It has been a very busy legislative session with hundreds of bills introduced in just 14 days. Here are some of the highlights of week two of the legislative session:
Legislation I introduced, House Bill 2533 received a hearing this week. It would require the state to adopt the interstate compact on mental health, formally called the Uniform Act for the Extradition of Persons of Unsound Mind. The compact would give Washington the authority to extradite a person of "unsound mind" if requested by another state. Unless this bill is passed, our state cannot extradite a mentally ill person wanted in another state for failing to comply with the terms of their release from corrections custody.
At least eight states have signed onto the Act, including Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Vermont, Alaska, and Colorado.
As I testified to in the public hearing, the incident in our community prompted me to address this issue. After fleeing mental health treatment required for release from custody, a Florida man ended up in our area. The local police did a background check, and found that Florida officials wanted the fellow back to continue his required outpatient mental health treatment. Mental health treatment can be a critical component to addressing repeat and violent offenders who need to be monitored closely.
This bill received a public hearing Jan. 21 in the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Public safety committee hearing on Lakewood police shootings:
The evening of Jan. 18, the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee held a special hearing to understand the public safety issues surrounding the release of Maurice Clemmons, the gunman who killed four Lakewood police officers last November.
Family members of the fallen heroes testified before the committee, sharing their feelings, thoughts and solutions on the horrific nature of the crime and failings that led up to it. The governor testified on solutions law enforcement, legislators and prosecutors presented to her.
As part of fixing loopholes in our laws that deal with violent felons with mental illnesses, such as Clemmons, I co-sponsored one of the governor’s proposals, House Bill 2887, that would create a classification of “guilty but mentally ill” in our justice system. Currently, mentally ill violent offenders can either be found “guilty” of a violent crime they committed or “not guilty by reason of insanity.” This bill would create a middle ground – it would incarcerate mentally ill offenders if convicted and set up a system in which they would receive mental health treatment. It would also keep dangerous mentally ill criminals off our streets.
Also this week, the state Employment Security Department released the newest unemployment numbers. The state’s unemployment rate increased to 9.5 percent. Snohomish County’s unemployment rate is now up to 10.3 percent. Skagit County’s unemployment rate is now 10.7 percent. This information is troubling to me and, I am sure, the many Washingtonians looking for work.
Washington had 106,200 fewer jobs last month than in December 2008, a 3.6 percent decrease. In December, an estimated 334,265 people in Washington were unemployed and looking for work.
Job retention and creation:
Employers in the district, and statewide, recently received their unemployment insurance payroll tax increase notices for 2010. Employers will have to pay 54 percent more in payroll taxes for unemployment insurance for employees.
The rate increase totals $352 million. This payroll tax is paid solely by the employer, unlike workers’ compensation that requires a portion, roughly 25 percent, of the premiums to be paid by employees.
Some employers are seeing as much as a 900 percent increase in their unemployment insurance taxes. This is money that could be used to hire people, invest and grow the business, increase staff wages or use as a down payment to start a new project that will create jobs. I remain concerned by the negative effect these costly increases will have employers. Along with the $117 million workers’ compensation tax increase this year, , private-sector job creation and retention will continue to be stymied unless the Legislature acts now.
Putting people back to work is the main focus of the House Republicans’ “Made in Washington” pro-jobs agenda this year that would address the workers’ compensation system and smooth out future unemployment insurance tax increases, among other proposals.
The 2010 legislative session began Jan. 11 and is scheduled to last 60 days.
I welcome your thoughts on these and other issues. My door is always open and I can always be reached by phone at (360) 786-7816 or by e-mail at email@example.com. I look forward to working with you.
Rep. Kirk Pearson is the Republican leader on the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. He represents Western Washington’s 39th Legislative District.