Washington state

What the Legislators Aren’t Doing

This is a great visual representation of what the Washington state legislature IS NOT doing in regards to funding schools in Washington. The state supreme court found the state legislature in “contempt of court” in September of 2014, yet the state legislature continues to make little progress towards the goal they set in their testimony during the trial. This chart shows, quite obviously, that the state isn’t living up to their promises and that ANY money being added to education this year is only “catch up” money, NOT additional funds as they claim in their press releases and speeches to the media.

Don’t you think it’s about time to fund education fully?

State Senator Ignores the Voter

Supposedly “serving” the 10th legislative district.

Thank you, Barbara Bailey, for making my job as an American government teacher harder. I teach other social studies classes but you have been a shining example in my classroom of what NOT to do. You are one reason why my students are confounded by politics and apathetic to the pleas of participation in the political process. They see that you (and many of the others who are supposed to represent us) aren’t representing them or the other state voters, but instead your work in Olympia shows clearly you are only representing the interests of the Republican party in the state.

I did not vote for you, though I tend to lean to the right in most cases. I voted for your opponent over the years. Why? Well, because you have consistently demonstrated that you are only going to toe the party line. I am not sure how you continue to win elections, but I suppose it has something to do with the fact that you are entrenched in your position and most voters have no idea what your stance is so much as they know your face and name. Many voters don’t care enough to know, they just vote on the most basic information. Statistics on voters and campaign ads show this most clearly. But really, that is beside the point right now.

At the moment, you and your Republican cohort in the state senate are bent on attacking teachers and dismantling the teaching profession. I am not sure why and I can only speculate, but my guess is it has something to do with private dollars finding its way into the Republican coffers in order to push for a narrow, special interest generated agenda. The responses I have received from your office (or someone that works for you, specifically Josie Cummings) also prove this out.

SB 5748 : Teacher Evaluations

SB 5748 passed out of the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives. 
This bill brings back 40 million federal funded dollars back into Washington's School system. Washington State became the first state to lose the waiver of $40 million because Washington didn't require state tests to be used in evaluations. 

Your message has been passed along to Senator Bailey. She knows that this is just the first step of many in evaluation reform and would love to hear ideas from great teachers like yourself that create a better evaluation system. Education continues to be a top priority for Senator Bailey and she greatly appreciates your comments and will keep them in mind as bills come before her. 

Best,
Josie Cummings
Aide to Senator Bailey

The excuse of finding funding dollars via teacher evaluations is a really weak look at finding ways to fund education. Our state stood up to a federal government that bullies states into unconstitutional mandates in education. Should we be embarrassed about being the first state to lose the “waiver” from the federal government? No! $40 million is a drop in the bucket when it comes to funding schools in our state, a state that has Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, etc. Our state could replace lost revenue (plus more) through just a quarter of a percent raise in taxes on businesses like the ones mentioned. But, our state senators are too weak, or too beholden to special interests.

I-1351 : Class Size

Thank you for writing to Senator Bailey regarding the importance of funding education and I-1351. As you probably know, I-1351 did not include the revenue sources that would pay for this transition in education. However, The Senate is working hard to fully fund K-12 Education in Washington State. 

The Senate released their proposed budget yesterday afternoon. The Senate proposed a 1.3 billion additional dollars for K-12 education, which is the largest K-12 investment in state budget history. 
This would make education 47% of the state budget. $350 million dollars are allocated to lowering class sizes for K-3 class rooms. 

Best, 
Josie Cummings

I-1351 was passed by the voters and has a requirement for lowering class sizes K-12. The language wasn’t written in vague terms and was not left open to interpretation when the voters passed it. However, as you can see, the senator wants us to believe that I-1351 is only for K-3. Obviously, senator, you haven’t read it or you wouldn’t/shouldn’t vote to short change the children of the state. It doesn’t matter that the initiative wasn’t written without funding. Much of the legislation passed by the legislature in our state doesn’t have funding sources tied to it, but you all seem to find a way to pay for it later. In this case, the voters passed it and want it. Denying it is just ignoring the voters and playing word games to redefine how you have to deal with it.

The other misleading point in this response from the senator is that they are giving “additional” money to education. This statement, however, is VERY FALSE. The reality to the statement is the legislature is CATCHING UP on what should be spent on education. There is no additional revenue being added to education. The state supreme court found the legislature in contempt of court and has mandated the legislature adequately fund education. At best, the additional $1.3 billion brings the state closer to funding education fully, something it hasn’t even come close to doing in the past, but is roughly $2-4 billion short of what is needed, depending on who you talk to.

Then, she drags other political leaders into the fray as well since there is no answer to bad political maneuvering.

Thank you for writing to Senator Bailey regarding funding for I-1351. The Senator appreciates your involvement with this very important issue. The passage of I-1351 clearly represents a new challenge, considering the measure makes spending commitments ($4.7 billion across four years) without identifying a revenue source. It is certainly revealing that Governor Inslee’s own budget proposal fails to fund I-1351.

Thanks,
Josie Cummings

In other words, I can’t explain our Republican plan so I will point fingers at the Democratic governor. That’s really rich. Politics at its best!

Ultimately, we need a legislature that is willing to do the difficult task of standing up for children and the people tasked with educating them. The state supreme court has said repeatedly the legislature fails in this task. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be many people in our state government that are willing to do that. Instead, we get excuses and more placating/catering to big business. (Boeing gets an $8.7 BILLION dollar tax break?) Let’s hope the state supreme court doesn’t allow the legislature to continue in this “lack of funding, drag our feet to fix the problem” game. Except that is something they are asking for, yet again!

