Even though we’re not in session in Olympia, I remain hard at work on a number of pressing issues, chief among them my ongoing efforts to eliminate human trafficking. I also continue to meet with constituents and with Senate staff and stakeholders to plan legislation for the 2013 legislative session.
One of the things I most enjoy is speaking at community events. For instance, on Sept. 22 I spoke at a wonderful event for Mainstay in support of employment for individuals with disabilities, and in August I spoke on medical marijuana issues at HempFest. Last week, I spoke Tuesday at a Washington State Bar Association CLE on Title IX and then again on Saturday at an American Bar Association Summit on Human Trafficking. I’m also enjoying speaking on human trafficking as a new Humanities Washington speaker, such as I did on Oct. 4 at Bayview Manor.
In addition, I have been attending legislative meetings in Olympia, for example, the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee, the Joint Legislative Systems Committee (for which I serve as chair), and the Washington Institute for Public Policy Board, plus work sessions for the committee I chair—the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee.
I’m very honored to have recently received some awards and recognitions, such as The Wine Integrity Award from Family Wineries of Washington State, Legislative Champion from the Washington Housing Alliance, Legislative Champion from the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, and Legislative Champion from the Mockingbird Society.
Now, for some information about issues important to our district and our state. Below are some updates:
· Latest forecast shows slight improvement in state revenues
· Sale of Seattle Weekly and other newspapers reduces reach of backpage.com that sells Internet ads depicting minors for sale for sex
· Prospects for a new basketball arena continue to look promising
· Seattle continues to receive federal funds to help unemployed workers find jobs
· Army Corps of Engineer publishes ‘notice of intent’ to expand rail spur
Latest forecast shows slight improvement in state revenues
The September state revenue forecast was mildly positive, showing a net improvement since June of $29 million for the current biennium that ends June 30, 2013 and $23 million projected for the 2013-15 biennium. As chief forecaster Steve Lerch said, this represents "essentially no change" in the context of a forecast dealing with a $30.5 billion budget. Still, even a net improvement to the next biennium of just $23 million is good news compared to the daunting forecasts that had long characterized the worst months of the Great Recession.
While the economy continues to recover at a slow rate, revenue collections still have not returned to pre-recession levels. But on the positive side of things, the housing market is starting to shift from the downside category to something stronger and more positive.
All in all, these modest improvements are encouraging but we are far from being out of the woods, particularly given the challenge we face in fully funding education across our state — an issue that will dominate much of the 2013 legislative session.
Sale of Seattle Weekly and other newspapers reduces reach of Backpage.com
I can report modest progress in recent weeks in the fight to eliminate human trafficking, at least with regard to readers of Seattle Weekly. As you may know, I sponsored successful legislation during the 2012 legislative session, Senate Bill 6251, creating a new crime of advertising commercial sexual abuse of minors, only to see its provisions blocked by a court suit filed by backpage.com, a national forum for ads for “escorts,” “body rubs” and other veiled references to prostitution. Backpage.com, which makes over $21 million a year from its online adult escort services ads, refuses to verify the ages of individuals depicted in the ads, which unfortunately has resulted in ads trafficking children and teens.
Well, last month Seattle Weekly and other publications owned by Village Voice were bought out by a group of new owners who have severed the publications’ ties to backpage.com. This is good news in that it breaks a link through which Seattle Weekly readers were presented easy access to women who are sold for sex. But it’s bad news in that backpage.com continues to exist and make those services available, as those services often involve minors and, generally, woman who have often been forced into sexual slavery by pimps who exploit vulnerable women and men at young and naïve ages. In any case, I remain fiercely determined to continue my efforts to eradicate this reprehensible activity.
You can hear additional details in this video clip from the press conference in which I participated with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. I was also pleased to see the Seattle Times call for further action, noting that separating backpage.com from the Seattle Weekly does not address the larger problem of selling young girls over the Internet.
Prospects for a new basketball arena continue to look promising
Another key piece to bringing a pro basketball team back to Seattle fell into place recently when the Seattle City Council agreed to a tentative agreement with developer Chris Hansen to build a $490 million arena in Sodo. The new arena would support both basketball and hockey and would be a boon to the area, as I noted in this recent public statement.
I believe the agreement reasonably addresses opponents’ concerns by promising a full environmental review, including evaluation of alternative sites, and a $40 million transportation fund to address freight mobility in the Sodo area, another key area of concern. The review is expected to take a year, which should give all concerned ample time to air any concerns and reach a reasonable decision. Also included is some mitigation for KeyArena. However, I would like to see an increase in the amount and am working with others to get this done when the King County Council votes on the proposal soon.
You can read this op-ed by Sen. David Frockt, Rep. Eric Pettigrew and me for a fuller explanation of our rationale for supporting the arena proposal. Beyond that, you can read more about the agreement here.
Seattle continues to receive federal funds to help unemployed workers find jobs
In other good news, the Seattle-King County workforce development area received nearly $12.3 million from the state Employment Security Department to help workers upgrade their skills and find work through the new fiscal year.
These funds come from the federal Department of Labor through the Workforce Investment Act. The funds provide counseling, skill assessments, job-search assistance and training to laid-off workers, low-income adults, and low-income or disadvantaged young people. The services are available through WorkSource offices in King County.
You can read more about the services here.
Army Corps of Engineer publishes ‘notice of intent’ to expand rail spur
If you’re concerned about increased rail transportation of coal and other bulk commodities through our region, you can make your feelings known during a public comment scoping period that began last month and runs through Jan. 31, 2012. Your comments could influence the environmental impact statement for the rail projects, as overseen by the state Department of Ecology, the Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County officials.
The proposed projects would expand the Gateway Pacific Terminal and the Burlington Northern Custer Spur. As we all know, this activity poses serious concerns for all who live in the region; if you are among the concerned, this is your chance to make your voice heard.
You can provide your scoping comments at a hearing near you, attend a hearing online, or send your comments directly to staff. For more guidance on how to participate in the scoping process, click here.
The hearing for Seattle is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the North Seattle Community College Wellness Center Gym at 9600 College Way N.
That's it for this e-news update. Thanks for staying engaged in our government and the political process. I'm still in district full-time and available to meet with individual constituents, students and representatives of community organizations to discuss important issues to our community and state. Please give my Legislative Assistant, Adam Cooper, or me a call or send an email to set up a time. Adam’s email address is email@example.com.
With warm regards,
Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles
Chair - Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee
36th Legislative District
Washington State Senate
(360) 786-7670 (206) 281-6854