Friday, Jan 7, 2005:
We began on Wed, Jan 5th, with orientation, which will come to a conclusion at the end of today. Orientation has been quite an overload of information, although I know the learning is just beginning. They really want us to be prepared to do an excellent job here in the legislature. They've given us training on everything from grammar to computers to harassment (not a "how to" training).
It really began to hit me yesterday that our roles as interns are very important to the legislature. We will be involved in research pertaining to bills that will be voted on this session, and we will also have direct contact with constituents on the phone and through written correspondence. So far the training we've received has led me to imagine an inundation of calls, letters and emails addressing concerns of citizens. Next week I'll be in the thick of it....
Wed, Jan 12, 2005:
It's been a very interesting week to be at the Capitol so far. This year's Governor's race was the closest in the entire nation's history! The issue of who won the Governor's race is still in court, although all 39 counties, the Secretary of WA State Sam Reed, and now the legislature have certified Gregoire as the Governor-elect. She is scheduled to be sworn in today.
There was a joint-session (both House and Senate) debate before the State of the State address yesterday on a motion to delay the legislature's certification. Arguments on both sides were compelling. Ironically, nearly all of the legislators who got up to speak declared this a non-partisan issue, but when it came time to vote, votes fell almost unanimously along party lines.
I met the member I'll be working for yesterday morning -- Representative Shay Schual-Berke from the 33rd Legislative District. My tasks so far have involved doing research for a bill that she will be sponsoring and looking into a couple of constituent concerns. It's pretty cool being part of the process of representative democracy.
Mon, Jan 17, 2005:
I just attended a press conference for the Health Information for Youth Act put forward by Rep Schual-Berke. The bill is about adopting standards across WA for schools that choose to have sex-ed to have a comprehensive and medically accurate curriculum.
One of the great things about being in Olympia during the legislative session is that I get to attend press conferences and committee hearings -- all of which are open to the public -- I just happen to be right here within walking distance.
I've had the opportunity to go to committee hearings from topics that range from the mental development of adolescents to testimony on both sides of the payday lending issue. The hearings have been very enlightening for the most part. It's nice to know that our law-makers get such thorough information before writing and voting on legislation -- i.e., it's not all partisan politics....for those who have become jaded about the political process.
Fri, Jan 21, 2005:
What a day, what a week! I went to my first education committee hearings this week. I'm quickly becoming a groupie of that committee. The hearings that I've had the pleasure of attending this week have covered the topics of vocational/technical training programs in our high schools, testimony from teachers and other educational professionals on the new certification requirements for teachers, and mechanisms for assessing student learning alternative to the WASL.
I was also invited to sit in on an informal discussion pertaining to education issues, which was very invigorating. It is so exciting to see policy makers sit within a group of education experts and earnestly work towards improving the educational system for all of our state's young people! I am truly inspired! This is creative problem solving at its finest!
Fri, Jan 28, 2005:
It's been a grueling day of creating spreadsheets and trying to navigate through government websites today. But the week has had plenty of moments of inspiration. For one thing, Tuesday was POTATO DAY at the capitol. The WA State Potato Commission brought thousands of baked potatoes with all the fixins to the Legislative building for us all to feast on. I'm looking forward to next week's dairy day, too.
On Thursday morning I got to sit in for Representative Schual-Berke's legislative assistant (Danielle Baer, who I went to high school with -- small world!) for a couple hours. Nothing extraordinary happened, but it was fun to sit at her desk and answer her phone. Most of us House interns reside in a separate office from our members (in the basement, no less), so it's nice to get out and be in the middle of things whenever we get the chance.
Other than that, my main joy is still going to education and juvenile justice committee hearings, and the informal education problem solving discussion group. I think my favorite part is when someone (inevitably) makes a point that makes me think 'wow....never thought about it like that before.'
Fri, Feb 4, 2005:
I was busy most of the week gathering information for a packet that Rep Schual-Berke handed out to committee members on a bill that she dropped last week and testified on this morning. Nice to be done with that. Also nice to see the fruits of my labor presented at the hearing this morning. The bill would extend campaign contribution limits to judicial races and county and port races that have over 200,000 voters. State law currently limits only contributions for state legislative and state-wide executive candidates, although King and Snohomish Counties have ordinances that regulate their campaign contributions.
I've also been keeping up on my education policy interests, although I was pretty busy this week, so I didn't get to go to as many committee hearings as I would have liked to. I did get to go to a meeting that highlighted the
which several schools in WA offer. It's a program that targets students who fit into demographics that do not usually go to universities, and gives them the tools to be successful. The testimony was very moving and very inspiring.
I've heard about so many wonderful programs since I've been here, that I never knew existed. It really gives me hope to see so many people are working to improve the opportunities for our young people.
