Washington State Senator Kirk Pearson presented to Monroe City Council and Mayor Geoffrey Thomas during last week’s council meeting on Tuesday, June 24. Senator Pearson represents the 39th Legislative District, which includes most of Snohomish and Skagit Counties as well as a very small portion of King County.
Pearson, who got his start in politics serving on the Monroe Planning Commission, is in his 14th year serving in the Washington State Legislature. First elected to the House of Representatives in 2000, Pearson served six terms before being elected to the Senate in 2012.
Pearson began on the topic of education, explaining that in the 2013 – 2015 operating budget, the legislature succeeded in freezing tuition rates at Washington’s public universities and colleges so that students will see no increases during the biennium.
“I’ve run across some college students who are so grateful because the last time they didn’t have an increase was 1986,” said Pearson. “So that was a big victory.”
The budget also included an additional billion dollars of funding allocated to K-12 education. Pearson discussed some of the recent challenges in respect to K-12 education, specifically, the McCleary decision.
The McCleary decision was handed down by the Washington State Supreme Court in January of 2012. The court ruled that the state has not been in compliance with Article IX, section 1 of the Washington State Constitution which states that “it is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”
The case first went before the King County Superior Court in 2009. In 2010, Judge John Erlick agreed that the state was in violation of its mandated constitutional obligation to amply fund K-12 education. Next, the case went before the Superior Court which upheld Judge Erlick’s ruling.
Pearson acknowledged the challenges that the legislature has faced in funding education.
“We’ve had some lean years,” said Pearson.
The lawsuit was filed in 2007 when married mother-of-two Stephanie McCleary joined forces with the Chimacum School District. A coalition called the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools was formed, and the group initiated the lawsuit on behalf of the McClearys as well as another family. The point of the lawsuit was to ensure that the state funds education first and foremost, prior to funding any other programs.
As a result, the state made the commitment to amply fund K-12 education by no later than 2018.
Pearson shared that in addition to the billion dollars of additional funding, the legislature has made great strides toward fulfilling their obligation. He stated that their commitment to fully funding K-12 education continues to be strong as they work to achieve the 2018 deadline.
But the court feels that their efforts thus far have been insufficient.
“(We) found out recently that we could be held in contempt by the state supreme court,” said Pearson.
Pearson, who sits on the Law and Justice Committee, explained that the implications of the case are being discussed, particularly after the Supreme Court recently stated that they could fine the legislature or even take over the budget process until education is amply funded per the state constitution.
“Now that sets an interesting precedent because constitution-wise, the legislature writes the budget,” said Pearson.
The next step in the case is a court-mandated hearing during which a representative for the state is expected to appear before the court and explain why the state should not be held in contempt. The hearing is set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, September 3.
Pearson had other, brighter news to report as well. In addition to the Law and Justice Committee, he also sits on the Rules Committee, is the Vice Chairman on the Human Services and Corrections Committee, and is also the Chair of the Natural Resources and Parks Committee. Through his position on the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, Pearson was able to make a positive impact on the Washington State Parks Department.
He shared that due to a number of factors, including a shortfall in the anticipated Discover Pass revenue; state parks were not being fully funded. As a result, a number of Washington’s parks were being threatened with possible closure.
“People from all over the United States come to Washington to commerce within our state parks,” said Pearson. “I decided; no, that’s not going to happen on my watch.”
Pearson championed for the state park system, calling it “one of the greatest treasures we have as a state.” With the help of some of his associates, Pearson came up with his a series of bills meant to support the parks system. He introduced a bill which stipulated that revenue from the state Litter Tax go towards helping to fund parks.
Pearson informed council that the state Litter Tax brings in over $20 million every two years.
Additionally, Senate Bill 6034, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, is known as Pearson’s state-parks partnership bill. The bill allows parks greater freedoms to advertise and enter into agreements with both private and public organizations in the interest of conserving and maintaining the parks system.
Pearson stated that helping to further recreational opportunities in the district is a priority to him. He shared that there is property along U.S. 2 east of Sultan that he currently has his eye on.
“Someday I’d like to make it a state park because it draws people and people come through,” said Pearson. “We need more campgrounds and recreation.”
Pearson is also dealing with some difficulty through his position on the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, which in addition to the Washington State Parks Department also examines issues relating to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The WDFW recently settled a lawsuit initiated by the Wild Fish Conservancy out of Duvall, establishing a 12-year moratorium on hatchery-raised Steelhead salmon released in all Puget Sound rivers except the Skykomish.
But per the settlement, the WDFW also agreed to reduce hatchery Steelhead released in the Skokomish River by 80 percent. Pearson is worried about the negative economic impact this could have on the region.
“When we have good fish runs it brings a lot of commerce to our valley here,” said Pearson. “People love to fish the Skykomish River.”
The issue addressed in the lawsuit is with the state’s hatchery management plans, which by law need to be signed off on by the federal government. Pearson stated that they have been waiting for this federal seal of approval for six years.
He is also concerned with the fact that the WDFW settled the lawsuit without consulting the Natural Resources and Parks Committee or any other relevant parties.
“I was really outraged because they didn’t even consult the tribes,” said Pearson, who explained that the tribes are essentially co-managers of the state’s salmon and Steelhead fisheries.
Pearson will be calling a special meeting for the committee as well as the federal government, the tribes and local citizens. The meeting will take place towards the end of July.
Pearson thanked Mayor Thomas and Monroe City Council for having him, and took a few questions. Councilmember Jason Gamble asked for some clarification on the hatchery lawsuit. Pearson stated that per the agreement, the Wild Fish Conservancy cannot file an additional lawsuit related to Steelhead for a specific time period.
“They won’t sue us for another 2-1/2 years regarding hatchery Steelhead,” said Pearson. “But it doesn’t mean they can’t sue us over other hatchery fish because they don’t believe in hatcheries. That’s my concern.”
Pearson briefly touched on transportation, and encouraged council to stay diligent in expressing their needs. Mayor Thomas and Councilmembers Kurt Goering advocated for an extension of 191st to the Rainier View Road, which has not gained traction thus far due to the fact that it crosses the right-of-way of the U.S. 2 bypass, which may or may not ever come to pass.
Pearson stated that he would help facilitate a meeting between the City of Monroe and the Regional Director of the Washington State Department of Transportation to have a conversation about the issue.