Legislators Work Out, And Work Together, To Get Bills Passed

Across the country, several federal and state legislators from opposite parties are actively working together to accomplish good things.
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U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-WA, tells a story about the advice he received when he was a rookie state senator.

A veteran legislator, a Republican, advised him to always reach across the aisle—always get a sponsor from the other party for each bill. And always do what you think is right—vote for the good bills, vote against the bad ones.

Kilmer took that advice with him to Congress, where he co-chairs the House Bipartisan Working Group. Members of the working group identify issues on which they agree and write legislation accordingly. The idea, according to Kilmer: Congress is never going to agree on everything, so let’s identify issues on which we do agree and work to resolve those.

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The nation’s federal and state capitals are today known more for partisan rancor than bipartisan progress. But across the country, several federal and state legislators from opposite parties are actively working together to accomplish good things. Here are a few examples:

Ocean acidification: Kilmer and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Vancouver-area Republican, have teamed up on several bills related to common issues in their state. On June 12, they introduced House Resolution 2882, the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act, which as of this writing is before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

HR 2882 would allow federal agencies to award existing funding, through a competitive process, to programs that address the impacts of ocean acidification. The funding would be used for “the development of monitoring or management options for communities or industries that are experiencing significant financial hardship; the development of adaptation options to alleviate economic harm and job loss caused by ocean acidification; the development of measures to help vulnerable communities or industries, with an emphasis on rural communities and businesses; and the development of adaptation and management options for impacted shellfish industries.”

Ocean acidification is a growing threat to coastal communities in Washington, according to Kilmer and Herrera Beutler’s offices. “Science has shown the shells of [mollusks] are dissolving due to acidification. The shells of shellfish are made up of the same components, causing concern about future implications on the species.”

Herrera Beutler said an announcement of the bill: “The shellfish industry in Pacific County that produces 25 percent of our nation’s oysters continues to struggle against the negative effects attributed to ocean acidification. Our common-sense bill uses incentives to better understand and find solutions for this rising threat.”

The commercial and recreational fishing industry in Washington state supports over 67,000 jobs and contributes more than $300 million to the state’s economy, according to numbers provided by Kilmer and Herrera Beutler’s offices. Washington leads the nation in producing farmed oysters, clams and mussels; growers in the state contribute more than $250 million to the economy, supporting more than 3,200 jobs, Kilmer and Herrera Beutler reported.

Making a good thing better: Republicans have been devoted to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act since its passage. The train wreck of 2017 posed the possibility of 18 million people being uninsured the first year after repeal-and-replace, and premiums on individual market policies going up 25 percent during the same timeframe, according to a Congressional Budget Office report.

Better angels of their nature prevailed. Senators from both political parties voted against repeal-and-replace. And then, Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-TN, and Ranking Committee Member Patty Murray, D-WA, issued this joint announcement:

“This committee will hold hearings beginning the week of September 4 on the actions Congress should take to stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market so that Americans will be able to buy insurance at affordable prices in the year 2018. We will hear from state insurance commissioners, patients, governors, health care experts and insurance companies. Committee staff will begin this week working with all of our committee members to prepare for these hearings and discussions.”

It signals the possible beginning of a bipartisan effort to improve the Affordable Care Act and make affordable health insurance coverage accessible to more Americans. Stay tuned.

Working, and working out, together: One of Congress’ two Native American members, Markwayne Mullin, R-OK, Cherokee, has a unique way of building strong relationships with and between his fellow legislators.

The former professional MMA fighter leads regular morning workouts in the House gym. “There’s between 12 and 16 members of Congress—Republicans and Democrats—who meet every morning,” Mullin told Roll Call on June 23. “We have a good time. We don’t talk politics, it’s just a workout. We go until 7:30 and then we go work.”

Representatives who participate include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI; Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-MA; Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD; and Rep. Jason Smith, R-MI.

The regular morning workouts began in 2013, the year Mullin joined the House. He also leads the annual Men’s Health Month Workout in June, open to men and women of Congress.