Mon, Feb 14, 2005:
It was kind of a busy day on Friday, so I missed my weekly journal entry. Josh was in town, and spent some time checking out the goings on at the Capitol. We went to a floor session (the entire House as opposed to a committee) of the House of Representatives, both my first and Josh's. Among other bills, the Reps voted on House Bill 1515, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill was not widely debated on the floor, probably because it has been debated in past years. The testimony that was given for the bill was brilliant, in my opinion. And the bill passed the House, as it did last year. We'll see if this year it passes in the Senate.
The only other noteworthy event of the week was a mock budget exercise that entertained 3 hours of our afternoon on Friday. The interns were broken into small, fairly evenly ideologically split groups of about 9, where we debated budget cuts and expansions and revenues. Nobody in my group particularly liked the idea of cutting any programs, although there were those who were willing to. A simple majority vote decided the fate of each program. Sometimes discussion changed some minds. But most of the time, most of us had clear priorities that made the budget decisions similarly clear. Our group ended up using tobacco settlement money and dipping into the reserves to keep our programs and our pay rates up to par. Of course, those are not particularly sustainable revenue options. Most of us agreed that, as politically difficult as it would be, a restructuring of the tax system is necessary to maintain the quality of life that we hold so dear in this great state. It was a fun exercise, and a good opportunity to hear arguments from many sides of important issues.
HEDY'S HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK 2/14/05
On Fri, Feb 11, the House of Representatives debated and voted on House Bill 1515. The bill would add sexual orientation to the list of protected classes, which currently includes race, creed, color, national origin, families with children, sex, marital status, age and disability.
The testimony given was thoughtful, profound, at times infuriating, and at times inspiring. These were some of the arguments put forth by the three representatives who spoke on the bill:
Rep Murray, prime sponsor of the bill, quoting from the Jefferson Memorial:
"Laws and institutions go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, as it becomes more enlightened, as new discoveries are made and all manners and opinions change; with the change of circumstances, institutions must change to advance with the times."
Rep Newhouse, in opposition to the bill:
"What will we be solving if we pass this? Will it be easier for all people to have adequate housing, employment, insurance?.... Or perhaps are we going to make it more difficult?.... By setting apart one group from the rest, don't we actually draw more attention to our differences and less to our similarities?.... Our goal should be to take names off of this list, take groups off of it and not add to it."
He went on to invoke the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's dream that one day all men would be judged by the content of their character, and finished by saying "I think we're getting there, and I don't want to do anything that would stand in our way."
Rep Pettigrew, a Black representative from Seattle, in support of:
"I know discrimination. I've experienced it. And I'm telling you, if you have not, it is the most painful, disheartening, debilitating thing you could ever experience in your life....
"When I played football we had a saying: 'If one goes down, we all go down'.... When you discriminate against one of us, you discriminate against all of us. This is not just about people who are gay or lesbian. This is about each and every one of us. We've got to send a message to anyone who comes within our borders.... When you step in our borders, this is a state that does not tolerate discrimination."
The bill passed 61-37 in the House of Representatives. In order to become law, it will have to pass in the Senate and be signed by the Governor.
Fri, Feb 18, 2005:
It's been a very educational week! There were panels every day. People came to talk to us from the Democratic and Republican caucus staffs; the media; lobbyists told us about their jobs; people who work in various jobs at the Capitol talked with us; a former intern who works in the non-profit sector; and people who are in or have been in law or other grad schools shared with us. It was a week packed full of learning about different ways to have an impact. I still can't believe sometimes what a unique opportunity I've been afforded in coming here.
I also had the opportunity to talk with (pick the brains of) two members of the A+ Commission. The A+ Commission was created in the 90's to tackle the task of helping increase student achievement in Washington. It was somewhat of an accidental encounter, and they graciously gave me about 45 minutes of their time (that's a VERY long time in Olympia). They told me about how they got where they are --one of them as a teacher and principal and the other through policy and government, and we talked about improving education for all students. It was fabulous!
The rest of the week resembled past weeks.
Fri, Feb 25, 2005:
This week we planned for mock committee hearings which took place today. We were assigned roles either of Democrat or Republican committee member, or lobbyist for or against the bill. Next week we'll take the bills and the mock amendments that were passed in committee to the full floor for a mock debate and vote. The mock bill that I was assigned to is based on Senate Bill 5397, which is currently making its way through the legislative process here in this great state --The California Emission Standards Bill. The bill would increase Washington's standards to the CA standards, which go above and beyond the current Federal standards.
I was a mock lobbyist for an organization representing the interests of less-economically-secure individuals in the state of WA. We support the bill primarily on the basis that the costs associated with medical conditions that are caused or aggravated by pollution have a severe negative impact on our state's lower-socio-economic classes of citizens, many of whom do not have health insurance.
