Friday, May 24, 2024

Legislative Update: end of session review, public safety, budgets, special session called

Posted

After 15 weeks of being in session, we adjourned on April 23, the scheduled end of the 105-day session. It has been an honor to serve you and be your voice at the state Capitol in Olympia for the past few months.

However, our work is not finished. The governor has called a special session for May 16, to address some important unfinished business, a solution for the State v. Blake decision. It should be noted, when the governor calls a special session, it is for 30 days. It doesn't guarantee that we will come up with a solution in that timeframe, but we also do not need to use the full 30 days if we can reach an agreement and send the governor a Blake fix bill.

Adjourning without a Blake fix

How did we get here? In February 2021, when the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington's felony drug possession law was unconstitutional, the Legislature passed legislation that same year, with that law set to expire July 1, 2023.

Despite having two years to pass a permanent fix, the Legislature adjourned without one. As the end of session approached, there was agreement between three of the four caucuses, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats, along with House Republicans, on a Blake fix: Senate Bill 5536. 

However, in the final hours of the session, House Democrats brought their own version to the House floor for a vote, where it failed by a vote of 43-55. The bill lacked teeth, sets people up to fail and will perpetuate problems.

We must come up with a solution that enacts a new criminal penalty before July 1, 2023, or there will be no criminal penalty in state law for drug possession for such drugs as fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine. House Republicans are working with the Senate and our counterparts in the House to reach agreement on a bill before we descend on Olympia again.

This isn't about politics. It is about reaching a commonsense solution to the Blake ruling so people can get the proper treatment and guidance they need, and to ensure our communities and streets are safe.

Local governments across the state want the Legislature to come up with a Blake fix. Fearing the Legislature doesn't get this done, some are already implementing or drafting their own law or ordinance. That would lead to a patchwork of different laws across the state.

Police pursuit legislation

The other important public safety issue we needed to address in the 2023 session was police pursuits.

Background: In 2021, the Legislature passed a law that required officers to need “probable cause” to arrest someone before initiating a pursuit rather than “reasonable suspicion.” It set the bar high for law enforcement to pursue suspected criminals. Soon the media was littered with stories of suspected criminals fleeing crime scenes before law enforcement could act or question them.

At the beginning of session there was legislation, House Bill 1363, to restore the reasonable suspicion standard. It was a strong, bipartisan bill with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors. The bill was never brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote.

What ended up passing was Senate Bill 5352. The measure would allow police pursuits under the reasonable suspicion standard of those suspected of committing a violent crime, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offense, vehicle assault, driving under the influence, and trying to escape arrest.

This does not go far enough to restore what our law enforcement officers need, but I voted “yes.” It does move us forward, albeit a small step.

Transportation budget

With it being our first full in-person session since 2020, it was good to see what could be accomplished with both sides of the aisle working together. As a member of the House Transportation Committee, I was able to see this firsthand. The 2023-25 transportation budget was the culmination of bipartisanship from both parties and chambers. For the Wenatchee area, there is $85 million spread out over the next three budget cycles for the Confluence Parkway project. This is exciting news. However, it is important to note this money is contingent on federal match dollars.

This $13.5 billion biennial budget also prioritizes projects in The Connecting Washington package that are already underway. The governor delayed several of these projects in his proposed budget. We believe it was critical not to delay these projects any longer.

Finally, the transportation spending plan includes funding for maintenance and preservation, the Washington State Department of Transportation, and makes investments in our Washington State Patrol toward our state trooper force in recruitment and retention efforts.     

Capital budget

Rep. Mike Steele was once again the lead negotiator for House Republicans on the capital budget. The plan was well received by our colleagues across the aisle and in the Senate, as it passed unanimously. There is more than $170 million in projects across the 12th District including:

  • Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment (Wenatchee) – $19,600,000
  • Lake Chelan Food Bank – $2,000,000
  • Community Center at Lake Chelan – $1,723,000
  • Fall City Business District septic project – $1,550,000
  • Monroe Therapeutic Facility – $1,100,000
  • Index Water Line Repair & Replacement – $628,000
  • Sultan Basin Park – $500,000
  • North Fork Skykomish River 911 extension project (Index) – $420,000
  • King County Area Readiness Center – $6,000,000
  • Chelan Valley EMS – $11,000,000
  • Columbia Valley Community Health East Wenatchee Dental Clinic – $1,850,000
  • Leavenworth affordable workforce rental housing – $1,000,000
  • Wenatchee Valley Museum expansion and redesign – $1,000,000
  • Wenatchee Valley YMCA – $1,030,000
  • Forest to Farm Biochar Pilot Plant (Leavenworth) – $1,425,000
  • Wenatchee Valley College: Paul Thomas Sr. Field – $700,000
  • Wenatchee Center for Technical Education and Innovation – $46,471,000
  • Wallace River Hatchery – replace intakes and ponds – $17,228,000.
  • Manson School District – $262,000
  • Manson Fire Station – $206,000

For a complete list of 12th District projects included in the capital budget, go to: https://fiscal.wa.gov/statebudgets/CapitalProjectListDistrictBien.