“While Mullin and his gym crew may not be solving the national debt yet, investing in relationships as younger representatives may well serve them—and us all—moving forward,” Terry Babcock-Lumish wrote in The Hill on July 17, 2014. “When Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Joe Kennedy are trusted by Republicans to broker deals in the coming years, one just might find the origins of these relationships in the House gym.”

No capital budget, but … Getting significant legislation passed this session of the Washington State Legislature has been no easy task. Democrats have a 50-48 majority in the House of Representatives, Republican control the Senate by a 25-24 margin.

The Legislature found a way to increase funding for basic education (in accordance with a state Supreme Court ruling it to do so).

But despite three special sessions, the Legislature failed to approve a 2017-19 capital budget, which funds the construction and repair of public buildings; long-term investments such as land acquisitions; loans to local governments for infrastructure improvements and housing; and cultural and historic preservation.

“I’m beyond disappointed that lawmakers will leave Olympia this year without a capital budget,” state Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said when the Legislature adjourned on July 20.

“This bipartisan budget included more than $4 billion for school construction, mental health facilities, affordable housing, parks and other community projects. In Everett alone, the Cocoon House for homeless youth lost out on funding for its expansion and Everett High School won’t receive $2 million for a new center focused on getting students prepared for high-demand healthcare careers.”

McCoy said Senate Republicans insisted on holding up the capital budget “until lawmakers essentially overturned a recent state Supreme Court ruling requiring counties to protect ground and surface water supplies before new wells are drilled.”

He said, “Tribes and other groups interested in protecting our state’s natural resources support the court’s decision, but also understood early on that everyone needs access to water. That’s why they offered a path that would allow access to water – even in sensitive basins—as long as mitigation projects could ensure sufficient stream flows for salmon and other species to recover.

“Despite months of good-faith negotiations, Senate Republicans insisted on a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to this issue. GOP leaders kept pushing a bill that would ‘fix’ the court ruling by nullifying it. By pitting landowners who want to develop property against the reality that our natural resources are finite and that new wells can divert water from existing users, the Republicans have succeeded only in instilling unnecessary panic into a situation that requires thoughtful collaboration.”

In response to a question from ICMN, McCoy, a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes, pointed to these laws as the best examples of successful bipartisanship this session:

Senate Bill 5079 clears the way for tribal nations in Washington state to use federal and Medicaid funding to help pay for services provided by dental health therapists, the dental equivalent of a nurse practitioner. Dental health therapists provide preventive care and procedures such as cleanings, fillings and oral exams. They also provide education on dental care.

Advocates for the use of dental health therapists say they are reducing backlogs and speeding access to quality dental care.

Federal law allows for tribal nations to license and employ trained dental health therapists; Washington state does not license, and has not authorized the practice of, dental health therapists. SB 5079 spells out how dental health therapists will practice in Indian country in Washington state: The person providing services is a certified dental health therapist; services are provided within the boundaries of a reservation; services are operated by an Indian health program or urban Indian organization; and services are provided within the scope of practice set by IHS, the tribal nation and a supervising dentist.

SB 5079 was approved 80–18 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

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According to a state Senate report, the state may actually save money because reduced backlogs at on-reservation dental clinics will mean tribal members can get dental care closer to home, rather than off-reservation where the cost of care is partially covered by the state.

House Bill 1661 created the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The new department takes over responsibility for early learning from the Department of Early Learning, and child welfare programs and juvenile justice programs from the Department of Social and Health Services.

According to a state House report, “The intent of creating this new agency is to improve the delivery of services and the outcomes for children and families through delivery of these services by housing early learning, child welfare, and juvenile justice services in the same agency.”

HB was approved 77-17 in the House and 42-7 in the Senate.

The transportation budget, SB 5096, appropriates about $8.5 billion over the next two years—$4.2 billion in capital programs—and adds $162 million in funding for replacement of culverts that block fish passage. At this point, however, the state’s plan of $720 million for culvert replacement through 2033 still falls short of the estimated cost of $2.4 billion.

SB 5096 was approved 82-14 in the House and 48-0 in the Senate.

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