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November 28, 2011 at 12:56 PM

State legislature opens with hundreds protesting budget cuts

Lawmakers opened their special legislative session today as hundreds gathered on the Capitol steps in Olympia to protest potential budget cuts.

Lawmakers must bridge a $2 billion shortfall in the current two-year budget.

Several hundred people had assembled on the Capitol steps by noon, chanting and waving signs that read “Save our Services,” “Protect Our People” and “People of Washington are United.”

Many wore “99%” stickers on their jackets and bags, a slogan used by the Occupy Wall Street movement to separate themselves from the wealthiest 1 percent of the population who they say has too much power and influence.

State officials are expecting more than 3,000 people from various groups, including Occupy Olympia, to rally at the Capitol building today.

Among the protesters were several dozen people from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The group is concerned that the governor’s proposed budget would cut money to pay for newer drugs for the mentally ill, forcing them to take an older, less expensive medication that can have severe, permanent side effects for some patients.

Farrell Adrian, the president of Washington’s NAMI, said her son, who is mentally ill but in recovery, became unstable and lost his house when he was prescribed the older drug, called risperdone.

“We want doctors to continue to have the choice of the best medicine,” she said. To do otherwise is “unconscionable.”

Sandi Ando, the chair of the public policy committee for NAMI, drove from Spokane for the rally.

“If you get people off medications that work, people will go back in the hospital or land in jail,” she said. “The state needs to step up and take care of the most vulnerable.”

Adrian said the drug choice would be preserved under Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal to increase the state sales tax by a half-cent for three years to help balance the budget. But she also wants the Legislature to examine tax loopholes for businesses, because the sales tax increase won’t raise enough.

By noon, a steady stream of educators began arriving at the Capitol, including Michael Siptroth, a second-grade teacher in the North Mason County School District.

He said his district cut all of its librarians this year as a result of the last round of budget cuts. If the latest proposed cuts are enacted, guidance counselors may go next, he said. The district has also cut five collaboration days and three half-days from the schedule to save money.

Siptroth said he doesn’t like the proposed sales tax increase because it is regressive.

Material from the Associated Press is included in this post.

Comments | More in Government | Topics: Gov. Chris Gregoire, Legislature, State budget

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