Legislature passes budget, adjourns
OLYMPIA--The Washington State Legislature adopted a 1996 supplemental budget of $17.6 billion Thursday, the final day of the 60 day session.
The budget includes more than $100 million for K-12 and higher education enhancements plus relief for victims of recent floods. It was passed by the house 72-26, and by the Senate 46-3.
Education items include funding for financing pupil transportation and mitigating hazardous walking conditions, increasing higher education enrollments, and investments in education technology. The budget also continues the study to explore the possibility of locating a four-year institution in Snohomish County.
The budget contains $14 million to fund enrollment increases at the state's four-year universities and community and technical schools; $10 million to begin putting laptop computers in grades K-12 for use at school and home; $16.8 million to replace old school buses and improve hazardous walking conditions for public school students.
The Washington Higher Education Network was allocated nearly $54 million. The project will allow universities and colleges to share information electronically and enable classes to be taught at one site and viewed at another, more remote, location.
Legislators also completed action to offer about $224 million in tax cuts through the remainder of the biennium, including a reduction in the state property tax levy and a rollback of business-and-occupation tax increases imposed in 1993.
In other action in Olympia, two insurance bills intended to give doctors and their patients more voice in healthcare decisions cleared the House by unanimous votes Mar. 1.
One bill would force managed care plans to disclose more information to patients and to lift gag orders against doctors. The other bill would require insurers to cover hospitalization for new mothers until they are released by the doctor. Both measures came from the Senate for consideration, but were returned to them amended.
"I think the vote on both of these measures is very telling and reflects the bipartisan support in this legislative body toward open and honest health care reforms," said Rep. Bill Backlund, 45th District representative and vice chair of the House Health Care Committee.