High-Quality Early Learning Rocks

Low quality childcare is actually bad for children. Not “less good.” On the other hand, high quality opportunities can improve school readiness in low-income children by two years and make significant improvements in all kinds of non-academic indicators like incarceration rates, family income, etc.

There is a ton of research in this area, and it all points to the conclusion that only high quality programs move the school readiness needle in the right direction. A good, readable summary of the research can be found here.

Early Learning 1-7 inforgraphicWhy does our state fund childcare for about 60,000 low-income children every year? Almost 20 years ago President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich struck a deal on welfare reform. They required single parents (mostly moms) to hold down jobs, and in return the government committed to subsidize childcare for those families. This prevented a disastrous scenario for low-income kids. Today the state provides vouchers for very low-income parents to get childcare so that they can go to work. However, this system is wildly inadequate – in the quality of care it affords and the quantity of families it covers.

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Advice from Fourth Graders – Week 2

Advice Card 2Week 2 of excellent advice from fourth graders in Linda Myrick’s class at Somerset Elementary in Bellevue. Again, I’ve fuzzed out the name of the student so I don’t violate federal privacy rules. (This is too bad, as it’s truly excellent advice and they should get credit, but…)

This particular concept is a good one – organizing your thoughts prior to speaking, either in public or in small group conversations shows respect for your audience and doesn’t subject them to random wandering. I often try to do this in writing on a 3×5 card or some other small piece of paper.

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Ringing the Gong for Homeless Kids

aThe Committee to End Homelessness rents a gong every year and has people volunteer for stints ringing it once for every unhoused person found in King County during the annual count on January 23rd. I stopped by for a few minutes and was able to take a few whacks.

As you can see from the sign held up in the background there were 3,772 “unsheltered” people in King County in the one-night count done earlier in the month. This is a subset of the “homeless,” as many of the larger group can find a shelter spot on any particular night. Unemployment in Bellevue has recently dropped into the “full-employment” range, but the count found 134 unsheltered people on the Eastside, amidst our cornucopia of plenty.

I chose to hit the gong 19 times to commemorate the 191 children in the Bellevue School District who were homeless in 2012-13 school year. Lake Washington had 247 the same year. It’s hard to imagine these kids making much progress in school while worried about where they are going to sleep that night.

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Compelling Speech from New Rep. Tom Dent (R-13) on Mental Health

We passed our first two bills today. It’s always fun on the first day – lots of people feel moved to speak and there’s always been some minor change to the voting software that is weird to figure out. The first bill typically tries to make a statement about priorities, but is usually pretty simple because complicated bills take longer.

Joel’s Law was first passed last year by the house, but not taken up by the Senate. I wrote about it last week. It passed the House unanimously, with compelling speeches, particularly the one from Freshman Rep. Tom Dent (R-13). He spoke compellingly about his struggles with his son’s mental illness. I don’t usually pay much attention to the (lack of) eloquence on the floor, but Rep. Dent’s comments were spellbinding. It’s less than 5 minutes and well worth watching – click the clip below.

I was also super-pleased that our initial supplemental budget passed 83-15, with strong bipartisan support. Rep. Chandler and I worked closely together to get the bill done in a way that would work for both of our caucuses. The comment I made below is in addition to the press release I put out earlier this week when we introduced the proposed amendment to the bill together.

Ross sig small

Legislative News: Washington House Democrats – Olympia, Washington

Statement from Rep. Ross Hunter on supplemental budget passage

Statement from Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) on the passage of HB 1105 – Making 2015 supplemental operating appropriations.

Sen. Andy Hill and I made a commitment to Governor Inslee last summer that we would take swift action to address problems in the mental health system. Adopting this budget will settle the state’s legal obligation in the single bed certification lawsuit. The House made good on that commitment in a strong, bipartisan fashion today. It is my hope that the Senate sends this bill to the Governor soon so that we can address immediate and urgent problems within the state’s mental health structure.


For interviews or more information: Rep. Ross Hunter, 360-786-7936 or ross.hunter@leg.wa.gov Staff: Andy McVicar, 360-786-7215 or Andy.McVicar@leg.wa.gov

For broadcast-quality audio or TV/radio interviews: Contact Broadcast Coordinator Dan Frizzell at dan.frizzell@leg.wa.gov or (360) 786-7208.

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Advice from 4th Graders – Week 1

Advice Card 1

I recently spent a fair amount of time working with Linda Myrick’s 4th grade class at Somerset. After my visit they sent me a stack of cards with advice on them. In general, it is EXCELLENT advice. I’ll be posting one a week until I run out. Perhaps at that point another 4th grade class somewhere will feel a need to contribute.

