University Place – State Representative Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, will join the National Conference of State Legislators’s Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs. The task force brings together a bipartisan coalition of state legislators from across the country to work on issues affecting military families, communities, and veterans.
A little over two years after a tragic Amtrak accident across I-5 that took three lives in DuPont, State Representatives Mari Leavitt and Christine Kilduff are partnering with US Representative Denny Heck to push for rail safety improvements on Amtrak trains at the state and federal level. US Representative Heck introduced HR 6066, the Passenger Train Safety Act at the federal level on Tuesday, March 3.
The Passenger Train Safety Act ensures that every new passenger train route is equipped with a Positive Train Control (PCT) system which would have prevented the tragic accident in DuPont. It would also require the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak to review its safety standards and protocols and to make upgrades where necessary.
Representatives Leavitt and Kilduff have introduced state level legislation to complement the Passenger Train Safety Act and make sure that every level of government is taking all the steps necessary to make rail travel safe.
“Ensuring that all new passenger routes have Positive Train Control guarantees that we will never face a tragedy like the one we faced two years ago,” said Rep. Leavitt. “That is why Rep. Kilduff and I have written to the chair of the United States House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and asked him to schedule HR 6066 for a hearing. Strengthening rail safety should be a priority at all levels of government.”
Rep. Leavitt introduced House Bill 2287 which mandates that the Joint Transportation Committee study the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations about the 2017 accident in DuPont, other states’ rail safety best practices, and Washington’s rail safety practices. The Joint Transportation Committee will then issue recommendations for improving rail safety as well as coordination between state agencies, local governments, and the federal government.
“Just as the federal government must act to ensure an accident like this never happens again, we owe it to the people of Washington to take a hard look in the mirror and ensure that we are doing everything in our power to have a safe rail system,” said Rep. Leavitt.
Rep. Kilduff introduced House Bill 2439 which would support the sharing of information between the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission, which partners with the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct rail safety inspections, and other state agencies and local governments. It further enables state agencies and local governments to work hand in hand with the state and federal governments to keep passengers safe.
“Removing barriers to sharing critical rail safety inspection reports and information across government will protect the traveling public and reduce the risk of future derailments,” said Kilduff.
At the very end of a long four days of floor debate, Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, passed her bill to fund cost of living adjustments for retired employees in the PERS 1/TRS 1 system. House Bill 1390 provides a one-time 3 percent increase to the retirement benefits of former teachers, corrections officers, social workers, and other state retirees.
“It is time Washington state treats its retirees fairly and equitably,” said Leavitt. “These retirees have seen an increase in their monthly costs, from prescription drug costs to the cost of living in our region. Many of those former state workers live in Pierce County and have seen their purchasing power decline significantly. These people played by the rules and worked hard, and this bill is needed to help them pay for their medication and other costs.”
The bill passed the House unanimously and is sent to the Senate for its consideration.
New protections for children are on their way to becoming law thanks to new legislation passed by the House Tuesday morning. Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, introduced House Bill 2442 which was approved by the House in a near unanimous 96-1 vote. The legislation puts into place restrictions on advertising of specific products to minors and restricts sale of personal information of data. Minors can also request information posted online be removed, something wanted by children and parents.
“In an increasingly digital world, children are increasingly becoming targets of advertising, often for harmful products like alcohol, vapor, or age-inappropriate materials,” said Leavitt. “We cannot allow companies to use data taken from our children to market directly to them, particularly for products that we want kids to avoid. This is a great step in protecting our children while still maintaining their access to information and developing the digital literacy required for the 21st century.”
The bill requires protections for all children under the age of 18, protecting significantly more children than the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) which limits its requirements to apply to those children under the age of 13.
House Bill 2442 now heads to the Senate for its consideration.
Two Pierce County area legislators this year have proposed that high schools be required to track such information. A report would be published every fall for public inspection and for study by state university researchers.
House Bill 2731 is a sensible bipartisan idea offered by Rep. Morgan Irwin (R-Enumclaw) and Mari Leavitt (D-University Place). It directs the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to collect head injury information for 9th through 12th grade athletes at the WIAA’s roughly 800 member schools.
