Legislature racing to the finish line – Who will finish first?
Hopefully the students of Washington higher education!
This week is one of the most important weeks in the entire session as legislators began discussing what the 2020 supplemental budget will include. Budget talk time is now one of the largest focuses of legislators and stakeholders. There are three budgets from each chamber: operating, capital, and transportation. After a lot of discussion within the chamber, the entire chamber passes their final three budgets, but it doesn’t end there. The leaders of each chamber then “conference” to negotiate until their budgets are identical. Once a decision made by the leaders, the revised bill is reintroduced on both floors for a final approval vote. The final budgets are sent to the governor who then must sign them into law. Only once the governor has signed it will it become the new budget for the rest of the biennium.
In Washington we operate on a biennial budget, meaning that our budgets are planned for two years. A supplemental budget created in even-numbered years fixes makes revisions to the biennial budget passed in the odd-numbered years. The supplemental budget must be passed off the House and Senate Floor by Sine Die (last day of session), March 12. The supplemental budget process is arguably one of the most important pieces of the legislative session and it is all focused into last three weeks of session. As bill discuss slows, budget discuss ramps up.
As of Tuesday, the House and Senate had released all of the pieces of their proposed 2020 supplemental budget. This biennium there was an estimated surplus of $2 billion. The supplemental budgets addressed that revenue surplus, and, unfortunately, very little of that surplus is going to higher education. There were a few cuts that were made in the Senate operating budget that would take money from the community and technical college system, so the State Board and college members were working hard this week to get these dollars returned. I have really enjoyed watching how the higher education system and how the community and technical college system will all rally together to support each other in times of need, not only on the budget but during the entire session.
While the budget is in the forefront of many discussions, many bills are still being heard to keep pace in front of the cutoffs. All bills that are still “alive” must be passed out of their policy committee by today. There is a short turn-around for all bills to be passed off the floor, as March 6 is the final day for any non-budget related bill to be passed off of the Senate or House floor.
This week, HB 1702 passed out of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges requested this bill last year and almost saw its completion. HB 1702 was scheduled to be voted on in the Senate prior to the 2019 cutoff but do emergency bills for the measles outbreak, it was overshadowed and died, prompting its return this session. HB 1702 requires colleges to identify upon registration the classes that require low-cost, defined as $50 or less, course materials. Students will be able to identify these classes very easily when they go to register for their classes. HB 1702 now sits and waits in Senate Rules for possible floor action.
HB1702 must be passed by the Senate before 5 p.m. March 6 to arrive to the Governor’s desk for signing. I am hopeful that this bill will pass because it’ll allow students to continue reducing the finical barriers, they are facing on their path to chasing their dreams.
Another exciting bill that was heard and passed out of committee this week was SB 6561, which creates a loan program in Washington for undocumented students. Students from all over the state gathered in Olympia to provide over an hour of public testimony in the House College and Workforce Development Committee. Students spoke about their struggles being able to cover the cost of college because their undocumented status makes them ineligible for federal loans. Over 20 students, some of whom were undocumented themselves, from colleges across the state spoke about how this will benefit the undocumented students.
Next week will be a week filled with floor debate as they race to beat the cutoffs. I hope to see the two abovementioned bills make it to the governor’s desk along with SB 6142, which will work to increase the FAFSA completion rates and will educate families on their access to the Washington College Grant. The money is there for students, and now it is time to begin getting students to learn about it and using it to chase their dreams.
As the days dwindle down, I have yet to find a day I’m not in total amazement of how the State Board works with others and how colleges play such a large role in benefiting the lives of students. This internship continues to provide opportunities that are nothing I could’ve dreamed of, and it only continues showing myself that this is a career path that I definitely want to dive into.