I erased the names of the contributors due to federal privacy regulations, but I know who they are. :-)

Posted in Advice from 4th Graders | Tagged | 1 Comment

Joel’s Law and dealing with lawsuits, disasters, and an increase in child abuse reports

The House Appropriations committee is planning to hear two bills Today, (Jan. 26, 2015):

HB 1258 – Concerning court review of detention decisions under the involuntary treatment act. This is “Joel’s Law,” a bill creating the ability for parents and other family members to provide information to the court in involuntary treatment act cases. The House passed this bill 97-1 last year and it was blocked in the Senate.

The law is named after Joel Reuter, a bright, beloved software programmer who lived on Capitol Hill. When he spun into a severe manic episode of bipolar disorder in 2013, Washington’s fractured mental-health system offered no cushion, despite pleadings from his parents and friends to have him involuntarily hospitalized.

Instead, Joel, believing he was fighting zombies, was killed by Seattle police. He was 28.
Seattle Times Editorial | January 22, 2015

Joel’s Law is a targeted intervention in the mental health system. It will allow parents and family members to provide input to a judge making the final decision to commit someone involuntarily. Parents often have the most information about the situation, enabling the judge to make a more informed decision. It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of parents who watch children drift in an out of severe mental illness, getting worse at every turn. We’re better than this, or at least we should be.

HB 1105 – Making 2015 supplemental operating appropriations. This is a super-early, super-small supplemental budget responding to lawsuits, child abuse caseload increases, and natural disasters (Oso and the big fire season.) Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) and I are jointly introducing the proposed bill, and I expect it to get significant bipartisan support.

The state lost a lawsuit ten years ago on how the homecare system for low-income seniors and the disabled is paid for. It finally made its way through the Supreme Court and the state lost. We’re paying tens of thousands a day in interest on the judgment and I’d like to get it paid off.

Last summer the state Supreme Court said that we can no longer keep patients waiting in emergency rooms because we don’t have capacity in our mental health system to evaluate and treat them. In many cases these folks are shackled to gurneys in hallways. Even in more humane cases they’re not getting the treatment they need and often get significantly worse waiting for a space.

We expect to lose a third case when a federal district court judge makes a decision in March and we are therefore taking corrective action now. This is similar to the emergency room case above, but occurs when local police arrest someone and ask for a mental health evaluation to see if the person is competent to stand trial. The law says we can’t keep them for more than 7 days in jail without an evaluation and a room at the state mental hospital. In many cases we’re keeping them in solitary confinement in county and city jails for months. People without mental issues are badly affected by solitary confinement, and for the mentally ill it’s torture and they just get worse.

Again, the Seattle Times (or at least editorial writer Jonathan Martin) is unsparing in their disdain here:

The $90 million cut from the state’s mental health system from 2009 to 2013 directly led to a state Supreme Court’s ruling in August banning very sick patients from being warehoused in hospitals, and probably will lead to a similar ruling next year regarding a lack of treatment in jails. A wavering financial commitment to court-ordered foster care reforms in the same era resulted in an extension of court oversight.
Seattle Times | November 14, 2014

With this supplemental budget we create more space at the mental hospitals, more treatment slots outside the hospitals, raise compensation for psychiatrists so we can actually hire some, and a bunch of other items that fix problems with the system. It’s not everything we need to do to have the system be functional, but it’s a step towards repairing the damage we did during the recession.

I expect the bills to both pass out of committee on Wednesday relatively unchanged and to pass out of the House either Thursday or Monday. I hope the Senate will give both serious consideration.

Posted in Budget, Health Care, Public Safety, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Mental Health, Child Abuse, Disasters, Lawsuits…

OLYMPIA – The House Appropriations committee will have a public hearing on Monday, January 26 to discuss an early action supplemental operating budget proposal. The bill deals with a small handful of items that need immediate attention. The committee expects to adopt a more typical supplemental budget later in the session.
Issues addressed in the bill are limited to the following:

  • Mental health: More mental health treatment capacity is created to resolve the emergency room boarding lawsuit and an expected court order requiring more evaluation and treatment capacity to take pressure off local jails.
  • Natural disasters: Eastern Washington wildfires, the Oso landslide, and other natural disasters had a larger impact on the state budget than what was originally allocated.
  • Homecare shared living lawsuit: The state lost a lawsuit with in-home care workers in the spring of last year. Interest on the judgment is accruing at $20,000 a day. This bill appropriates the money to pay the debt.
  • Children services: Child abuse caseloads have been significantly larger than expected and funds are allocated to help resolve cases as quickly as possible.

Statement from Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina):

“It’s a little unusual to do a supplemental budget this early in a legislative session, but last year was an unusual year. The wildfires and Oso landslide took a large toll on our budget. We also need to pay our legal bills and to address critical funding shortages in mental health and foster care services. I’m pleased that we have come to agreement on these issues this early in session.”