I also had the opportunity to give a short presentation to university faculty and intern coordinators on some of the things that I've learned so far during the internship. I never like to pass up an opportunity to give my opinion...
We also had an "intern reception" (it seems that any social event in Olympia is called a reception) on Thursday night. It took place at El Sarape Mexican restaurant on the West side of Olympia. Those who weren't concerned about being bright-eyed and refreshed for the mock hearings on Friday stayed for Karaoke. I suppose I would have stayed in my younger years, but being nearly 28, I was home by 10.
I was honored this week to be invited to go for an afternoon walk with Rep Quall. My hope was to get insight into issues dealing with academic standards for K-12, which is what I'll be writing my paper on (they don't just give us college credit for showing up to work). I got insight into those issues, but found that I was particularly enjoying our more spontaneous conversation, which also presented insights.
Fri, Mar 4, 2005:
This week I took a tour of the Governor's mansion, which is located practically next to the Legislative Building on campus. It's kind of an odd set-up. The Governor and family actually only live in a small portion of the mansion, which is closed off to visitors. The rest of the mansion is used for some special events and....tours. It's quite beautiful. It's furnished with antiques that date back to the late 1700's (long before the mansion was actually built in 1908). It was a nice way to escape work for about an hour and learn some of the history of our state and capitol.
We also got to meet with a "diversity panel" of legislators for questions and answers. Out of 147 members, we have nine people of color and four openly gay members. BUT, at least we have lots of women. It was interesting to note that some of the minority members were elected by districts that have a vast majority of white constituents, while others represent districts that are racially diverse. We didn't really spend much time talking about that, though. They talked mostly about the things that they were involved with prior to being elected to the Legislature, and a few of the interesting bills that have been floating around this session.
The bulk of my energy this week was spent on preparing for the mock floor debate. I was assigned a role on the opposite side of the aisle than I would normally sit, which I found to be a little challenging. Even though it was just a mock and we weren't making real policy, it was very difficult to vote with the party that I was assigned to on the bills that were before us. I managed to do it, though, with the exception of one bill that dealt with family leave insurance. I decided to look at the bill through the eyes of someone from the other party, and I actually found that much of the bill could be construed as being consistent with that ideology. Then I gave a (brilliant) speech on the floor stating my reasons for voting for the bill. Despite my speech, and to my great surprise, nobody on my side of the aisle switched their votes! Oh well, I guess that's politics for you.
Fri, Mar 11, 2005:
Monday, another intern interested in education and I got to shadow the policy director at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It was great to be able to ask the experts at OSPI the multitude of questions that I've been acquiring since my first education committee hearing. And it was great to get to see the implementation strategies of some of the policies that I've been studying. For example, one of my biggest questions in learning about the new higher academic standards for high school graduation was "How are we going to make sure that kids know that they have to take school seriously?" When I was in school, we didn't really have to try very hard to get a diploma (hence all the education reform that's been going on the past 10 or so years). Greg, the person we shadowed, told us about a pilot program this year called "Student 2 Student" that is intended to motivate freshmen to make the most out of high school, and its taught by juniors and seniors. It sounds fabulous!
The other highlight of the week was a trip out to the men's correction center in Shelton. I was nervous about going because it felt like an intrusion, like a strange spectator thing to do. But I couldn't pass up the educational opportunity. My interest in policy stems from a deep interest in social justice, and prisons are a place where differing views on what constitutes justice have the ability to seriously impact lives.
We had the opportunity to talk with several people who work there, some who planned on meeting us and others who we had the good fortune of sharing lunch with. I was really taken aback (in a good way) by the progressive approach to corrections that seems to be emerging in our state. Of course, my impression comes from conversations with employees of the system and not really from a whole lot of firsthand observation. And I don't expect that there's any kumbaya singing, but there does seem to be more of an emphasis on rehabilitation and treating the inmates with dignity than I imagined from the tales that I had heard. The officer that we happened to sit with for lunch really drove that home for me. He’s been working in prisons in WA and other states for 37 years, and described the changes that he’s seen take place. One of the things that I was particularly pleased to find out was the emphasis that is being placed on giving offenders the tools to reintegrate into society.
Overall the experience left me with mixed feelings. Part of me gets mad at a society that allows kids to fall through the cracks and never realize the potentials of life. We live in a society that gives kids very different opportunities for success, then holds adults accountable for their lack of success. And of course adults have to be held accountable for their choices. And there are plenty of examples of people who create successful lives for themselves despite obstacles. It's not a simple issue.
I guess this just reaffirms my commitment to work toward giving kids equal opportunity. Statistics show that students who start out kindergarten behind (through no fault of their own, mind you) will likely stay behind throughout school. Incidentally, statistics also show that there are a highly disproportionate number of people in prison without basic reading skills.