Bill to benefit Chelan and Douglas port districts signed into law

My House Bill 1663 was recently signed into law by the governor. It will allow two or more port districts that operate under a mutual agreement to conduct a joint property tax levy under certain conditions. I introduced this legislation at the request of the port districts. It provides fairness and equity in allowing tax assessments.

Operating budget

I did not support the 2023-25 operating budget for a number of reasons: 

• House Republicans were left out of the budget process.

• The budget leaves only $3 billion in reserves by the end of the four-year outlook period. That is less than the state treasurer's minimum target of 10% of annual outlook revenues.

• There is no tax relief for taxpayers in this budget. The state coffers have been flush with money the last few budget cycles. With Washingtonians facing uncomfortably high inflation and an uncertain economy, this was a missed opportunity.

Finally, it increases spending to $69.8 billion, a $5.6 billion increase, or 9% over current spending levels. The 9% increase is actually pretty modest compared to some of the other increases passed in recent biennia. However, we are continuing down an unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible path. As the chart shows, the operating budget has more than doubled since 2011-13, when the state operating budget was just over $30 billion.

Two voter-approved initiatives overturned

One of the disappointments of the session was the Legislature overturning two voter-approved initiatives. Senate Bill 5082 abolishes advisory votes, which were established by Initiative 960 in 2007. This legislation takes away the voices of Washingtonians on tax issues. Advisory votes are a good tool for representatives to gauge the will of voters.

Senate Bill 5217 repeals the voter-approved initiative from 2003 that repealed burdensome ergonomic rules and prohibited the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) from adopting ergonomic regulations. This policy puts our state at a competitive disadvantage for businesses looking to expand or relocate as no other state has adopted ergonomic rules since federal rules were repealed in 2001 due to their economic impact. Employers are already required by law to provide a safe working environment for all employees and the state Supreme Court has ruled that L&I can already cite employers for ergonomic hazards. This goes against the will and voice of the people.

Firearm legislation update

On April 25, Gov. Inslee signed three bills into law regarding firearms.

House Bill 1240 outlaws the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, or offer for sale of any so-called “assault weapon.” There was an emergency clause on this bill, so it went into effect as soon as the governor signed it.

House Bill 1143 will impose training, permitting, and waiting period requirements on gun owners and firearm dealers with large fines and possible jail time.

Senate Bill 5078 would hold gun manufacturers legally responsible for how individuals misuse their products.

I voted no on all three bills. As a lawmaker, it is my job to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions. I believe at least one, if not more, of these bills are unconstitutional – violating our Washington State Constitution as well as the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A lawsuit has already been filed against HB 1240.

I have heard from others who are supportive of these measures. I certainly understand the concern, given the increase in gun violence we have seen recently. However, amending the constitution is a heavy lift and an effort I would not support. And we are not getting to the root causes of violence.

Behavioral and mental health issues are at an all-time high and our state has not done a good job of addressing mental health and is not keeping up with the demand.

We need to ensure that those who have committed violent crimes are doing the proper time and not returning to our streets. I am concerned our young people have become conditioned or are accepting this behavior and consider violent tendencies as normal.

There are multiple factors contributing to what we are seeing in society. Restricting guns or manufacturing them is not going to get us there. Criminals committing gun violence are already breaking gun laws. As we move forward, the Legislature needs to take a more comprehensive look at the causes and preventive measures.

Parental rights

Senate Bill 5599 may have been the most concerning bill passed this session. The measure would allow youth shelters and similar organizations to not notify parents that their children are at a shelter if they are receiving “gender affirming” care or reproductive services. We have laws to protect and prohibit children from using smoking tobacco, cannabis, and vaping pipes that our society deem dangerous and do not believe a 13-year-old is mature enough to understand the effect or the consciences. Yet, this law would allow a 13-year-old child to leave home to seek gender transition or an abortion on their own accord.

This misguided piece of legislation will harm families. Parents have a right to parent without government interference, and they should not be denied that right in the absence of abuse or neglect. This will put barriers between parents and children in loving families. I ask any parent out there, wouldn't you want to know where your child is if they left home?

Following your state government

Even though the Legislature has adjourned, there is a lot happening in our state government. I urge you to stay informed. Please remember I work for you year-round. Do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating state government, want to schedule a meeting or would like me to tour a facility or speak to your association or organization. It is an honor to serve the great people of the 12th District.


 

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here