Also on the table: a bill that would make college costs more transparent. If it’s approved, acceptance letters to any of the state’s public colleges would provide students with the estimated cost to earn a degree. These letters would also list financial-aid options, said bill sponsor Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place.
“It’s really hard if you go to the varying [colleges’] websites to figure out what the costs are,” she said. If acceptance letters included those figures, as well as financial-aid options, “you don’t have the sticker shock of knowing this is what it’s going to take.”
State Representative Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, returns to Olympia today for the 2020 short session. Entering the 60-session, Leavitt has released her legislative agenda tackling some of Pierce County’s biggest challenges and which focuses on increased services and opportunities for children, veterans, families, and Pierce County’s most vulnerable citizens.
“Almost every day, I talk with and hear stories from constituents who are struggling to pay for the rising cost of prescription drugs; retired teachers and corrections officers on fixed incomes facing major increases to their cost of living; and military service personnel and their families who aren’t getting the services they need and deserve. I plan to make every day of the short session count by focusing on the priorities given to me by my constituents,” said Leavitt. “That’s why my agenda will focus on housing needs and behavioral health care improvements, quality education, and keeping families and children safe. We must also do right by workers and enhance and improve services for senior citizens,” she continued.
Leavitt is off to a strong start having already introduced new legislation prioritizing employment opportunities for military spouses (HB 2303), a chief area of concern for the Employment Securities Division and the Washington Department for Veterans Affairs. HB 2303 allows armed forces members or their spouses to practice their profession without a Washington state license or permit if they or their spouse is stationed here, and they have a similar license or permit in good standing in another state. This provides military families stability and a valuable source of income, sidestepping burdensome regulation.
Leavitt has also introduced legislation building on her past efforts to increase public safety and combat human trafficking, which continues to be a problem in Washington state and the rest of the country. Many human trafficking victims end up in plain sight at hotels and motels, and exploitation of victims, many of whom are minors, happens in places where families stay for vacations, or where businesses host conventions. Leavitt’s HB 2320 provides for annual training for hospitality workers who are in a unique position to interact with guests, to identify the signs of human trafficking and obtain the necessary information to report those signs to the national human trafficking hotline or local law enforcement.
One bill coming back from 2019 includes the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retired state employees in the PERS 1/TRS 1 system. Originally funded in the 2019 House budget, the legislation failed to be passed into law. If passed this year, it would codify into law COLA increases for former teachers, corrections officers, school cafeteria workers, park maintenance staff, social workers, and more, who were denied COLA increases for years after the Great Recession. In addition, Leavitt has introduced HB 2189 to ensure that behavioral health care workers who work with criminal defendants also receive COLA increases.
“I am excited to return to Olympia and continue this work, fighting for better opportunities for our military service members and veterans, keeping communities safe from human traffickers, and helping retired seniors struggling to make ends meet,” said Leavitt. “A lot can be done in 60 days if we work together and put people first, and that’s what I am going to do.”
Leavitt has introduced additional legislation regarding solemnization of marriage for military couples, school meals and health centers, new punishments for those perpetuating the opioid epidemic, and protections for minors. Click here for a complete list of legislation offered by Leavitt in 2019-2020.
Rep. Mari Leavitt (D-University Place) said she’ll use her appointment to the Joint Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs to push for reforms.
“Drive anywhere in this beautiful state and you’ll see how intertwined we are with the military,” said Leavitt, who grew up as part of a military family. “We are home to major Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard facilities, and many soldiers make Washington state their permanent home when they retire. That’s why it’s so important that we get this right for our soldiers and veterans.”
Washington ranks in the top seven states for the number of active-duty military personnel, beating out far larger states such as New York.
“It’s important that we focus on such matters as barriers to work and economic opportunity, cybersecurity, behavioral health and veterans suicide prevention, military partnerships, transition and outreach, training and support for military families,” Leavitt said.
The joint committee includes lawmakers in the House and Senate from both parties. In 2018, it tackled topics such as state benefits for veterans, support for service members deployed overseas, GI Bill participation, pension benefits for reserve and guard members and veterans suffering from homelessness.
