The Poky Little Pundit


How a bill becomes a law: Still a gray area

Olympia in a word: Gray.

Amid a sea of gray suited, po-faced men, gray buildings and gray clouds, I took my first tentative steps inside the John A. Cherberg building (gray façade, gray walls, gray marble). Driving down to Olympia, I was envisioning a riveting Senate debate, enlightening meetings with my favorite female senators, and a sense of accomplishment from taking part in our government’s process. I had invited along a friend visiting from NYC, and I was excited to share with her the sparkling life of the PLP.

cherberg building

The PLP, soaked in ice-cold drizzle, in front of the Cherberg Building.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. I hate being a pessoptimist.

The main purpose of my visit was to testify for SB 5292, which supports the implementation of Family and Medical Leave Insurance. I had scheduled appointments with WA state Senator Karen Keiser of the 33rd District at 9:45, I would attend the hearing at 1:30 pm, and then meet with WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles at 3:15.  A perfect day in Olympia, right?

Not quite. What I quickly discovered is that NOTHING happens on time, and these people are REALLY. REALLY. BUSY. I guess I should have intuited that.

My 15 minutes of scheduled time with Karen Keiser ended up being reduced to just four minutes total, though she was warm and willing to speak to some random girl who is not even a constituent. She spoke about the ideological divide in our country and the ways in which she is trying to recruit progressive women for office. We also discussed Coontz’ article (referenced in my last post) in relation to her proposed bill, SB 5292. Yet, I could not help detecting an air of resignation in her manner. To be blunt, she seemed just completely exhausted.

We took a break for lunch after that at a local sandwich shop, since the only place to get food at the Capitol is the world’s worst deli. We returned just in time for the 1:30 hearing, I quickly signed up to testify online, and was accepted! I was scheduled to testify, right alongside my heroes: Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of Momsrising. There were three bills scheduled to be discussed before ours, so I quickly scribbled notes on the back of any paper I could find, refining and rewriting until I felt sure I wouldn’t make a total ass of myself in front of all these VIPs. Things were looking up, though I was nervously sweating through my blazer.

the room

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, testifying in support of SB 5292. (She is in red.)

And then we waited. And waited. How do these senators do it? The hearing was absurdly boring, even though I was completely invested in what everyone was saying. There were no breaks. There were no pages bringing them coffee. Really no perks at all – besides getting to make really big decisions about our whole state (if you consider that a perk).

Finally, the chair, Senator Janea Holmquist Newbry, called time. We were out of time. The hearing was re-scheduled for Friday, meaning I could not testify after three hours of waiting to speak. Without further ado, packs of legislators poured into the room, ready to start the next hearing. Our day was at an end – and we still had an hours’ drive in the pouring rain.

Fortunately, many speakers – more capable than myself I might add – were able to make the trek back out to Olympia on Friday. And though I would have loved to testify, I was secretly relieved. Next time (and I sincerely hope there will be a next time, despite my dreary report), I will be MUCH more prepared and have a typed, rehearsed speech ready to go.

Now here’s confession time: I really have NO IDEA what happens after this. I’ve read the full Senate Bill report, which appears to say it passed, but I cannot be sure. And I still haven’t got my head round all the different committees, such as Ways and Means and Rules. If any of my readers can demystify this process, I am all ears.

Also, if you are feeling really ambitious, you can watch the whole proceedings from Friday’s hearing here. (I am thrilled to report that you will hear my name briefly mentioned by the chair – I’m famous!)

Next week: Why I love WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles.


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I like boys. Really.

My current students think I am some sort of crazy feminist, which cracks me up. After a decade of teaching, declaring my personal interest in furthering equal rights for both genders still labels me as a crazy feminist AND a man hater. Obviously, since I am happily married to a MAN and have a SON.

Consequently, I was delighted to read Stephanie Coontz’ article “Why Gender Equality Stalled” in the Sunday Review a few days ago. With a map that smacks readers in the face with America’s leave policy (or lack thereof) in comparison to the rest of the world, readers anticipate another diatribe about how women should receive more leave or some form of pay for maternity leave. Instead, she says, very nicely I might add, what should be obvious: Nothing will change until we see the problem of early childhood care holistically. We must understand  and support the notion that child care is a societal issue – not a female issue.

paid maternal leave map

Just to make sure, even though their name is all over it, this graphic is from the New York Times. Read it and weep, folks.

