Council: End Immediately Policy Separating Mothers and Children

Yesterday, by unanimous vote of the King County Council, we called upon the Trump administration to end their policy of stripping children from their parents as they enter the United States. The motion, which I sponsored, urges the Administration to release all immigrants and allow them to reunite with the families while their asylum claims are processed.

In April, the Administration implemented a policy that greatly expands the practice of separating families who cross the border without documentation, including families who are seeking asylum. Since then, at least 2,000 children have been separated from their parents, including children as young as 18 months old.

These children are being placed in foster care or being held at federal facilities, including overcrowded shelters, converted Walmarts and, soon, tent cities. Federal officials have reportedly refused to share information about the children’s whereabouts with some parents. Other officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have said that, moving forward, they expect to take in about 250 children per day.

Experts have described the traumatic effects of separation on the children, including long-term health effects like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even heart disease. The American College of Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all called for the Administration to stop separating families at the border. The United Nations Human Rights Office has described it as a violation of the rights of the children and their families and a violation of international law, urging an immediate halt to the practice.

Federal legislation has been introduced preventing the Department of Homeland Security from continuing the practice of separating families who have entered the country either undocumented or seeking asylum. But none of this legislation has passed.

We are a nation of laws, but there are moral lines that we should never cross and implementing a system of taking children from their families with no clear path to reunite them is one of them. There is no underlying law that requires children to be taken from their parents if the family crosses the border without documentation.

The Administration has implemented this policy voluntarily and has full power to reverse it. We are calling on them to do so. Separating children from their parents is a cruel and unnecessary act that does nothing to make our country safer. As a mother, as a human being—it is heartbreaking to imagine the trauma and suffering this practice inflicts on both the children and the parents. I will not stand silently while families are needlessly torn apart and I hope my neighbors will join me in opposing this policy.

May is Bike Everywhere Month

May is Bike Everywhere Month and I’m kicking it into high gear by sharing my own Bike Everywhere experience! Whether you ride all the way to your destination or use your bike to get to transit, biking is great exercise and a good way to stay healthy and enjoy the sunshine.

Claudia with Bikes

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Property Tax Rates in King County

Many eastside residents have written to me about the sharp increase in property taxes this year. I’ve heard from seniors on fixed incomes concerned about whether they will be able to afford to stay in the homes they’ve lived in for decades.  I’ve heard from people trying to keep up with taxes that are increasing faster than their wages.  And I’ve heard from people who are just mad at the big increase after years of incremental increases due to voted levies and increased home and land values.  Increased property taxes are contributing to already out-of-control costs of housing for everyone, causing people who work in places like Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland to have to move farther and farther away. Continue reading

Proposed Changes to 4Culture Governance

4cultureI greatly appreciate the ability of arts and culture programs to strengthen and enhance our communities. Like many people, some of my most joyous and educational experiences include sharing the arts with family and friends. These kinds of experiences enrich our lives, cause us to consider our common values, and knit us together as a society in the face of so many forces that pull us apart. They also provide economic opportunities for many people, and our county as a whole. For these reasons, I have repeatedly voted to support public funding of arts, culture, heritage and historical preservation.

Many people have written to me with concerns about recently-proposed legislation at the County Council that would change the way 4Culture, our King County arts program, is governed.  This proposal has been co-sponsored by six of my colleagues on the County Council.  I am not a sponsor of this legislation and I want to explain why.

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Council to Decide on Ballot Measure to Address Opioid Epidemic

You may have seen press reports about a new King County proposal to have a public vote on drug safe consumption or safe injection sites – called “CHELs” for “Community Health Engagement Locations.”  I support the proposal being placed on the ballot for public vote, so that voters will have a full range of options for consideration, in the face of an unprecedented and tragic epidemic of opioid overdoses. If this proposal appears on the ballot in February, 2018, voters will have an opportunity to fully and finally answer the question whether these CHEL sites should be tested as a possible way to connect drug users to treatment and save lives.
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Affordable Housing – A Regional Approach to a Complex Problem

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Over the last year, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, listening and thinking about the problem of crushingly high housing costs in our region.  With the support of my colleagues at the County Council and the County Executive, last year I sponsored a motion creating a regional task force of elected officials from around King County to study the regional parameters of this challenge and come up with regional approaches to address it.  We kicked this work off this summer, and it will continue for about the next year.   Continue reading

Improving Elections and Access to Voting

DSC00163One of the most important functions of County government is running elections.  Our democracy functions best when our elections reflect the will of all of the people, in the form of an informed electorate.  We have a responsibility to the public to eliminate barriers to voting.  I am proud to say, at a time when many jurisdictions are making it more difficult to vote, King County has been continually working to make it easier for as many eligible voters as possible to participate in our elections.

