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Originally published Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Children's Alliance looking out for kids in Olympia battles

The Children's Alliance, a lobbying group, is geared up for an intense legislative session in Olympia.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Jon Gould worries the legislative session just beginning could feature a kids vs. kids battle in which everyone in Washington loses.

The state faces a huge budget deficit and at the same time the Legislature is being told by the state Supreme Court to improve its inadequate funding of basic education.

In odd-numbered years, the Legislature is tasked with building a budget for the next two years, and as that job begins this week, Olympia will be full of people trying help legislators decide where to spend and what to cut.

Gould is deputy director of the Children's Alliance, the point group for scores of respected member organizations that serve the needs of children of all ages and their families. The alliance supports better funding for schools but, Gould told me last week, "We don't want to pit what happens in the schoolroom against what happens in the home. The risk is that we pit one domain of a child's life against another."

Gould, who has been lobbying for years, used to spend a day each week in Olympia during the session, but this year he's going to spend all of the first two weeks there.

"We're at a pivotal point in the state," he told me. We have a new governor for the first time in eight years, which also means new agency heads. We have a Senate that is in Republican hands. And everyone is concerned about the impact of the state Supreme Court ruling on education funding last January.

Alliance staff spent this past summer gathering input from partner organizations, parents and others so that it could present a unified agenda. They want the Legislature to fight childhood hunger, invest in early learning, strengthen Apple Health for Kids, expand access to dental care and stop cuts and raise revenue.

Gould intends to remind legislators of the many studies that show children learn better when they are well fed and healthy. Two years ago, the Legislature cut a state food-assistance program by half because money was tight. About 14,000 people depended on the program, which mostly serves new immigrants who don't qualify for federal help. The alliance wants that assistance restored.

In the case of dental care, the alliance is asking not for money but for a change in the law to allow a new category of dental-care provider.

Many children and adults, especially in rural areas, don't have access to dental care, he said, but in Alaska and Minnesota dental therapists fill the gap. They are trained to do more procedures than hygienists, but fewer than dentists, and are common in 50 other countries, including Canada.

The alliance also wants to increase the number of children served by Apple Health for Kids. The state program provides affordable insurance for children who wouldn't be covered otherwise. It serves about half the state's children, and won $12 million from the Obama administration last month as a performance bonus.

On early education, the Children's Alliance wants to protect gains and make sure the state moves forward, giving access to more children.

The alliance also has some ideas about raising revenue, mostly by closing loopholes and ending tax breaks that some analysts believe aren't serving the best interests of the public.

The big thing is not to be invisible, Gould said, to keep the interests of children in front of legislators every day as they wrestle with priorities.

So, Gould will be there, as will a staff lobbyist who's in Olympia for the entire session.

And on Jan. 30, the alliance is holding its annual Have a Heart for Kids Day. Kids, parents and other people affected by what the Legislature decides on matters involving families will converge on the Capitol, meeting with their legislators and giving faces to all those numbers on position papers.

"The legislative process is a process of competition," Gould said, "and the squeaky wheel gets the attention."

I imagine it's going to be a noisy session.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @jerrylarge.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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