Legislative Update from Olympia – Week 4

 

Week at a glance

 

  • First cutoff hit. Policy committee cutoff was on Feb. 5 in the House and Feb. 7 in the Senate. This means bills needed to be voted out of the policy committee they were assigned to in order to continue progressing in the legislative process. When bills cannot make cutoff, they are referred to as “dead.” Yet, nothing is truly “dead” in Olympia until Sine Die – the last day of session. This is because nearly any bill can be resurrected under a NTIB clause (Necessary to Implement the Budget). The use of NTIB is not very common, but it is a last-moment lifeline for bills.
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  • Early Learning Regional Coalitions (ELRC) had successful advocacy day in Olympia. Twenty representatives from the ELRCs met with Gov. Jay Inslee’s early learning and executive policy staff, Department of Early Learning Director Bette Hyde, and several legislators to speak up for local representation on the Early Learning Advisory Council (HB 2282, SB 6520). The Early Start legislation also came up as a topic in these meetings; this provided an opportunity for the ELRCs to point out that Early Start’s ambitious goals highlight how important it is for communities to have a voice through the Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) to ensure they are a part of the systems-building conversations that impact children, families and early learning providers. For instance, some ELRC representatives noted that some counties have few licensed child care providers, if any. In those counties, all care is family, friend, and neighbor (FFN), and the representatives made the case for being thoughtful on how to integrate FFN care into a quality framework.

 

Key take-aways

 

  • Early Start proposal continues to move in both chambers. Overall, bicameral and bipartisan support keeps the Early Start proposal moving. Policy committees in both chambers have voted out the bills this week.
     
    HB 2377 was voted out of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee with an 8-5 vote. Two amendments passed on the bill. One amendment — called a null-and-void clause — recognizes that money is required to implement the policy and without the money, the policy will not be implemented (therefore avoiding an unfunded mandate to providers). The other amendment offered a one-year delay on requiring providers to earn Early Achievers ratings of 3-5 and offer full-workday programming to receive state preschool expansion slots.
     
    The focus of proponents now is getting strong, supportive testimony in the House Appropriations public hearing scheduled for Feb. 10 and a good bipartisan vote out of the committee.
     
    The companion bill, SB 6127, passed out of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee with a unanimous vote on Feb. 5. Two amendments passed. One aims to better integrate health in the Early Achievers framework; the other is a null and void clause similar to the House version. The bill is now assigned to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. It must receive a public hearing and affirmative vote by Feb. 11 in order to keep moving.
     
    This means both bills are now amended and they look different from each other. If both bills continue to progress, at some point a conference committee made up of legislators from both chambers will meet to resolve the differences between the two versions. But generally, when both companion bills move, it is a positive sign that there is momentum and interest in both chambers.
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  • Early Start fiscal note is the focus of conversation now. The fiscal note (FN) is the document that outlines the costs of a bill. The Early Start FN is significant, reflecting the large aims of the bills. The immediate costs for the supplemental budget (meaning 2014) are estimated at $30 million. For the 2015-2017 biennium, costs are estimated at $140 million. For the 2017-2019 biennium, costs are estimated at $170 million. Why the increased costs? By 2017, federal funds from the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant, are scheduled to sunset. It was known the state would have to increase its investment at the close of the grant period in order to continue the work. See the fiscal note here.
     
    Legislators and advocates alike are having very thoughtful dialogue on the policy merits of the bill. There is a significant and general concern that sufficient resources be made available in order to support providers reaching the required quality levels (as indicated by Early Achievers ratings). If there are not adequate supports, the fear is that providers will drop out of the system, either go out of business or go “underground,” thus actually reducing accessibility to quality which is not the bills’ aims. This conversation on adequate resources is to be expected for an omnibus bill that has bold and widespread aims.
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  • ELAC bill continues to move in the House; stalled in the Senate. HB 2282 is currently in Rules and awaits a “pull” to the floor. The Early Learning Regional Coalitions continue with their advocacy tactics. The Senate version of the bill did not advance out of the Senate policy committee by the cutoff.

 
 

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