OLYMPIA - Improving the economy and education reform will be the top priority for lawmakers during this year's legislative session beginning today.
Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, will be part of a bipartisan coalition that will lead the Washington State Senate when the session convenes. She will serve as the chair of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. The 25-member group will set the Senate's agenda and operating rules for the session.
"My number-one priority for my district and for the state as a whole is creating jobs and getting this state's economy growing again," Holmquist Newbry said. "The last thing I want is for the sort of partisanship that paralyzes Washington, D.C. to get in the way of finding solutions here in Olympia."
"There are still plenty of areas in state government that are ripe for reform, and my commitment to work cooperatively, across party lines, is going to help me and my fellow coalition members focus on the policies our state needs without all that interference from politics," Holmquist Newbry said
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, will also be part of the bipartisan coalition, known as the "Majority Coalition Caucus." Parlette said the coalition will be able to focus on enacting beneficial policies for taxpapers.
"People are tired of partisan bickering. We owe it to the people of our state to make this effort to create jobs, improve our education system and live within our means and that's what we intend to do," Parlette said.
Washington Gov.-elect Jay Inslee has said he believes the state will be able to handle the budget shortfall without general tax increases. The state is facing a projected deficit of $900 million for the next two-year budget ending 2015.
"I still believe that is the way forward," Inslee said during The Associated Press Legislative Preview.
A court order will also force lawmakers to increase funding for education. Lawmakers will need to come up with more than $1 billion for education as part of the McCleary decision. Currently $13.6 billion from the state budget currently goes to public schools.
Lawmakers will have until 2018 to fully fund basic education as set out by the Washington Supreme Court.
Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, will serve on three House committees: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Capital Budget and Education. She will also continue to serve as the ranking Republican on the Capital Budget Committee, responsible for negotiating with the chair of the committee on the capital budget.
"The capital budget is an essential part of the services our state provides. Great education and safe communities require great classrooms and secure prisons," Warnick stated.
First-term Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, was named ranking Republican on the Labor Committee as well as a member of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.
"Given the challenges our economy faces right now, I plan to work on policies that bring jobs back to Washington," Manweller said.
This year's session will last 105 days, ending April 28.