Senate communications

February 24, 2017

Report of the Faculty Legislative Representative, March 2, 2017

JoAnn Taricani, Music History

As I write this on February 23, the Legislature is moving toward the end of the first half of the session, at which point bills need to pass out of either the House or Senate, then move to the other side to begin consideration again in policy committees. Please see the website http://tinyurl.com/uwolympia for updates on bill/legislation status and news articles on issues that are facing the Legislature. Over 2000 bills have been introduced, over 200 of which relate to higher education issues. Of the over 2000 bills, around 350 will survive to the end of the session, so the vast majority of bills do not survive. I will provide an update in the Senate meeting, as the status of bills changes each day as different deadlines occur in these weeks. Once bills are voted out of their original committee, letters or other communications to legislators will be helpful. Briefly:  the faculty regent bill (HB 1437) was passed out of the House Higher Education Committee, and this week the focus is on bills that have a fiscal impact, such as student financial aid. For the faculty regent bill, Senate Chair Zoe Barsness and I testified in favor of this bill, and the administrations of UW and WSU officially indicated that they support this legislation. Zoe and I also have spent time meeting with legislators to discuss faculty issues and to introduce them to her as our Chair. As the number of surviving bills becomes smaller, each stage of process becomes more difficult, and I am happy to answer questions about process on this or other bills in the meeting.

The overwhelming issue the Legislature is addressing is K-12 funding:  how much funding is needed to replace local levies, and how to pay for the difference in funding. The House and Senate have proposed very different plans, and this will be the issue that will likely keep the Legislature in session beyond the April 23 end of the regular session. We expect 2017-19 budgets for the entire state to emerge from the House and Senate at the end of March or early April.

Federal issues continue to affect discussions in the Legislature:  the federal travel ban that was overturned in federal court (a new version of the federal travel ban likely will be re-issued by the time we meet as a Faculty Senate), immigration status (an executive order on immigration status will be signed by the Governor on February 23), students protected by their DACA status (the state currently offers various protections for children of undocumented immigrants, along with access to in-state tuition and state financial aid), and transgender restroom access, which appeared in the news as I was writing this report. Although the federal government has reversed the Obama administration rules on allowing transgender students access, the State of Washington still retains its law allowing students to choose a restroom aligned with their gender identity. I have mentioned that legislation attempting to overturn this state law has been introduced in the State Senate, but will not get a hearing in the House. The Governor issued a statement in support of the current state protection for transgendered students on February 22.

The other issues that have assumed prominence are student financial aid and the cost of course materials, with several bills addressing those issues (HB 1561 and 1375). Community college support is also the topic of several pieces of legislation; the House would like to introduce the concept of one tuition-free year of community college (HB 1840), to be extended to two years eventually. As I mentioned in the January Faculty Senate meeting, legislation on academic freedom was introduced by a member of the House of Representatives as HB 1362, but did not get a hearing in the House policy committees. At the last moment, this bill appeared in a Senate policy committee and is under consideration as SB 5832. It provides protections that already exist in state and federal law, but is problematic in its attempts to create new regulations that conflict with Title IX law. Because the bill is poorly drafted from a legal perspective, the state Attorney General Office has filed a fiscal impact statement regarding its need for additional staff to address litigation that will likely result from this legislation. Even if it does pass the State Senate, it would need to go back to the House again, where the bill did not receive an initial hearing. I testified against this bill because of its lack of consideration of current UW provisions for academic freedom of expression.

Almost all pieces of legislation address issues I listed last May. One unexpected bill (SB 5584) would exempt university presidential searches from public records and disclosure requirements, instead substituting State Senate confirmation as the public disclosure component of choosing a president. Essentially, this means a public university president would be hired/appointed by Regents and Trustees through a completely confidential process not subject to the open public records regulations, and would later be confirmed by the State Senate, presumably in the following year, like agency secretaries (Department of Transportation) and Regents/Trustees, all of whom are confirmed within months (up to twelve months in some cases) following their appointment. This proposed legislation has several prongs of complexity, the main one being that a president would be asked to start a position, with the possibility that the president would not be confirmed eventually by the State Senate (again, the situation of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation in 2016, who had to leave office the day after not being confirmed). I would be happy to address points regarding this legislation in our meeting; it was voted out of its policy committee, but is unlikely to survive the full legislative process if this bill does stay alive.

Please consult http://tinyurl.com/uwolympia for continued updates and news; I will also send an email summarizing the legislation that has survived after the House and Senate reach their deadlines to pass bills on to the other chamber.  If there are additional bills that interest you, which you would like me to include in the list of bills moving through the Legislature, please send me the bill number; I will add it and start tracking it:  email at olympia@uw.edu