Kohl-Welles speaks in favor of marriage equality bill as governor and colleagues look on.

Legislative session offered challenges, historic accomplishments

By Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles

On April 11th, the Legislature adjourned what was without doubt one of the most trying but rewarding sessions in memory.

During the last weeks of session, the Senate Republicans were able to push through a “ninth order” procedural motion that allowed them to pass their version of the budget that had no chance of going forward in the House.

Ultimately, the Senate was able to work through partisan politics and pass a budget with an overwhelmingly bipartisan 44-2 vote. For the first time in four years, the budget made no cuts to K-12 and higher education, preserved most funding for the social safety net, and combined with a jobs bill that will create 18,000 jobs in our state, will help Washington continue our economic recovery and fight back from the effects of the Great Recession. We also obtained more resources for affordable housing and the homeless, and $995,000 for building renovations for the Phinney Neighborhood Association. I was pleased that an informal progressive group of senators was able to influence the final outcome—a fair approach to balancing the budget, including closure of two ineffective tax preferences.

We did have some real achievements. Washington is now the seventh state in the nation along with Washington, D.C. to embrace marriage equality. With the governor having signed the bill into law on Feb. 13th, all families can receive the respect and dignity they deserve. However, a referendum on this new law has been filed with the Secretary of State and, if enough signatures are collected, the law will be placed on the ballot in November.

Another achievement was a bipartisan anti-human trafficking bill which I sponsored. This new law, the first of its kind in the country, will help keep minors from being exploited through online ads for adult escort services such as Backpage.com. This makes the strongest possible statement against selling of minors online—or anywhere—in our state. The new law is in addition to 11 other new laws that fight anti-trafficking. It’s a little known fact that according to the United Nations, human trafficking is the fastest-growing international criminal industry in the world. I will continue to fight against this despicable form of modern day slavery next year.

I am also pleased that legislation I introduced, and worked on with Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, requiring higher education employees to report suspected child abuse or neglect, was signed into law. In following the horrific media coverage of the Penn State University abuse scandal last fall, we knew we had to add higher education employees as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect. There are an increasing number of children on our college campuses for sports, academic camps and child care programs. It is imperative we do all we can to ensure their protection. The new law will strengthen our ability to avoid a Penn State situation here.

I re-introduced a bill this session to revive the tax incentive program that expired last July to attract film and television production to Washington. I’m glad I did, because it is now law! We have tourists from all over the world visiting the town of Forks because it was the setting of the hit vampire book and movie series, Twilight. That's great, but think of the economic impact for the state if the movies had actually been filmed in Forks (instead of in Oregon and Vancouver), with locally-hired cast and crew members and all food and lodging expenses going straight into the local economy. The film incentives program has generated nearly $70 million for Washington workers and businesses since it started in 2007. Right now, 39 states offer some kind of incentive to attract big movie projects.

These are just a few of many highlights from the 2012 legislative sessions. By working through challenges, I am pleased we achieved many wins that advance the quality of life in our great state. 

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