This idea is also fleshed out, from a UK perspective, in Rebecca Asher’s excellent book “Shattered:  Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality .” (This is also yet another example of a woman who has taken an idea that has been germinating in my head for a decade and placed it between two slabs of cardboard before I had the chance – damn her! – though you can read about my initial attempt in my blog post a few months back.)

Essentially, much like Stephanie Coontz, “Shattered” advocates EQUAL RIGHTS – meaning men and women should BOTH receive paid time off to raise a family. She cites the example of Iceland, who have provided equal time off for men and women – with the proviso that leave cannot be transferred from one parent to the other. If men decide not to take the leave, it’s just gone. This has meant, of course, that men ARE taking leave, and their society is actually changing. As men come to understand the challenges of childrearing on a nationwide level, issues which have previously rested solely on women’s shoulders are becoming, rightly, issues for FAMILIES, and not just women. This is true progress.


Though Americans will giggle at Asher’s indignation over the UK’s poor treatment of mothers (considering they can take a year off, mainly paid, to raise their child if they want) – you must push past this for the main message: Whatever change we make, we must first think of families as a whole, rather than boy versus girl. (Which, by the way, is also more inclusive for families that may not be ‘traditional,’ whatever that means.)

So, where do we even start?

Baby steps, obviously. On Wednesday (tomorrow!), I will be taking a day trip to Olympia to attend a hearing for Senate Bill 5292, regarding the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program – and hopefully testifying (I think that’s the word). I will also be meeting with supporting WA state Senator Karen Keiser as well as my own WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles. I tried to get a meeting with WA state Senator Janea Holmquist Newbry, a Republican who supports SB 5159, which REPEALS support promised for families in 2015. I’d love to know how a person – and I hate to say it, but a woman in particular – could NOT support the possibility of paid leave (or just leave in general) for families. Alas, I have not heard back.

I know, all you conservative budget people are saying in your head, “We just don’t have the money, PLP! What’s wrong with you??” To that, I direct you back to the top of this post, where there’s a map showing how most of the world is currently affording this most basic of all supports for our next generation. We absolutely, 100% can afford it. We are just not prioritizing it.

I best sign off – I need to do a bit of research so I don’t feel like a complete n00b tomorrow. Wish me luck, everyone!

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Taking the Capitol by Storm: A Guest Post by Sarah Richey

When I found out that my dear friend, Sarah Richey, was going to Olympia on Lobby Day as a member of the board of New Beginnings, I thought: Brilliant! I want to know EVERYTHING about her trip. Then, I thought: Perhaps my readers will want to hear about it as well! So without further ado…

Two weeks ago, I found myself sitting across from my local State Representative, advocating on behalf of victims of domestic violence. Prior to this moment, my greatest political involvement had been mailing a ballot. I’d never set foot in our State Capitol, let alone the personal office of a legislator. But here I was, making a pitch to an elected official. How did I get here?

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to join the Board of Directors for New Beginnings, a Seattle-based non-profit with a mission “to provide shelter, advocacy and support for battered women and their children; and to change attitudes and social institutions that foster and perpetuate violence.” Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? As a backdrop, my husband has worked as a King County prosecutor in the Sexual Assault Unit for the past several years, inadvertently exposing me to some of the most soul crushing accounts of violence towards women and children. For a long time, I’ve felt an urge to get involved in my own way, and New Beginnings was the perfect opportunity.

After approximately five seconds of board experience, I was invited to attend the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence Lobby Day in Olympia, held on January 31st. WSCADV is a wonderful non-profit (despite possibly the worst acronym ever) dedicated to supporting a statewide network of domestic violence programs (like New Beginnings) through lobbying and research. Each year, they are granted a specific day to schedule dozens of meetings for constituents (i.e. you and me) to meet with their state Representatives and Senators to lobby on behalf of domestic violence issues.

