Bills in motion as session passes halfway point
The Legislature was hard at work this week as the House and Senate fiscal committees heard and voted on bills before reaching Tuesday’s cutoff date. Members are now at work on the floor of their respective chambers debating and voting on bills to send to the opposite house for its consideration.
College system bill status
Feb. 12 — The following list shows the status of community and technical college-related bills as of 1 p.m. on Friday.
- HB 2329/SB 6161 (adding Basic Education for Adults to the caseload forecast): did not receive hearings in fiscal committees
- HB 2619/SB 6260 (corrections education): on House and Senate floor calendars
- HB 2769 (five bachelor’s degree pilots): in House Rules Committee
- HB 2820/SB 6481 (Washington Promise Program): did not pass out of fiscal committee/did not receive hearing in Senate Higher Education Committee
- HB 2955 (Free to Finish College Program): in House Rules Committee
House fiscal committees hear and vote on 4 system-related bills
Feb. 8 and 9 — In two marathon budget hearings before Tuesday’s fiscal committee cutoff date, the House Appropriations Committee heard four bills affecting the community and technical college system. The committee’s leadership kept testimony on each bill short so members could hear and vote on as many bills as possible before reaching the deadline.
At the hearings, the committee heard:
- HB 2619, the system-requested corrections education bill
- 2SHB 2769, creating a pilot program for community and technical colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees
- HB 2820, a bill which would establish the Washington Promise Program
- SHB 2615, addressing full-time faculty and staff at community and technical colleges
Arlen Harris, SBCTC’s legislative director, spoke in favor of HB 2619.
“The key words you heard from staff is ‘zero fiscal impact’ and ‘within existing funding’ so I ask that you pass this out.”
Harris also testified on 2SHB 2769, explaining that the bill was necessary in order for Bellevue College to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science starting fall quarter 2016. Current law, however, only allows community and technical colleges to offer applied bachelor’s degrees.
“This bill provides a statutory change to implement the Legislature’s budget proviso from last year plus a pilot for an additional four bachelor’s degrees with minimal fiscal impact,” Harris said.
Funding for the bachelor’s degree was included in the Legislature’s 2015-17 operating budget as a proviso, and would be the first in the state offered by a community or technical college.
Wendy Rader-Konofalski, representing the Washington Education Association (WEA), testified with concerns about state funding for positions and salaries.
The Washington Promise Program, which would provide free community and technical college tuition and fees to eligible students, rounded out the bills heard during Monday’s committee hearing. Rep. Gerry Pollet, the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke in favor of the bill.
“We know that, based on the other states that have done this and other cities that have done it such as Kalamazoo and Tennessee, that by offering the Washington Promise you will dramatically increase high school graduation rates and college-going,” he said.
Harris also testified in favor of the bill. He also expressed the system’s request that the Legislature fully backfill the $12.88 million budget shortfall left in the 2015-17 operating budget in addition to fully funding the State Need Grant.
“This bill exhibits dedication to the citizens of the state: that we want them to be trained for today’s workforce. It also exhibits dedication to our economy and the needs of a thriving business climate,” Harris said. “That being said, we’re having this conversation at a time when the 34 community and technical colleges are asking the Legislature to fully fund their current operations for the remainder of the biennium in this supplemental session. We also know there are over 20,000 students who qualify for the State Need Grant, but do not receive financial help because the State Need Grant is not fully funded. This is a great and important conversation which needs to continue.”
Lastly, members heard testimony on SHB 2615 during their Tuesday committee hearing. Harris testified in favor of the bill, which would require colleges hire an additional 200 state-funded full-time tenure-track faculty members each budget biennium for the next three bienna.
“All our faculty in our state system are dedicated to providing excellent instruction to our students,” he said. “The State Board is committed to all our faculty.”
Bernal Baca, representing AFT Washington, spoke in favor of the bill. Wendy Rader-Konofalski, of the WEA, and Matt Zuvich, representing the Washington Federation of State Employees, testified with concerns.
- HB 2619 testimony begins at 50:03
- 2SHB 2769 testimony begins at 51:55
- HB 2820 testimony begins at 1:04:41
- SHB 2615 testimony begins at 1:04:20
Coming up next week
The Legislature will reach its next cutoff date on Feb. 17 at 5 p.m. when bills must pass their chambers of origin, unless they are deemed necessary to implement the budget. Committee hearings will be scheduled for next Thursday and Friday but the agendas are in flux as we await bills to be passed from the opposite chamber.