Wearing the senator down?

When I last sent the senator an email requesting that she support a budget that gives more funding to education, closes tax loopholes for large corporations, provides more money for competitive pay and benefits for educators, and doesn’t cut state services to the poor, I didn’t get much of a response. Instead it was just a short, one line email:

Thanks for the message. I will make sure this gets in front of the Senator as budget negotiations continue.

Best, 
Josie Cummings

As you can imagine, the message doesn’t hold out much hope for her changing her position, which is unfortunate since ignoring the will of the voter seems to be the norm these days. I could hope that I am wearing her down and she is going to change her party-line, voting alignment but that seems like far too much to hope for.

Unfortunately, the broken system also discourages teens who are just now becoming eligible to vote. They see how broke the system is, they see how it ignores the voter, and they see how politicians tend to perpetuate the system to their own benefit and not that of the people. A new generation of apathetic voter is born…thanks again, Barbara Bailey.

Flashing – A Debate on Freedom of Speech

There’s a speed trap back there, dude. You better slow down and heed my flashing headlights before you get to it.

That’s what I think as I so thoughtfully flash my headlights at 4:30 in the afternoon on my way home from work. I drive the route twice a day, so I pretty much know all the places law enforcement likes to sit in waiting, like a spider waiting for a big fat insect to fly into it’s web. Of course, they change things up a bit and they aren’t always in the same places at the same times. I can’t blame them because that is what they are supposed to do, catch people speeding (although I honestly think there are probably more productive things law enforcement could be doing other than sitting around waiting for violators – that is a debate for another day).

Now, I know. I shouldn’t speed. No one should ever speed. I try not to but it happens sometimes. So, before we get side tracked by the whole “You wouldn’t need to flash your lights if they (or you) weren’t speeding in the first place” argument let me just say that if you have never sped (either on purpose or inadvertently) then you may throw the first stone. Otherwise, bite your tongue.

The questions is, “Can I flash my headlights to warn other drivers of a speed trap?” Recently there has been a minor debate about this question and I have even had driver’s ed students ask about this during classroom instruction. For the most part, my answer has always been that in Washington state it is illegal, per RCW (Revised Code for Washington) 46.37.230. However, this has always bothered me because I believe that flashing my headlights is a form of communication (speech, if you will), which is obviously much more effective than me rolling down my window and yelling at passing cars.

Background

This RCW seems to be open to a bit of interpretation however. It is typically the one cited in “flashing light” tickets, but there is nothing in the language specifically that says “flashing,” only that a vehicle must lower their headlights from high to low for oncoming vehicles within 500 feet and when approaching from the rear of a vehicle within 300 feet. This article from the Seattle Times (2008) where, according to Trooper Pratt, “they are for illumination, not communication.” The article continues, “It’s illegal to flash your high beams or activate them within 500 feet of an approaching vehicle, and 300 feet if you’re coming up behind another vehicle.”

First, Troopers Pratt and Merrill (the latter was also interviewed for the article) must be misinformed. The RCW didn’t say anything about flashing headlights and yet they say that the fine for “inappropriate flashing of high beams” has increased from $101 to $112. So, if our law enforcement officers don’t know the law, then how are we supposed to be clear on what is allowed and what isn’t? Second, there are parts of our state that have signs that say, “Daylight headlights section,” or something to that effect (signs probably vary). If it is during the day, there is plenty of light and the headlights are clearly not for illumination so they must be for communication to other drivers so they take notice of the vehicles on the roadway.

Your Rights – The First Amendment

There have been several cases in recent years that have started to shed some light (no pun intended) on laws such as the one in Washington. First, let me highlight the one in Florida. In this instance, the court eventually ruled that indeed the First Amendment had been violated and that flashing your headlights is a legitimate form of communication. Florida soon changed it’s laws to reflect the protection of this civil right. In Missouri recently, once again, a court decided that flashing of one’s headlights was not illegal and is protected free speech. There have been cases in Utah and Tennessee that follow along the same lines.

Jonathan Turley, a criminal attorney and a professor at George Washington University Law School, said courts across the country are dealing with the same issue. In virtually every case except those still being decided, the person cited has prevailed, Turley said.

“This has sweeping implications for the First Amendment,” Turley said. “What this citizen is doing is warning other citizens about the violation of law. People regularly warn others about the possibility of arrest. There’s no difference between a verbal warning and a mechanical warning. Both are forms of speech.” (Missouri article)

The ultimate point is that if you are given a ticket that involves flashing your headlights, your First Amendment rights likely have been violated. Whether you are in my state or another, law enforcement doesn’t have a clear handle on what is permissible and what isn’t and in most cases they are just miffed because you seemingly were interfering with what they considered a need for enforcement. Could you be causing a danger in flashing your lights? I suppose you could be, but that is a purely subjective call, one law enforcement seems to have expanded beyond reasonable application.

If you are wondering where your state falls on this issue, Wikipedia has a pretty good list of not only states where it may or may not be illegal but even some countries that address the issue as well. As far as I can tell from my research, there are no pending cases for this issue currently in Washington state. So, if you get a ticket for it, you could be the one to challenge it and change the law for all in Washington state. In the Missouri case, the ACLU took on the case which likely didn’t cost the individual much money, if any at all.

I think the key here is that no matter the intent, whether to warn someone out of their criminal intent or out of legitimate concerns for public safety, it has the same effect – it causes people to slow down, even if only briefly. That, in and of itself, may be all that is needed to prevent an accident or a ticket – that clearly isn’t be a negative thing.

So, I say, “LET THE FLASHING BEGIN!” Fight for your First Amendment freedoms.