Thursday, May 23, 2024

2023 Session Recap: Legislature approves budgets and makes adjustments to police pursuit and drug possession laws

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OLYMPIA - The Legislature adjourned its session in Olympia on April 23 on schedule. The 105-day session was a busy time for me as I continued as the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee’s ranking member. This session was particularly busy for education committee leaders due to continued school issues involving learning loss, special education investments and transportation funding. The Legislature approved all three budgets for the 2023-25 biennium, which begins on July 1, 2023. The operating budget ($69.8 billion), transportation budget ($13.5 billion), and capital budget ($9 billion) were finalized on the final days of session after much negotiation. I voted against the operating budget but for the transportation and capital budgets.

Operating budget ($69.8 billion)

The operating budget funds the day-to-day operations of the state, including early learning, K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, criminal justice, natural resources, courts, and other areas. As with any budget or other large-scale legislation, there are always things to like and things not to like. Despite the COVID pandemic, state revenues have still been positive, although less growth is anticipated in the coming years. Estimated revenues are expected to significantly slow over the next four years. The final approved operating budget is projected to spend $69.8 billion total during the 2023-25 biennium. I have concerns about the sustainability of the overall state budget as future revenues slow. The 2023-25 operating budget was approved on the final day of session.

Transportation budget ($13.5 billion)

The transportation budget funds the construction and maintenance of the state transportation system, including the maintenance and preservation of roads, bridges, and ferries. Most of the budget funds previously approved road projects based on construction schedules. It also funds the state transportation agencies and commissions. Last session, the state approved the 16-year, $16.9 billion “Move Ahead Washington” package, primarily for preservation and maintenance of the existing system and for large-scale transportation projects. The package included $85 million for Wenatchee’s Confluence Parkway but the funding schedule as undetermined. This session, we successfully scheduled the project’s funding based on our preferred timeline. This was one of my top priorities in order to maximize the federal grant dollars the project was awarded. The approved 2023-25 budget schedules the $85 million for Confluence Parkway over the next three transportation budget cycles: $28 million (2023-25), $47 million (2025-27), and $10 million (2027-29).

Capital budget ($9.0 billion)

The state capital budget funds the construction and maintenance of state buildings, public school matching grants, higher education facilities, public lands, state parks, and other assets. In recent years, the 12th District team has been able to generate big wins for our region through this budget, including the replacement of key infrastructure following tragic wildfires, the expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities that improve our economy and quality of life, and enhancements to key community response systems. Our legislative team has been able to successfully secure many facility and infrastructure investments. The 2023-25 capital budget included many projects beneficial to our region, including funding for the future Wenatchee Valley YMCA, Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center improvements, Paul Thomas Field at Wenatchee Valley College, and new Alcohol and Drug Treatment Facility in Wenatchee, Army National Guard facility, Chelan Community Center, Chelan Food Bank, among other important projects.

Major legislation approved

In addition to the passage of all three budgets this session, other significant bills were approved. These include adjustments to education, energy, agriculture, law and justice, environment, firearms, childcare, human services, healthcare, and higher education laws. Two of the most notable bills approved were related to police pursuits and drug possession:

• Police Pursuits: Senate Bill 5352 As a matter of long-standing authority, law enforcement officers were allowed to engage in vehicular pursuits under a “reasonable suspicion” standard. During the 2019 legislative session, one involving multiple changes to police practices, the threshold for vehicular pursuits was raised to a “probable cause” standard, which I did not support. This change created many challenges for communities throughout the state. The law was changed back this session to “reasonable suspicion” for pursuits involving a violent offense, sex offense, vehicular assault or driving under the influence.

• Drug Possession: Senate Bill 5536 The State Supreme Court struck down Washington’s felony drug possession law in its 2021 Blake Decision. To temporarily clarify matters related to drug possession, the Legislature enacted a short-term fix, making drug possession a misdemeanor, which expires in July. After much debate this year, including a one-day Special Session on May 16, the Legislature approved a new law to replace the short-term bill, including accountability measures and treatment options. This new law is designed to assist people struggling with personal drug use while also providing penalties for people who refuse treatment.

Looking ahead to next session

The state Legislature meets annually every January. With the three budgets approved for the 2023-2025 biennium and the drug possession law updated, lawmakers will not likely meet again in session until January 2024. The makeup of the legislature will be the same as all 98 House members and all 49 senators will be returning for the second year of the state biennium. If you have any questions about this session, please contact me at  senatorbradhawkins.org.

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