By Evan Smith
Democratic State Rep. Ruth Kagi says that the 2014 legislative session that ended in March was productive and positive.
“After many efforts over the past five years, the legislature passed the Dream Act assuring that young people who come here with their parents when they are young and work hard to get an education will be able to access financial aid to go to college,” Kagi said last week.
In addition, Kagi said, “We were able to invest new funding into our Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs, which will provide parents working hard to get out of poverty a better chance to get the skills they need, and to succeed … We also passed a couple of bills significantly expanding funding for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Kagi said that more than 15,000 families are on a waiting list for services.
“They have been determined eligible for services but, due to lack of funding, have been unable to get help,” she said. “The bills we passed will enable us to access new federal funding to provide services to thousands of these families.”
She noted that the Legislature also passed an extension of the document-recording fee, a fee that pays for housing support to prevent homelessness, and provide housing to homeless individuals and families.
“Failing to pass this extension would have had major negative consequences for our current efforts to prevent homelessness,” Kagi said.
Kagi said that her major accomplishment for the session was passage of the Youth Opportunity Act — a bill that allows juvenile records to be sealed when a youth turns 18.
“The bill does not apply to serious violent offenses, sex offenses and felony drug offenses, but will provide over 6,000 youth each year the opportunity to put their youthful mistakes behind them and move forward to get an education, a job and housing,” she said. “Currently Washington is one of eight states with open records. The arrests and convictions of teens have followed them into their adulthood, often stopping them from becoming productive adults.
“It has taken many years to get this bill passed and correct a real injustice in our current system.”
Kagi also noted that the final bill of the session was Rep. Mary Helen Roberts’ bill to provide extended foster care to youth who work part time and are unable to fully support themselves.
“Rep. Roberts, who is retiring at the end of this year, is responsible for much of the progress we have made over the past several years to help foster youth aging out of care at 18 the opportunity to have support during their transition to adulthood,” Kagi said. “These bills are reducing the high rate of homelessness among foster youth aging out of care. The legislature will miss her leadership and hard work on behalf of youth.”
Kagi said that the main disappointment of the 2014 legislative session was the failure to close tax loopholes in order to increase support for early learning and K-12 education. Another was the inability to reach agreement on a transportation package.
“I expect we will be revisiting both issues in the next legislative session,” Kagi said.
Kagi represents the 32nd Legislative District, including Woodway, south Edmonds and nearby unincorporated areas of southwest Snohomish County, all of Lynnwood and part of Mountlake Terrace, the City of Shoreline and part of northwest Seattle.
She is chairwoman of the House committee on early learning and human services, and a member of the Environment Committee, the Appropriations Committee and the appropriations subcommittee on health and human services.