frockt said. “Whether it is this bill or another solution, I think it was critical to put this cut squarely before the Senate and to provide an alternative to eliminating yet another investment in higher education. I am hopeful we will find a solution as the budget process moves forward.”
“Obviously the signature event of my first few weeks in the Senate was the passage of marriage equality. I was proud to be asked by Senator Murray to play a role on the floor by speaking to and defeating complicated amendments that would have undermined the bill. I will not forget the historic nature of my first major Senate vote as I looked to the gallery and saw couples crying with joy at the prospect of their long term loving relationships gaining acceptance and recognition in their state.”
For more information: Ian Cope, Senate Democratic Communications, 360-786-7535
For interviews: Sen. David Frockt, 360-786-7690