I’d always had the impression that you needed a special password or secret handshake to access our legislators. As it turns out, you just need to schedule an appointment with their admin. In fact, professional lobbyists will often be bumped from the schedule in favor of the average citizen. This was a pretty major “aha moment” for me. Why vent to your friends on Facebook when you can vent to the people you’ve elected?

Sarah in front of the capitol

My Lobby Day started with an early morning carpool to Olympia in our Board President’s minivan. I’m pretty sure this is how Wayne LaPierre recently travelled to Congress. We gathered at a church with over 100 attendees from around the state, including non-profit members, advocates and victims. The friendly WSCADV staffers handed us a stack of colorful fliers and directed us to sit among the church pews according to our state districts (very Hunger Games). I joined four lovely women from district 34, two from the DoVE Project on Vashon Island and two from Consejo, a counseling service for Washington state Latino communities. Along with New Beginnings, these are just three among dozens of resources for abused women in King County alone.

The next few hours were essentially a crash-course in Lobbying 101 and the key House Bills (HB) and Senate Bills (SB) related to domestic violence. Each district would have three 15 minute appointments – one State Senator and two Representatives – during which to advocate on behalf of WSCADV and share related personal stories. In some cases, we were aiming to raise our concerns to the top of a long list of worthy causes. In others, it was lobbying for specific bills to be passed. Here are the current priorities for WSCADV:

Proposed Operating Budget (HB 1057 & SB 5034)

The House and Senate are in the process of creating a new budget for 2013-2015 under a $900 million dollar deficit. To add insult to injury, the state Supreme Court recently found that we are failing to adequately fund basic education by $1.4 BILLION dollars. WSCADV is lobbying to prevent inevitable cuts from impacting programs critical to domestic violence victims.

Proposed Capital Budget (HB 1089 & SB 5035)

The Capital Budget makes appropriations for construction and building, including affordable homes for low-income families and individuals. WSCADV is asking for the highest possible allocation to this fund, supporting survivors of domestic violence.

Fairness in Tenant Screening Reports (HB 1529)

This bill would remove legal protection orders from future tenant screening reports, preventing landlords of questionable scruples from discriminating against domestic violence victims.

Sick and Safe Employment Leave (HB 1313)

This bill would provide paid leave to address illness, domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Modifying the Definition of Third Degree Rape and Indecent Liberties (HB 1108)

In the biggest “how can this be legal??”example of the day, this bill was created to remove the archaic exemption in the law that prohibits a victim’s spouse from being convicted of third degree rape; in other words, a husband is currently free to force himself upon his wife without her consent.

Implementing the Recommendations of the Powell Fatality Review Team (SB 5315)

This bill adopts the critical findings following the horrific murder of Charlie and Braden Powell, including greater consultation between Child Protective Services and law enforcement, as well as domestic violence training and consultation for CPS caseworkers.

Throughout the morning, we heard from several enthusiastic speakers, including the two professional lobbyists for WSCADV, whom I found particularly fascinating. They made an astute point that domestic violence is a completely bipartisan issue, and every legislator should feel compelled to support our cause. By lunchtime, I felt about 2000% more confident than I had mere hours before and slightly convinced I had found a new calling. I was ready to take the Capital by storm!

the group pic

Fortunately, I live in a very progressive area (as if I would have it any other way) and our legislators are all incredibly supportive, often times sponsoring the bills in question. I was pleasantly surprised however, to find the atmosphere quite casual and inviting. Each legislator was genuinely engaged and appreciative of our feedback, and the majority of our time was spent thanking them for their continued support.

I had a few minutes to spare after our final appointment, so I took the opportunity to visit the Legislative Building itself (fun fact: it is the tallest self-supporting masonry dome in the United States). I’ve often thought politics was an insane career choice, but it’s hard not to feel inspired in such a majestic building. The sense of history is palpable, and the potential to lead change exhilarating.

As I looked for the exit, I rounded a corner and found myself upon the Governor’s office. My nerves spiked as I walked into the reception area. Was I allowed to enter? Did I look suspicious to the State Troopers guarding the doorway? To my relief, the receptionist welcomed me with a smile and referred me to a stack of blank comment cards. My mind went back to several facts included in our orientation fliers…

  • Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • Women are nearly 6 times more likely to be shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
  • A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
  • Women in states with higher gun ownership rates are almost 5 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.

