The long 105-day session of the Washington Legislature wrapped up (mostly!) on April 23, 2023, with some real wins for our friends in the Public Library Division, some work to do for the School Library Division, and some really good news for the Washington State Library!
New State Library Archives: The Capital Budget (the budget that pays for buildings and construction) set aside $8 million to start the planning and construction of an archives building for the Washington State Library through the Office of the Secretary of State. This is something the State Library has been working on for a while, and it’s great to see it come one step closer to fruition!
Grants for Public Library Projects: The Capital Budget also funded twelve different public library grants in Camas, Longview, Port Townsend, Shelton, South Bend, Walla Walla, Pend O’Reille County, Bonney Lake, Sumner, San Juan County, Stevens County, and Tacoma. Getting that many projects approved is a remarkable success for Washington public libraries in a single year, and we really appreciate everyone from all the divisions who took the time to write in and advocate for these projects!
Great News Up North: In Republic, they’ve been doing a lot of planning for a new library in their town; the state allocated $183,000 to help their planning process.
For the Academic Libraries: Nearly $34 million was set aside for a library renovation project at North Seattle Community College, and $2.2 million at Skagit College for their library.
Institutional Libraries: There was a new appropriation of $1,168,000 to expand services at the nine prison libraries around the state.
Beginning Literacy: Building off a bill that passed last year, $1,000,000 per year for the next two years was added to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program to give books to kids.
But These Were Also the Worst of Times: It’s hard to know which literary allusion to lean on for this section where I share with you what happened with SB5102, the bill that expands the role of Teacher-Librarians and mandates that allocated funds are directed to school libraries.
In some respects the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones works--we were expecting to have a productive hearing in the House Appropriations Committee on the morning of Saturday, April 4th, and then suddenly things went horribly wrong.
In other respects it was a Long Day’s Journey Into Night, with parties talking past each other without hearing what the others were saying.
The clip that comes most easily to mind, though, is Scarlett O’Hara and the “As God As My Witness!” scene from Gone With the Wind; we may be bowed, but we are not broken. Here’s the play-by-play on what happened with the bill this year:
We had two versions of the bill introduced, SB 5102 in the State Senate with prime sponsor Lisa Wellman, and HB 1609 from Carolyn Eslick in the State House. The House bill was able to make it out of the House Education Committee before failing to advance in Appropriations (foreshadowing!), but the Senate Bill advanced out of the Senate, through another hearing in the House Education Committee, and was teed up for passage in the House Appropriations Committee on Saturday, April 4th….
….when suddenly, it wasn’t. We were on the agenda. Possible changes to the bill were discussed. It looked like it was absolutely ready to pass out of committee and head to the House Floor, and then it was pulled from the agenda and never seen again.
We’re still piecing together what happened. School districts never liked the bill from the get-go because it would have obligated them to spend the money they’re given for libraries on libraries, which would have cut back on some of their flexibility, but would have also matched the legislative intent of the money. Small school districts often staff their libraries with aides and assistants who aren’t full teacher-librarians and were worried that they would have had to cut the people they know to hire people they don’t; while we understand the fear, that was never the intent. We did some great outreach to the Public School Employees of Washington, the union that represents library paraprofessionals, but the language we agreed to actually made some of our most fervent legislative supporters afraid that it was diverting attention from hiring teacher librarians. In the end, we believe we lost due to concerns over erosion of school district local control and a desire by legislators to wait until we could put more money into hiring actual teacher-librarians. We were literally caught in the middle.
Despite all that, if you look at passing a bill as a 12-step process, we made it through nine of the steps, and that’s pretty impressive. We have some ideas about how to make the bill more palatable for next year in the short 60-day session. The bill is still alive–it just may need some tweaking.
If you have any questions about this year’s legislative session please don’t hesitate to reach out to either myself or our lobbyist Carolyn Logue at the main WLA email address, [email protected]. Please know that we’re working hard to advance your interests in Olympia, and we appreciate your support!