2015 Legislative Session Wrap-up

July 1, 2015

Late last night Governor Inslee signed the 2015-17 operating and capital budgets, averting a partial shutdown of state government that would have begun in July. This occurred after the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to approve the budgets, which were finalized after months of negotiation and approved during a third special session, following the conclusion of the regular session in April, and special sessions in May and June. With the session nearing its conclusion, this blog post provides an overview of the 2015 legislative session, including key budget and policy issues impacting WWU and higher education in Washington State.


Operating Budget

The State’s 2015-2017 biennial operating budget totals $38.2 billion and includes significant investments in higher education, and in Western specifically. For the first time in the state’s history, the budget reduces tuition for resident undergraduate students, providing financial relief for students and their families. Tuition cuts for resident undergraduates at Western will be phased in over the next two years, with a 5 percent reduction this fall, followed by an additional 15 percent reduction for fall 2016. 

The biennial budget also includes funding for competitive compensation adjustments throughout higher education, providing state funding for cost of living adjustments for state employees for the first time since 2008. The Legislature provided compensation funding for all Western employees that is roughly equivalent to a 3 percent increase in 2015-16 and a 1.8 percent increase in 2016-17. Compensation for classified employees also includes a salary survey that will support market-based adjustments for many positions. Additionally, Western received funding for the development of a Bachelor of Science degree program in Computer and Information Systems Security (CISS) at Peninsula and Olympic Colleges to begin in 2017.

In terms of financial aid, the budget reduces funding for the State Need Grant (SNG) and the College Bound Scholarship (CBS) programs due to the decrease in resident undergraduate tuition.  Funding was provided for the Washington Student Achievement Council to design and implement a program that provides customized information about post-secondary education to high achieving, low income high school students.  Additionally funding was provided for state-match requirements for the Opportunity Scholarship program. Several small financial aid programs were also re-suspended, including the Future Teachers Conditional Scholarship and Loan Repayment programs, the Washington Scholars and the Washington Awards for Vocational Excellence programs and the Community Scholarship Matching Grants and the Foster Care Endowed Scholarships.

You can find a summary of the final operating budget here compared to proposals from the Governor, and the House and Senate.


Capital Budget

Carver Academic Facility

For the third biennium in a row, renovation of the Carver Academic Facility was Western’s top capital budget request, and this year funding for the renovation and expansion of Carver was included in the 2015-17 capital budget.  This funding ensures that Western will be able to carry out plans for renovation of the building.  Renovation of Carver is scheduled to begin this summer and should be completed by the spring of 2017.

In addition to being Western’s most heavily used building on campus, Carver is also the largest indoor assembly space in Whatcom County, and the much-needed renovation will strengthen seismic stability, increase accessibility, and improve energy efficiency in Carver. Additionally, Carver currently houses more than 300 academic classes and labs each year and with the renovation, Western will add new classrooms and labs to support an additional 185 graduates per year in high-demand majors.

Obtaining funding to renovate the Carver Academic Facility is a big step forward for the WWU campus and local community, and will allow the university to focus on fulfilling other projects outlined in its 2013-2023 Capital Plan. Funding was also provided in the 2015-17 capital budget for the preservation of capital minor works projects on campus.

University Center of North Puget Sound

Washington State University received funding for the development of new academic programs in software engineering and data analytics at the University Center of North Puget Sound. WSU also received funding in the capital budget for the construction of a new academic building at WSU North Puget Sound at Everett.


Policy Bills that Passed the Legislature

Tuition Policy

Senate Bill 5954, sponsored by Senator John Braun, implements the first reduction in resident undergraduate education in the state’s history, while backfilling the foregone tuition revenue with state funding.  Under this legislation, tuition cuts for resident undergraduates at Western will be phased in over the next two years, with a 5 percent reduction this fall followed by an additional 15 percent reduction for fall 2016.  The bill also eliminates local tuition-setting authority from state statute, limits increases in building fees to inflation levels, and provides for a number of changes related to the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program.

Campus Sexual Assault Prevention

Sexual violence on college campuses has gained national media attention over the past year, and this session the legislature passed two bills to address campus sexual violence in Washington.

SB 5719, sponsored by Senator Barbara Bailey, creates a task force on campus sexual violence to develop recommendations and best practices regarding sexual violence prevention and response to assist the work of colleges and universities throughout the state. The task force will be staffed by the Council of Presidents and will be comprised of 14 members, including a Title IX representative from each of the six public baccalaureate higher education institutions. Dr. Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, Vice Provost for Equal Opportunity and Employment Diversity, will represent WWU on the task force.

SB 5518, sponsored by Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, mirrors federal requirements and creates procedures to address campus sexual violence. The bill requires institutions of higher education to conduct an assessment to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses, to make information available to current and prospective students and employees regarding campus sexual violence confidentiality and reporting requirements, and to ensure that public higher education institutions do not use different disciplinary processes regarding sexual violence on the same campus based upon the status or characteristics of students involved.

