Sen. Angel has overflowing plate of issues in Olympia next legislative session

OLYMPIA — It’s time for the usual pre-session flurry of activity at the state Legislature in Olympia in the waning days of the year.

Having concluded a summer and fall of campaigning for their legislative district seats, incumbents and newly elected representatives gathered in the state capital in late November to, among other things, find out what committee seats they will occupy for the upcoming 2017 legislative session.

For 26th District Sen. Jan Angel, who’s an old hand at these things, she’s nonetheless under the gun. When interviewed by phone a few weeks back, Angel was following a packed schedule and had just 10 minutes or so to talk before heading off to yet another meeting.

First things first prior to the start of the legislative session: assigning committee seats. A Senate committee to make decisions about, yes, committee assignments was preparing to meet soon, Angel said, but the veteran of the Legislature expected that she’d continue her work as vice chair of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, which is responsible for policy and legislation impacting banks, credit unions and the insurance industry, not including that for healthcare.

“This summer, I’ve gone to several national conferences with regards to insurance,” Angel said, “because that is something you have to keep up with every six months or so,” she said of the rapidly changing nature of the industry.

“I’m really hopeful that with the Trump administration coming in, we’ll get some sort of relief for our banks and credit unions at the national level, because right now, they’re struggling.”

Angel sits on another prominent legislative committee — Trade and Economic Development — which helps steer policy on a significant driver of the economy — the state’s trade with international partners, most notably China. Puget Sound ports, and Boeing assembly lines, are huge pistons that drive the state’s economic engines. Much of that trade is conducted across international borders.

Just how the Trump administration frames its trade policies, considering the incoming president’s campaign bombast directed at China and Mexico, is up for debate. Whatever shape it takes will impact this region more than perhaps any other in the U.S.

But while much of that debate will take place in Washington D.C. and not in Olympia, education — or ways to fund it — will be up to the state’s legislators, who will continue to figure out a funding strategy in the upcoming session.

While an ultimate solution to the McCleary decision on school funding is still elusive, Angel said she’s happy with the results the Legislature came up with last session.

“We’ve made tremendous progress,” Angel said.

“We’ve put billions into education over the last couple of sessions. We’ve added over 500 new classrooms through the capital budget. I think the 800-pound gorilla is levy equalization. The tough part about the levies is with the three school districts that I represent (South Kitsap, Bremerton and Peninsula).

“It puts us as state representatives of the 26th District between a rock and a hard place. South Kitsap and Bremerton have lower property values.

“Peninsula has higher property values, and they’ve passed more levies than we have (at South Kitsap). So, they’d probably tend to lose more, depending on how this comes out.”

Angel said the inequity in the size of the state’s 295 school districts has made finding a funding solution much more difficult.

“The hard part is to come out with something that is the most equitable for all of them and try to do no harm,” she said.

“I don’t think there’s any one legislator anywhere on this campus who doesn’t want to fix this. We just got to figure out how.”

How to fund the state’s community college and vocational-technical institutes also hasn’t been resolved — especially for the students paying tuition who are attending classes there. Angel said she’s added their plight to her legislative plate: “I’ve met with our community colleges and voc-tech people to help them, because so many kids are not going to be able to go to college. I think we’ve got to get them back on track.”

As a member of the Senate’s Health Care Committee, figuring out how to fix health care in the state is “going to be very huge, depending on what comes down nationally,” the state senator said.

“Mental health is a big issue. I’ve been working hand-in-hand with (chief executive director) Joe Roszak over at Kitsap Mental Health, because they’ve got an amazing program of collaborative care that I’ve presented at a national conference. They’re going to run out of funding. That’s an issue I’m going to be working hard to fund.”

Angel said solutions to the problems at Washington State Hospital and Department of Corrections also will take up much of her time in Olympia.

“As you can see, my plate runneth over,” she laughed before to heading off to her next round of meetings at the state capital.