MAY 12, 1997

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Opinion

Guest Column

Historic accomplishments mark end of 1997 sessions

1997 legislature by Rep. Kathy Lambert
The 105-day 1997 legislative session ended April 27. This was indeed an historic session for many reasons. It is the first budget session that ended on time without an extended session in over four decades. We kept the percentage of increase in the budget to the lowest in over 25 years. We reformed welfare from an entitlement to temporary assistance until a person returns to work. And we reformed juvenile justice laws so that juveniles will be held accountable for their criminal behavior beginning on the first offense. All this in one session.
   Did we get everything we wanted? No. Did we change public policy and continue to reshape government? Yes. I firmly believe that the public policy changes will continue to greatly reduce costs in the upcoming sessions. Already, since I was first elected, we have seen a 20 percent reduction in welfare caseloads. This stems from two main changes: one, that regulatory changes have helped stimulate jobs; and two, that the policy of welfare being an entitlement has changed so people had to take proactive steps to get trained. I will never forget a hearing when a welfare counselor said that people were signing up for training classes at a rate she had never seen before. Many states which made similar policy changes a few years ago have seen drops of up to 40 percent.
   Also, when juveniles learn that they will be sentenced to jail, community service, supervision, etc., on the first crime, as well as automatically declined to adult courts for certain crimes, we will see reductions in juvenile crime. Not only will this reduce human costs in pain and suffering, but also the fiscal impact, as it costs nearly $50,000 for each juvenile held in JRA.
   The budget has taken a decided change since our governor was appropriations chair in 1989. He wrote a 23.5 percent increase. Since then, the percentage increases have been 16.6, 8.3, 7.8, and now 7.7 percent. Clearly, we are going in the right direction. In the past, state departments were not accountable as to their functions overlapping and cost efficiency of their results. In the last few years, we have instituted performance audits and accountability. This gives us the basis to make the cuts that need to be made. During the upcoming interim, I will be on a committee to look at each department's expenses line by line.
   It was quite evident when I first got here that government needed to be run more like a business. Getting a handle on where money was and the over 440 non-appropriated accounts has been a real challenge, as there was little oversight for nearly 20 years. We are now ready to continue to make more cuts in the base budget and to let the taxpayers know what functions will be streamlined, cut or consolidated.
   It is time to get back to the true function of government so that we can reduce the tax burden on all our citizens. I am excited to be part of this, as with citizen support, the old system of maintaining the status quo can be overcome. We will need public support to stand with us when we make the "harder" choices in what to cut. Thank you for the honor of serving as your state representative.
   As the session is now complete, I wanted to give a final report on a few of the bills I mentioned in previous columns.
   Legislation to create an advanced college tuition payment program (HB 1372) was approved and is expected to be signed by the governor. For more information on this new program, which would allow parents to purchase tuition units now that would be redeemable for future tuition at any Washington college or university, contact the Higher Education Coordinating Board at (360) 753-7800.
   Legislation I introduced that would provide statutory penalties for adults who have sexual contact with children age 16 or 17, if they are five years older than the child (HB 1205), was approved unanimously by the House, but left on the Senate's calendar. Another bill I offered, to implement statewide a program started by the Redmond Police Department to supervise and monitor criminals released in their community (HB 1781), was funded in the budget.
   To hear more about the 1997 session, please join Rep. Bill Backlund and me at one of the town hall meetings we have scheduled later this month: at the Duvall Library on Tuesday, May 27, from 7-8:30 p.m.; the Kirkland Library on Saturday, May 31, from 10 a.m. to noon; the Woodinville Library on Saturday, May 31, from 1-3 p.m.; and the Redmond Library on Tuesday, June 3, from 7-8:30 p.m.