Surviving the first half of the legislative session
In the beginning, when this session was barely a week old and the activities that drive our government—attending public hearings, analyzing bills, and meeting with legislators occurred at a frenzied pace, we, Matthew Rounsley and I, kept up the pace and gained a wealth of knowledge about the legislative process.
Now, halfway through, this middle-aged session has slowed down considerably. This slower pace is due to the fact that many bills did not meet the cutoff calendar deadlines and are no longer viable in the legislative process. These bills are known as dead bills. The cutoff calendar associates calendar days to the legislative days and marks the deadlines for committees and floor action. Wednesday marked the deadline for bills to be considered in their house of origin (the chamber—House or Senate—in which a bill is first introduced). One such bill is HB 2299, a bill which would decrease recidivism, increase public safety and expand educational services to incarcerated individuals both while they are incarcerated and when they are released. Although HB 2299 was reported by the Senate Human Services, Reentry, and Rehabilitation Committee to the whole House of Representatives as a substitute (the committee offered a different version of the original bill), it was not brought up for debate on the House floor. Thus, HB 2299 is dead. As an advocate of HB 2299, I was disappointed when it died on the House floor because the passage of this bill would have demonstrated the resolve of the Washington State Legislature to address and act on the racial inequities that exist within our education and prison systems. However, all is not lost because HB 2299 could become a budget proviso. A budget proviso is the designation of funds for specific uses. In this case, funds could be designated for use consistent with the intent of HB 2299.
Unlike HB 2299, HB 1702, a bill which would require colleges to specify classes offering low-cost course material when students register for classes, is still alive. Matthew and I had the honor of testifying before the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. Matthew testified about the extraordinary cost of textbooks and how he has had to use out-of-date textbooks in order to afford the cost of attending college. Conversely, I testified that as a Tacoma Community College student, I have the privilege of making an informed decision when registering for classes because Tacoma Community College specifies classes that use low-cost course materials when students register for classes. Together, our testimonies demonstrated to the committee that the cost of textbooks are a critical issue for many students and that having a low-cost designation will enable students to make informed decisions when registering for classes.
What I appreciate most about the frenzied first half of this session is learning the importance of organization. In the more laid-back work environment where I was previously employed, casually jotting a date or two on a sticky tab was an adequate substitute for a daily planner. However, in the frenzied environment that governed the first half of this session, not only did I have to organize dates and times, I also had to organize my thoughts. This is important to me as an advocate because my thoughts become the words that I use to communicate the needs of those for whom I advocate. Therefore, to be convincing, I must be able to express their concerns to the decision maker or decision-making body as clearly and precisely as possible. Since it is important to me to speak for those whose voices are not heard, I hold dear this valuable lesson on the importance of organization.