WITA started the new session off with a huge bang not only thanks to our members but also thanks to our Member Coordinator, Shellie Burnham, who did a stellar job of taking care of all the details. On January 21st and 22nd WITA members were in town to meet with legislators, have a board meeting and kick off the new session with a Holiday Gathering. While other lobbying groups were struggling to get appointments on what turned out to be two of the busiest days of session, Shellie kept us busy with so many meetings that we often had to split the group with Dan Coyne going off in one direction and another group heading in another direction with me. Mike Oblizalo ended up handling one meeting by himself, something we try to avoid but we knew Mike was up for it. By the end of those two days we’d met with 25 legislators including almost every member of the House Committee on Innovation, Technology and Economic Development (ITEC).

Shellie’s other duties include coordinating all our conferences, trainings and quarterly meetings. She does our banking, tracks membership dues, files all our reports with the Public Disclosure Commission, and handles our WITA Scholarship process from pulling the committee together in the spring to processing applications to putting the winners on our website. As we saw last week, she also schedules our meetings and ensures we have everything we need to make those meetings successful. As the former Executive Assistant to the Director of the Department of Revenue Shellie has compiled a black binder full of contact information for everyone even remotely connected to state government. That means whenever I need to find someone or something, Shellie has me covered.

Shellie is a contract employee working for a few lucky lobbyists including her former boss at the Department of Revenue. Shellie and her husband live in Tenino where she went to school with Stefanie Peterson. All of this is just a happy coincidence as I connected with Shellie through a job listing I’d sent out on a lobbyist listserv.
Shellie has worked with WITA for over three years now and in that time her job has evolved as I discover more and more of her talents.

WITA Scholarship Applications Open!
Do you have a dependent student currently enrolled or going to be enrolled in college?
Do you work full-time for a WITA member company or Associate Member company in WA State?
If you answered, yes, have your student apply today. WITSA gives away thousands of dollars every year in scholarships!

For more information, criteria eligibility, and application go to our scholarship page.

This week my goal was to get thirty signatures on our bill. That effort was interrupted by Governor Inslee’s press conference where he announced his broadband bill. WITA is one of the few organizations that has been involved in drafting this bill and so I was invited to attend. After the formal presentations, and after the cameras had been turned off, I took the opportunity to talk with reporters about some of their questions. Which resulted in at least one camera being turned back on.

Then it was back to gathering signatures. The process of making legislation is designed to be ponderous and time consuming to weed out frivolous bills. The hearing process and session deadlines make the process even more challenging which is why only a small percentage of bills get to the Governor’s desk for his signature. Only a legislator can introduce legislation which means state agencies and the Governor have to find someone to sponsor their ideas, just like everyone else.

Rep. Sharon Wylie (D – Vancouver) is sponsoring the legislation we need to extend the State Universal Communications Fund. Rep. Norma Smith (R – Camano Island) is the first co-sponsor. Rep. Smith’s district includes Whidbey Island and she’s the most senior member Republican member of the committee which will hear our bill.

By late Thursday we had gathered two dozen signatures including almost everyone who represents one of our members, two-thirds of the members of the committee which will hear the bill in the House, seven members of the Appropriations committee which will also hear the bill and the House Majority Leader. It’s a good mix of Republicans and Democrats, all of whom have voted on and supported this issue in the past. Instead of pursuing a few more signatures I decided to “drop” the bill a day early to ensure that it makes it onto the House Bill Introductions sheet this Monday. That will enable us to give out a specific bill number during out meetings with legislators. Besides, there are only twenty-four lines on the signature sheet so I added one more signature for a total of twenty-five and called it good.

This coming Monday and Tuesday we will have a chance to meet with new members to the legislators, along with some of our old friends, to ensure their support for the bill.

The past few days have felt like legislative session.  Dan Coyne and I have talked with dozens of legislators as we continue to work on securing an extension of the state universal communications fund.  There will be two pieces of legislation introduced in January, either of which will accomplish our goal.  The first is the Governor’s Broadband bill which will include several sections including a five year extension of the state fund.  The second bill will be introduced at our request and will contain a ten year extension of the fund.  Rep. Sharon Wylie (D-Vancouver) has agreed to sponsor this bill and Rep. Norma Smith (R – Camano Island) will be the first co-sponsor.  These first two sponsors are important because they establish that we have bi-partisan support for our effort and also support from veteran legislators.  Both representatives are on the House committee through which our bill will have to pass and both have agreed to help us move the bill forward.  There are several steps in this process, each with a  deadline.  Here’s a link to a website that gives more information if you would like to learn a bit more about this process.  http://leg.wa.gov/legislature/Pages/Bill2Law.aspx

Our next steps include getting a sponsor for our bill in the Senate and adding more names to the list of bill sponsors.  The more names the better.  We’ll also be working on handouts for each company to share with their local representatives, in person if at all possible.

 

Legislative session begins on January 14th and we’ll be ready.  Shellie Burnham will be setting up meetings for those of you who can join us in Olympia, as the group from Consolidated Communications did last year.

 

Welcome to a fresh new look for the WITA website with pictures and content courtesy of our members.  We’ve also changed up some features to put more emphasis on our Premier Associate Members including more banner advertising and an opportunity for those members to get in front of our phone company members with news about what’s happening at their companies.  This month we’re featuring a new staff person at one of our oldest Premier Members, Unitel. We hope you enjoy this new look for WITA and hope that you’ll help our content stay fresh by sending us stories about new projects, services and staff at your company.

 

UNITEL welcomes Matt Gilbert as Risk Advisor

UNITEL Insurance recently welcomed Matt Gilbert to the sales team as a Risk Advisor. Gilbert joined the UNITEL division of UNICO Group focusing on telecommunication services. UNICO is a full-service insurance agency with services ranging from telecommunications, workers’ comp, employee benefits to personal insurance, financial planning, human resources solutions and wellness.

“I have spent the last 12 years in the industry understanding people, finding custom solutions and aligning myself into a position to listen,” said Matt Gilbert. “My approach to servicing our clients is to listen to the evolving market, recent issues, industry challenges to provide solutions that best fit their needs.”

UNITEL has been providing risk solutions to the telecommunications industry since 2004 and now serves over 600 companies across the country.  “We are excited to expand our knowledge and geographic reach. We are thrilled to have Matt join our team,” said Ric Stoakes, EVP of UNITEL. “Matt has been in the telecommunications industry for a long time and his knowledge and passion are a tremendous asset for our clients as well as for our growing team.”

Gilbert is on the Board for WTA and serves as the Chairman of the Associate Member Committee. He is also involved with NTCA with their associate members advisory council.

Matt grew up in SW Michigan and graduated from Grand Valley State University. Currently, he and his wife, Ashleigh, reside in Virginia with their two children.

National News 

It turns out that the article Ryan Blethen wrote about our members made it into US News and World Reports.  Way to go WhidbeyTel and Pioneer!  Many thanks also to Eric Trump who spent a great deal of time with Ryan as well.  Check out the article here:

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/washington/articles/2018-07-15/washington-rural-telecom-companies-go-beyond-usual-services