I wrote to Governor Inslee, imploring him to do everything in his power to prevent domestic violence and bring an end to the gun violence associated with it. Too many women are murdered each year at the hands of an abusive partner with a loaded weapon. We MUST turn these statistics around.

Lobby Day was a life changing event. For this politically concerned, yet minimally involved voter, it was the light that illuminated the path of advocacy. I CAN make a difference, and so can YOU. WSCADV welcomes volunteers, and I highly encourage all PLP readers to attend Lobby Day next year. You can even join my carpool.

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

New Beginnings

Support the reinstatement of the Violence Against Women Act!

  • Domestic violence has dropped by more than half since the Violence Against Women Act became law in 1994. With more victims coming forward, reports of abuse have also increased by 50%.
  • The new bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate resolves the “blue slip” excuse House Republicans used as cover to oppose the bill last year, by removing an immigration-related provision that Senate Democrats are planning to enact later as part of immigration reform.
  • There is not a single House Republican who has signed onto the House version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill in the 113th Congress.
  • Women bear the brunt of domestic and sexual violence:
    • In the U.S., 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year.
    • 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
    • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBTQ) victims experience domestic violence in 25% to 35% of relationships — about the same rate as in the general population.
    • American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime.
  • Many Senate and House Republicans both tried to exclude immigrant, Native American, and gay and lesbian victims from the Act’s full protections last year.

Call your Senators and thank them for their unwavering support of S. 47 and all victims, and ask them to continue opposing harmful amendments that diminish protections for immigrant, LGBT, and Native survivors.

wscadv stop


In the dark


I must admit, the PLP is feeling a bit down. A little blue. A little like the dregs at the bottom of my coffee cup. So small and brown and sad. It could be the astounding amount of cheese dip I consumed while watching the Super Bowl, or the weather in Seattle which, for the first time in six years, is finally plunging me headlong into utter despair. There’s a great line from a Patty Griffin song that goes like this: “I need a little place in the sun sometimes or I think I will die.” Yes.

I have to decide, like SOON, whether or not I am returning to teaching. So I am going to start today with a rather blunt statement: If taxpayers could find it within themselves to value education and therefore pay me a competitive wage, I would return to teaching with open arms. This does not make me a bad person (not for this reason anyway). In the NYT this Sunday, the infamous Michelle Rhee, whom I admire not for her ideas necessarily but for her drive to change things, said, “Teachers have integrity. And if money was the motivating factor, they wouldn’t be in education” (Click here for the whole thing).

Um, okay. I get this is meant to be a compliment, but truly, how dare anyone intimate that integrity will pay my bills? That teachers are morally above earning money for a job well done? Logic has never been my strong suit, which is how I can say I am seriously considering returning. What is it about teaching that draws so many thousands of quite talented people to an arguably dead end job? It can’t be simply the summer holidays (though that is significant, I admit.) The negatives are obvious, such as low wages, an inflexible schedule, high levels of stress, an overly emotional and changeable clientele, and a lack of respect on a nationwide level. But positives might outweigh all of these things: Spending the day with colleagues who argue about themes in Heart of Darkness over microwaved Amy’s meals; teenagers, whose energy and optimism are catching; reading and analyzing books all day; never, ever, ever being bored. What do you think, darling readers? Should I return?

This week, I met up with Progressive Majority WA director Noel Frame, who I previously mentioned was a candidate for the state legislature in my own 36th district. It still amazes me that knowledgeable people are willing to sit down with me and educate me on the political system for free. Just because they care. How awesome is that? People like Noel motivate me to carry on when my ignorance about politics threatens to shove me back to my past state of apathy.

She has also helped me to shape my goal for the week, which is to tune into – basically a way to keep abreast of what is happening in Olympia from the coziness of your living room sofa. I plan on tuning into the 15 minute Legislative Review, shown Monday through Thursday online. I’m particularly interested today to hear the outcome of SB 1457, regarding family and medical leave and SJM 8002, about campaign financing. Check it out tonight with me!