Statement from Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger):

“Addressing these costs early on in the session will save the taxpayers money and will get relief to the people who have been harmed by the Oso landslide and the wildfires. This is a constructive beginning as we work towards the creation and implementation of the next two-year operating budget in a timely manner. I’m optimistic that this budget will receive thoughtful consideration from the Senate.”


For interviews or more information:
Rep. Ross Hunter, 360-786-7936 or ross.hunter@leg.wa.gov
Rep. Bruce Chandler, 360-786-7960 or bruce.chandler@leg.wa.gov

Staff (Hunter): Andy McVicar, 360-786-7215 or andy.mcvicar@leg.wa.gov
Staff (Chandler): Brendon Wold, 360-786-7698 or brendon.wold@leg.wa.gov
Print-quality photos:
Credit: Washington State LSS

Posted in Budget, Health Care | 1 Comment

State budget battles and Cougar culture in Seattle at Civic Cocktail, Feb. 4


SEATTLE CHANNEL FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 22, 2015 Contact: Lori Patrick, Seattle Channel Communications (206) 733-9764, lori.patrick@seattle.gov

State budget battles and Cougar culture in Seattle at Civic Cocktail, Feb. 4 WSU President Elson Floyd and state legislators Ross Hunter and Steve Litzow join the conversation

SEATTLE –A contentious state legislative session and a conversation about higher education with Washington State University President Elson Floyd are on the bill for Civic Cocktail, 5:30 p.m., Wed., Feb. 4 at the Palace Ballroom, 2100 Fifth Ave.

From meeting the McCleary mandate to opening the state’s second publicly-funded medical school, education will lead the discussion at the first Civic Cocktail event of the year.

The first half of the program will feature State Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48th) and Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41st) discussing issues the divided Legislature in Olympia will tackle this session, including meeting a State Supreme Court mandate to fund K-12 education, making sense of medical-marijuana laws, and moving forward with a state transportation funding package. And what about the stalled Seattle tunnel project, which has led to tensions between state and city officials?

Hunter is chair of the House Appropriations Committee (responsible for the state budget). Litzow chairs the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.

During the second half of the program, Floyd will join host Joni Balter to talk about the role of WSU in helping to solve the critical problems that face our state, nation and world and the research university’s legislative priorities, which include building a new academic center at Everett University Center, which WSU assumed management of last summer. WSU recently announced its support of a state measure that would direct new revenue to education, including early learning and higher education and is exploring a partnership with Bellevue College to offer a bachelor’s degree at the Eastside college. Floyd will also discuss WSU’s plans to open the state’s second fully accredited, publicly-funded medical school in Spokane to address the state’s physician shortage, particularly in underserved rural areas.

A journalist panel, including Essex Porter who covers government and politics for KIRO TV and Crosscut’s Managing Editor Berit Anderson, will weigh in on the discussions.

Civic Cocktail offers an evening of networking, civic conversation, Tom Douglas appetizers and a no-host bar. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The program begins at 6 p.m. Advance registration is recommended as these events sometimes sell out. Register at SeattleCityClub.org or call 206-682-7395. Advance ticket prices are $20 for CityClub and Crosscut members and $25 for non-members and at the door.

Seattle Channel presents Civic Cocktail in partnership with Seattle CityClub and Crosscut. The conversation is rebroadcast on Seattle Channel cable 21 and is available online at seattlechannel.org/civiccocktail.

Seattle Channel is a local TV station that reflects, informs and inspires the community it serves. Seattle Channel presents programs on cable television – channel 21 on Comcast (321 HD) and Wave (721 HD) – and via the Internet to help residents connect with their city. Programming includes series and special features highlighting the diverse civic and cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest’s premier city.

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Nobody is going to be able to ram anything down anyone else’s throat…

I get a small cameo on the Seattle Channel Legislative preview show. I’m in the first 30 seconds, and all I get to say is “Nobody is going to be able to ram anything down anyone else’s throat.” This is in the context of host Brian Callanan talking about the split control of the Legislature. Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess gets a better quote “They have a tough job in Olympia this year.” He says it with a deeply sincere expression that makes it look like he really is sorry for us.

Both of us are right – we DO have a tough job this year and nobody will get to ram anything down anyone else’s throat. That doesn’t mean people won’t try. I’ll try to report on the theater as we go through the session.

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Great Town Hall meeting last weekend

Rep-Elect Joan McBride, Sen-Elect Cyrus Habib and I had a great, if lightly attended town hall meeting last week at Redmond City Hall. We’ll do more of these, and I’ll get my email notification system working more effectively by then. I think there is one schedule in late February.


The Reporter papers covered it, if somewhat desultorily. Mostly we talked about the budget, but also some education policy issues, transportation, and mental health came up a lot.

We’re also looking at doing some telephone ton hall meetings, which people seem to like, and looking into how we could do regular “office hours” on the web. Any suggestions for how we do this technologically would be great. Send us tech suggestions in email. GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Lync…?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment