Washington State Representative Elizabeth Scott (R) presented to Monroe City Council on Tuesday, July 8, giving her thoughts on this year’s legislative session. The 39th District, which includes most of Snohomish and Skagit Counties, is also represented by Senator Kirk Pearson and Representative Dan Kristiansen, both of whom have stopped by Monroe City Hall during recent weeks.
Scott was elected in 2012 on a platform of “smaller, smarter government.” She ran for House Position 2, which was vacated by Pearson, who made the decision to run for the Senate. She faced off against five other candidates during the 2012 primary election, comfortably edging out ex-Monroe Mayor Robert Zimmerman to obtain the Republican candidacy.
Scott shared that, during her time in the legislature, she has focused on jobs, schools and fiscal responsibility. She currently serves on three committees; the Higher Education Committee, the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee, as well as the Capital Budget Committee. That is to help her keep campaign promises, she said.
She stated that her constituents from Monroe up to Sedro Woolley consistently asked her to “work across the aisle for common sense solutions,” and to vote “no” on government growth, additional bureaucracy and unfunded mandates.
“I knew this part was going to be interesting when, during the third week, a Democrat crossed the aisle to come over to my desk on the house floor and said, ‘Hey Elizabeth, I can get someone to come over and fix that button for you if you like, it seems to be stuck on no,’” said Scott.
Scott began by discussing jobs and taxes. She explained that Washington State is currently 29th in the nation as far as economic recovery.
“Twenty-eight states are doing better than we are at recovering and getting jobs back to their communities,” said Scott. “There are a number of states that have unemployment at 5 percent or even 3 percent. Ours is officially 6.3 but our friends and neighbors know it’s higher because we all know people out of work or looking for more work.”
She stated that, realistically, Washington’s unemployment rate is probably somewhere in between 13 and 16 percent.
This issue was also discussed by Representative Kristiansen during his visit. What the official numbers don’t take into consideration is the fact that many folks who were laid off during the recession have had to accept jobs making considerably less money than they made before. The individuals falling into this category are being referred to as the “underemployed” population.
The underemployed individuals are helping the state’s unemployment numbers look better; however, they are often not earning enough money to get by and as such, sometimes need to obtain second jobs.
Scott stated that one of the things having a negative impact on employment, particularly on the small businesses in Washington State, is an increased number of rules and regulations. Scott stated that while she was door-belling in 2012 she repeatedly heard from owners of small daycare facilities who were being pummeled with increased rules and regulations.
“This one totally surprised me,” said Scott.
Daycare owners lamented the price of yard-bark for their outdoor play areas, as well as the different rules they have to adhere to in comparison to larger daycare facilities hosted on school grounds. They told her of the changing requirements for the height of property fencing, rules that require them to keep their shampoo and soap in a locked cabinet, and the stipulation that kids have to wash their hands every single time they switch from one activity to another.
“These regulations are driving them crazy,” said Scott. “One man said, as we chatted over the front fence, ‘It’s as if there’s people sitting down there in a room all day in Olympia thinking up more and more regulations. Don’t they realize that each one costs me more money and makes it harder for me to keep the doors open?’”
To Scott, most concerning of all was when she heard people talk about state agencies like the Department of Early Learning (DEL) reflecting a clear “attitude of arrogance.” This was another complaint she heard repeatedly from daycare owners; that even after complying with DEL requirements that they make costly structural changes to their facilities, the department official would simply return within a couple of years and ask them to do the same thing all over again.
“I proposed a bill to curb that authority a little bit,” said Scott. “The bill says that the Department of Early Learning can only require structural alterations to a daycare facility after getting written approval from a local code enforcement official that the change is actually necessary for the safety of the kids or the staff.”
Her childcare facility bill; House Bill 2191, passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee this spring.
Scott also touched on education, a subject matter that is near and dear to her heart. With a Master’s degree in teaching English as a foreign language, Scott taught ESL courses for 10 years both in the United States and overseas. She taught in China for two years in between 1989 and 1991, shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre, during which Chinese troops killed and injured many unarmed civilians who were advocating for democracy.
“Which is why I became a fiercely staunch defender of our constitutional rights,” said Scott. “Because I had none for two years while I was there.”
The death toll in the Tiananmen Square massacre varies widely from source to source.
Scott also taught at a women’s campus in the United Arab Emirates. She shared that education is one of the main reasons she decided to run for office in the first place, after becoming concerned about Washington State’s high rate of high school dropouts. Currently, she said, we have about 78 percent of students graduating from high school and moving on to community college.
The problem is that their math and English skills are not always up to par.
“Over half of them find that they have to take remedial math, or English, or both,” said Scott.
She stated that they’ve been working hard in Olympia to achieve compliance with the McCleary decision, which requires that Washington State amply fund basic education for all students by 2018. To help meet this goal, she shared that they added a billion dollars to education in 2013 as well as some additional funding this year.
“The McCleary decision also called for reform,” said Scott. “It did say it’s not enough to simply throw more money at the problem, and it also reminded the legislature that they are the ones who write the definition of what is included in basic education.”
One of the ways in which the legislature is working to reform education is by funding a reduction in class size for kindergarten through the third grade.
“We know that that’s where it really makes a difference, is in those early years,” said Scott. “I know that as a teacher. I mean, this is a fact; it’s not just some talking point.”
Scott stated that they began with the most financially challenged schools and funded a smaller class size for one-third of them. They will continue to disperse additional funding until all kindergarten through third grade classes in the state have a reduced class size.
Another idea discussed this session was to include preschool in the definition of basic education; however the idea was met with some opposition.
Scott shared her goals for the next legislative session; one of which is to continue to push forward with her student data privacy legislation, which was stopped before receiving a vote by the education committee. She also stated that it will be very interesting to see what happens in regards to the growing opposition to common core state standard testing.
“It’s bubbling up on both sides of the aisle, which is really interesting,” said Scott. “This is not a partisan issue by any stretch of the imagination.”