“The issues facing soldiers and veterans aren’t simple, partly because we can’t control what the federal government and military decide to do,” Leavitt said. “It’s our duty to take care of everything we can from the state side of things, whether it’s by legislation, funding in the budget or cooperation with federal lawmakers and officials. And the work this committee does is critical to military members, their families and the communities around our bases.”
The committee was established by law (Revised Code of Washington 73.04.150), with information about meetings, agendas and reports available online here: leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/VMA/Pages/default.aspx
Leavitt also serves on the House committee that focuses on veterans’ issues and as vice chair of the bipartisan House Veterans and Military Families Caucus.
Tacoma Community College is honored to recognize Mari Leavitt as the 2019 TCC Distinguished Alumnus.
A Lincoln High School graduate, Leavitt earned her Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree from TCC and was recognized as a TCC Ellen Pinto Outstanding Student of the Year. She went on to earn her B.A. and M. Ed. from Western Washington University and her Ph.D. in Community College Leadership from Oregon State University.
At TCC, Mari Leavitt (then Mari Hyzer) served as Associated Students of Tacoma Community College (ASTCC) President. As a member of student government, she was involved in securing funding for the Building 11 Opgaard Student Center. She prioritized student involvement, encouraging students to participate in ASTCC, vote, volunteer, and contact legislators. She brought legislators to campus to talk to students, organizing a successful tour for local representatives. During her time at TCC Leavitt developed an appreciation for Washington’s community and technical college system that would strongly influence her life’s work.
Leavitt has remained a steadfast community college advocate throughout her professional career, which includes working for nearly twenty-one years in the community college system, including time spent at TCC and Pierce College. Leavitt also worked as Assistant Director of Integrative Prevention & Education/Title IX Administrator at The Evergreen State College. She currently serves as a State Representative for the 28th District, where she continues to advocate for community and technical colleges and students as Vice Chair of the College & Work Force Development Committee.
Leavitt was nominated by a TCC employee who first knew her as the neighbor who encouraged her to go back to school and re-enter the workforce.
“I was a stay at home mom in our community and Mari was a huge encouragement to me when I shared that I wanted to enter back into the workforce and in particular that I wanted to work at TCC,” reads the nomination. “Her love for higher education and her students was infectious and I wanted to be part of that world. She encouraged me to get my master’s degree and showed me that I could achieve that dream while still being a great mom to my children. She still inspires me with her drive and passion for our community.”
Leavitt will be honored at the 10:00 a.m. TCC commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Commencement will be held on the TCC Tacoma campus in the TCC gymnasium, building 20.
Drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians will see new projects along their daily commute thanks to significant investments in the state Transportation Budget. $414 million is allocated for 28th District projects over the next decade, including I-5 improvements near Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Tacoma Narrows Bridge sales tax deferral.
The state Transportation Budget funds transportation-related projects all across Washington and was approved by a bipartisan vote of 96-2 on Sunday. Reps. Christine Kilduff and Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, advocated for a variety of projects, including:
- $332 million for I-5 improvements including a new lane between Thorne Lane and the Mounts Road Interchange.
- A planned $57.6 million payment to defer all sales tax payments on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to cut down on the need for increased tolls over the next 13 years.
- Almost $8 million for Tacoma Narrows Bridge maintenance.
- $4 million for DuPont-Steilacoom Road lane construction in both directions.
- $2 million for curb, gutter, sidewalk, and street lighting along Veterans Drive and Vernon Ave for the Lake City Business District.
- $1 million for railroad crossing improvements at train noise mitigation at the 6th avenue/Titlow & South 19th street railroad crossings.
“The bipartisan, cooperative approach to how we get Washington moving is an example of what can be done when lawmakers work together,” said Kilduff. “Our region will see increased jobs, economic vitality, and families able to get to where they are trying to go safely. I am especially pleased that once again the Legislature has recognized the value in keeping tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from going up.”
I-5 improvements to add lanes near JBLM should reduce chronic traffic congestion through the corridor, with safer interchanges and improved traffic flow.
“Commuters to and from JBLM need the new lanes to cut down on their travel times and move around the county,” said Leavitt. “The highway, roadway, and pedestrian and bicycle projects in our region provide pathways for families to get where they need to go, how they want to get there. Projects like the DuPont-Steilacoom road improvement project will take big steps toward relieving congestion for local commuters.”