This week, I was proud to sponsor a motion that was approved unanimously by the County Council that will enhance our ability to make voting more accessible to all of our residents. The motion added flexibility to when and where Elections will establish Accessible Voting Centers for voters to cast ballots in person.

Since 2008, the County has required three Accessible Voting Centers for each election, to be located in:  Elections headquarters in Renton for the 20 days prior to the election, Union Station in downtown Seattle for the four days prior to the election; and Bellevue City Hall for the four days prior to the election.  These centers are temporary locations, staffed by elections workers, where people can vote in person and receive special assistance if needed due to disability or other reason.

There was a time when these Accessible Voting Centers were heavily used.  I can remember an election in Bellevue in 2010, right after the change to mail-in ballots, when we had hundreds of people using the Accessible Voting Center in city hall.

That time, however, has passed.  Now, we have fully shifted to vote by mail.  We have 43 ballot drop boxes around the county, and we have an online ballot program which allows voters to mark, review and print their ballots at home.  The demand for in-person and assisted voting has simply declined to the point where having these centers is not widely needed, not widely used and not at all efficient.  In our 2016 elections, for example, operating fixed Accessible Voting Centers cost from about $100 to over $1300 per voter served.

The old policy requiring Accessible Voting Centers also led to some silly outcomes.  For example, there will be a special election that affects only voters in Vashon Island in April.  Under our old legislation, Elections will be required to open and staff three Accessible Voting Centers in Renton, Bellevue and Seattle, even though the vast likelihood is that not a single voter will use any of those three locations.

Under the newly-adopted policy, Elections can use their limited resources much more effectively.  They will still operate one standard Accessible Voting Center at its headquarters in Renton during the 18 days prior to elections, as required under state law.  The Director of Elections, Julie Wise, will have authority to open other centers as necessary in locations that make sense.  For special elections, the need for additional AVCs would be determined in consultation with the jurisdictions participating in the special election. For primary and general elections, the need for additional AVCs would be determined “in a manner that maximizes resources and most effectively serves county residents,” and in consultation with the Disability Advisory Committee, the Citizens’ Elections Oversight Committee, and participating jurisdictions.

Under this new policy, Elections could open an Accessible Voting Center on Vashon Island for a special election on Vashon Island, instead of being required to open two in Seattle and Bellevue.  They will be able to redirect resources to be more responsive to voters with special needs – for example, they plan to use portable equipment to bring in-person voting to places where it is most needed for those who need assistance voting due to disabilities or any other reason.

To me, this legislation is a will be great for voters across King County.  It enables Elections to respond to more efficiently manage staff and resources, while enhancing the level of service provided to the public.   I will continue to keep an eye out for opportunities like this in the future to improve the way our government works.

Barn Again

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King County’s “Barn Again” program provides grants to preserve historic barns and outbuildings that reflect our agriculture heritage.  In 2016, six barns, three milk houses, one milking parlor and one chicken house located in eastern and southern rural areas have received Barn Again grants totaling more than $235,000.  The next round of grants is coming up this Spring!  If you have a barn or outbuilding that is historically associated with the working life of a farm, please consider applying!  Continue reading

CM Balducci Statement on Mercer Island/Sound Transit Litigation

For the last decade, I have worked to connect the eastside to the regional light rail system being built by Sound Transit.  I supported funding for light rail via the ST2 ballot measure which was approved by voters in 2008.  Through 2015, as both an elected official and an appointed Sound Transit Board member, I worked on behalf of the City of Bellevue to plan the light rail alignment and to adopt appropriate plans and regulations to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this major regional transportation investment.  Now, as a County Councilmember, I represent much of the eastside, including Mercer Island, as construction of Eastlink light rail begins in earnest.  Through it all, I have remained a strong proponent of the importance of providing true mass transit to our growing eastside.  Continue reading

ICYMI: Legislative Appointments

One of the responsibilities of the County Council is to appoint replacements to fill legislative positions that become vacant before the end of the regular term.  The law requires that when a mid-term vacancy occurs in the state legislature, the local district from the political party that has held the office selects three candidates for appointment.   The initial selection is made by the precinct committee officers (PCOs) from the legislative district, which are then approved by the countywide party organization and forwarded to the County Council for a final selection and vote.  Traditionally, but not always, the candidate with the most PCO votes is selected for the appointment.  These are important decisions, with a potentially large impact on the legislature and the residents of King County.

Congratulating newly appointed Representative Vandana Slatter on January 5, 2017

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