Tuition for Families of Highway Workers

The legislature passed a bill this session to waive tuition and fees at public four-year institutions for children and surviving spouses of highway workers who lost their lives or became totally disabled in the line of duty while employed by a transportation agency. WWU and the other four-year public institutions currently waive tuition and fees for children and surviving spouses of law enforcement and firefighters killed in the line of duty. HB 1977, sponsored by Representative Luis Moscoso, extends the same benefits to families of highway workers to increase their access to postsecondary education opportunities.

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

In order to improve mental health for students on college campuses, HB 1138, sponsored by Representative Tina Orwall, creates a taskforce on mental health and suicide prevention at institutions of higher education. The taskforce is designed to determine what policies and resources are needed to support the institutions in order to improve access to mental health services and suicide prevention responses. The taskforce will report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature by November 1, 2016.

Veterans and Service Members

Multiple higher education bills were passed by the legislature this session to decrease the costs of college and increase access for active service members, veterans, and their families.

The US Department of Defense Tuition Assistance Program offers up to one hundred percent tuition assistance for members of the armed forces who wish to enroll in college courses during their off-duty hours. Beginning May 2014, this federal program changed to only cover the cost of tuition, as opposed to also covering fees, books and supplies. In response to this change and to decrease the costs of higher education for service members, HB 1706, sponsored by Representative Derek Stanford, authorizes public institutions of higher education to waive building fees and service and activity fees for service members eligible to participate in the federal program.

SB 5355, sponsored by Senator Barbara Bailey, modifies the definition of resident student for veterans in order to comply with the federal Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. By aligning state language with federal requirements, the bill helps ensure that veterans and their spouses and dependents qualify for resident tuition at institutions of higher education throughout Washington State.

Each academic year, thousands of veterans and spouses of veterans attend public baccalaureate institutions throughout the state. HB 1052, sponsored by Representative Dave Hayes, will extend early course registration processes currently available for eligible veterans and National Guard members to spouses and domestic partners receiving veteran education benefits. Western currently provides early course registration for students with specific and unique scheduling needs, including students with disabilities, athletes, and qualified veterans. Early registration for spouses and domestic partners receiving veteran education benefits will begin in the 2015-16 academic year.

Financial Aid

SB 5638, sponsored by Senator Bob Hasegawa, modifies the requirements of the State Need Grant program to make the grant available to students enrolled or accepted for enrollment at a qualifying institution of higher education for at least three quarter credits, or the equivalent semester credits.  This policy has been authorized on a pilot-basis since 2005 and was made permanent by the passage of this legislation.

During the 2014 legislative session, the legislature created a work group to review and make recommendations for improvement of the College Bound Scholarship program. After meeting four times over the course of last year, the work group developed a report with recommendations regarding the Scholarship. SB 5851, sponsored by Senator David Frockt, implements the recommendations, which are organized in the categories of data, student supports, communications, statutory changes, and funding.

Dual Credit

HB 1546, sponsored by Representative Chris Reykdal, made policy changes to dual credit programs throughout the state, such as Running Start and College in the High School, that allow high school students to earn postsecondary course credit while also earning credit toward high school graduation. Changes from this bill include making tenth grade students eligible for the College in the High School program, eliminates the use of Running Start courses offered solely at high school campuses, and permits Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) credits to be used for Running Start and College in the High School fees.

During the 2012-13 school year, more than 170,000 high school students were enrolled in dual credit courses in Washington. This session, $6.6 million was allocated for the implementation of HB 1546 based on savings achieved through eliminating the use of Running Start for courses offered in the high school.  The funding will be used by the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) to provide partial funding for College in the High School classes for eligible 11th and 12th grade students.

Medical Education

One of the most highly-publicized topics during the legislative session was Washington State University gaining the authority to establish a medical school in Spokane. House Bill 1559, sponsored by Representative Marcus Riccelli, amended state statute that gave the University of Washington the exclusive right to providing medical education in the state.

UW currently admits 120 medical students each year, and runs a regional medical education network known as WWAMI that includes the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. While HB 1559 does not appropriate state funds to establish a WSU medical school, WSU plans to admit the first class of students in the fall of 2017 if future funding is established.

The University of Washington received funding to expand the number of residency slots available at UW Medicine, and to continue operation of the WWAMI program. WSU received one-time funding to support the development of the curriculum, the courses, the faculty, and the administrative structure required by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the body responsible for accrediting medical schools in the U.S. and Canada to start a medical school.

Finally, a total of $9.6 million in funding was provided for the Health Professionals Loan Repayment program to increase the number of licensed primary care health professionals serving in critical shortage areas.

Looking Ahead to the 2016 Session

The Washington State Legislature holds a 105-day legislative session during odd numbered years, and 60-day sessions during even numbered years to coincide with the state’s biennial (two-year) budget cycle. Washington enacts budgets that begin on July 1 of odd-numbered years and expire June 30 of the following year, but each year the legislature considers changes to the biennial budget known as supplemental budgets.

During the 60-day 2016 legislative session, the legislature will consider supplemental changes to the biennial budget and policy bills that make their way through legislative committees. Western will continue bringing policy and capital proposals to the legislature during the upcoming session that build on the university’s strengths and serve the needs of the state of Washington.

The next legislative session will convene January 11, 2016.


Until next time, go Vikings!

Page Updated 07.16.2015