House OKs 7 percent college tuition cap

OLYMPIA – Tuition increases for in-state college students would be capped at 7 percent a year through 2017 under a measure that overwhelmingly passed the House on Friday.

The measure, which passed the Senate last month, passed on a 96-1 vote and now heads to the desk of Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“The goal in Washington state is to educate more students to higher levels,” said Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver. “One of the barriers is cost.”

The measure is one of several recommendations of the Washington Learns task force, which spent 18 months examining the state’s education system and was co-chaired by Gregoire.

“The incomes are not rising as fast as tuition has been,” Wallace said. “This bill helps us to reduce that problem and helps us to begin taking very proactive steps to making education more affordable and more accessible.”

The House also passed a measure that would allow the state to enter into agreements with Indian tribes to allow continued collection of the state gas tax on the tribes’ reservations. The measure passed on a bipartisan 83-11 vote, but was amended in a House committee, so it must go back to the Senate, where it passed last month.

The measure is in response to a 2005 U.S. District Court ruling that upheld tribal sovereignty over taxation and opened the door for all tribal retailers to avoid the state fuel tax of 34 cents a gallon. The bill would rework state gas tax statutes to ensure that tribes continue collecting the state tax, which will increase to 36 cents per gallon next year.

The bill would allow the revenue to be shared by the state and tribes. State gas taxes are used for road projects.

The measure passed the Senate last year but got stopped up in the House.

If all 15 tribes with gas stations had decided not to collect the tax, the state could have lost millions of dollars a year in revenue. Such a move also would have allowed tribal gas stations to undercut prices at nontribal stations.

Last year, two tribes, the Swinomish and Squaxin Island, negotiated a revenue-sharing agreement with the state to allow continued collection.

The bill allows the state to negotiate compacts with all the tribes on a case-by-case basis. The state has similar compacts for liquor and cigarette taxation.

The House on Friday also passed:

  • A measure that would create an early learning advisory council to advise the Department of Early Learning on a statewide plan to teach preschoolers. The measure is Senate Bill 5828. It was amended in the House and will be sent back to the Senate for concurrence. The vote was 96-1.

  • A measure that would increase the minimum benefit paid on worker compensation claims. Under the bill, the minimum amount paid would be set at 15 percent of the state average monthly wage, plus an additional $10 per month if a worker is married and an additional $10 per month for each child. If the amount exceeded the worker’s wages, then 100 percent of the worker’s wages would be paid. The measure, Senate Bill 5675, was amended in the House and now goes back to the Senate. The vote was 68-29.

  • A measure that directs the Washington Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect to put money toward home visitation programs for improving parenting skills and outcomes for children. The measure, Senate Bill 5830, was amended in the House and now goes back to the Senate. It passed 95-2.

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