(This is posted late, as I missed it in my in box. Apologies to all.)
March 15, 2013
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I’m checking in as the Legislative winds down week nine of the 2013 session. There was a sense of anxiousness in Olympia this week, due to the fact that Wednesday marked the “house of origin” cutoff date. That meant that by Wednesday, any bills introduced in the Senate had to be approved and sent to the House of Representatives for further consideration (and vice-versa in the House). Exceptions are made for those bills connected to the budget, which may be brought for a vote at any time.
With this week’s Eastsider’s Report, I’m highlighting two of my proposals that made it through the Senate in advance of the cutoff date, and are aimed at growing our state’s emerging wine, beer and distilling industries. I’ll also provide details – and my take – on a bill approved by the House of Representatives this week that would open up higher education financial-aid programs for students who are illegal immigrants.
Thanks for all of the questions, comments and concerns you’ve provided in recent weeks about the issues facing our state. I hope you will keep that feedback coming, and feel free to email me or call me in Olympia at (360) 786-7630 if I can be of assistance to you or your family in any way.
Thank you, as always, for the continued opportunity to serve you in the state Senate.
Sen. Mike Hewitt
Growing our state’s wineries, breweries and distilleries
This year, I have brought forward two bills to foster growth and create jobs in our state’s developing wine, beer and distilling industries. I take great pride in the fact our 16th Legislative District produces more grapes than any other in the state and I’m always looking to grow this sector of our economy.
As a result of a pilot program established by the Legislature a few years ago, our state’s liquor distilling industry has developed substantially. In fact, our 16th District is now home to several distilleries. Senate Bill 5396 would encourage growth among these businesses by allowing spirits retailers who participate in the Responsible Vendor Program to provide customers with small samples of spirits. Employees providing the samples must hold a class 12 alcohol server permit and no customer could be legally served more than a total of one and one half ounces of spirits. The bill was approved by the Senate on Wednesday and will now move to the House for further consideration.
My second proposal is targeted at wine, beer and culinary programs in our state’s colleges, such as the Center for Enology & Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College (pictured at right). Senate Bill 5774 would create a special permit for colleges to allow students 18 and over and enrolled in a culinary, wine or beer program to taste, but not consume alcohol.
This would enhance the student’s understanding of what will be an integral part of their career, and is just as essential to their learning as allowing biology majors to interact with plants would be. This bill was also approved by the Senate and is now before the House Government Accountability & Oversight Committee where a public hearing will be held next Friday, March 21 at 9 a.m.
As someone who spent his private-sector career in the beer and wine business, I am extremely sensitive to the need to ensure the safe consumption of alcohol. That’s why both bills include strict sidebars, like limiting spirit sampling to small quantities in responsible retail stores, and prohibiting college students from consuming the alcohol they taste. I want to see these sectors of the economy grow but I’m equally committed to public safety, and I’m confident that we can accomplish both.
House of Representatives approves “Dream Act”
In 2003, which was my third year in the Legislature, a bill was proposed to allow illegal immigrant students to qualify for in-state tuition rates, rather than having to pay the higher out-of-state rates. That bill was known as the “Dream Act” and proponents brought it forward with the intention of making higher education available to all of our state’s students.
Ten years later, a new Dream Act has been brought forward. This version would allow illegal immigrants to qualify for tuition-assistance programs provided by the state. The bill – House Bill 1817 – was introduced with bipartisan support and was approved by the House in the same fashion this week, with a vote of 77-20. Again, advocates of the bill say it’s intended to increase the ability of non-resident students to get the education they need to compete in our modern economy.
I voted in support of the original Dream Act when it was in the Senate and if the current bill comes for a vote in the Senate, I intend to do the same. For me, it’s simple – if you set the politics of the issue aside and focus on the policy, it makes no sense for our state to make substantial investments in students through our K-12 school system, and then abandon them when they need assistance the most.
In America, we are blessed to live in a nation of laws. Those children who are brought into our country when they are young didn’t break any laws. Once they’re here, they’re introduced into our public school system and immersed in our language and culture. Those who stay in school are put on track to attend college or vocational schools, just like their peers who were born here or naturalized. But unlike their peers, undocumented students don’t have access to the financial-aid programs that will enable them to attend college.
We should give these children – who have been through the same school system as native students and have the same desire for success in life – the same opportunity to succeed. Those students who qualify for entrance to our institutions of higher education should be able to attend, and I believe they should be able to utilize the state’s need grant to do so.
I know that immigration is a contentious issue and I hope to see it to be addressed comprehensively at the federal level soon. We desperately need a solution that protects the sovereignty of our nation, while also facilitating our workforce needs.
Our state legislature doesn’t have the ability to comprehensively address immigration. But we do have the ability to make sure our state approaches issues like this rationally, and has policies in place to enable all students who have earned entrance to our colleges and vocational schools.
If you are interested in more information on HB 1817, you can find the text of the bill and summaries prepared by nonpartisan staff at this link. Additionally, if you would like to watch the debate and vote on the bill from the House of Representatives, you can do so by clicking here.