Friday, May 24, 2024

Rep. Mike Steele Legislative Update


The 2023 legislative session adjourned April 23. Along with some high and low points, it's been a busy few months. I'd like to start this end-of-session update by thanking everyone that contacted my office by phone, email, or came to Olympia to visit throughout the 105-day session. Hearing from you enables me to do my job effectively. It's an honor to represent your interests, values, and priorities in Olympia.

Newly elected deputy leader

During a recent House reorganizational meeting, my caucus colleagues elected me as their new deputy leader, succeeding Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, a long-time member of the leadership team. Rep. Drew Stokesbary was elected as Leader, taking over for Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, who recently stepped down. I'm extremely humbled and honored to be chosen to take on this leadership role and look forward to supporting Rep. Stokesbary and the caucus team as we continue to prioritize the top concerns of the communities and people we represent.

The final 2023-25 Capital Budget During the last few days of the session, the state's budgets are typically the final hurdles before we adjourn. This year was no different. Negotiations on all three biennial budgets, operating, transportation, and capital, were approved in the final two days of the session. This update focuses on the capital budget, for which I'm the primary House Republican negotiator. If you did not know already, the capital budget funds a broad range of construction, infrastructure, and repair projects in communities across the state. It's by far the most bipartisan budget produced in Olympia, which says a lot about the kind of teamwork that goes into producing the plan.

At its best, the capital budget supports community development, encourages economic growth, and funds key state priorities. For example, not only does the 2023-25 capital budget fund community projects in every district in the state, but we've also made enormous investments in a variety of top public policy areas, like mental and behavioral health facilities, affordable housing  including homeownership opportunities for first-time, low-income buyers  and assistance for the growing number of unsheltered individuals and families. Other sizeable allocations were made in youth and family services, higher education, natural resources, and big impact investments in K-12 school construction, including modernization projects for small, rural schools in need of updating and repair. In the end, the final, unanimously approved capital budget (Senate Bill 5200) appropriates a total of $8.98 billion in funding, $4.18 billion of which comes from the sale of newly authorized bonds under House Bill 1148.

More than $170 million in 12th District projects

For the 12th District, a historic $170 million in district-funded projects is included in this budget. I'm really pleased to see this level of funding for our district — including several of our newly redistricted communities like Monroe and Index — and look forward to the monumental opportunities these projects will produce.

12th District-funded project highlights include:

Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment (Wenatchee): $19,600,000

Community Center at Lake Chelan: $1,723,000

Fall City Business District septic project: $1,550,000.

Lake Chelan Food Bank: $2,000,000

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

Approved bills in 2023

More than 2,100 bills were introduced between the House and Senate and about 480 passed both chambers. I was extremely pleased three of my bills made it to the governor's desk. Here's a quick look at each one:

House Bill 1501: A local resident who tragically lost her husband in a hit-and-run, asked me to sponsor this proposal that helps the family members of murder victims. The bill provides up to 12 counseling sessions for the immediate family members of a homicide victim.

House Bill 1804: A local resident came to me with a request for this bill. Without it, dozens of retirees would lose access to their health benefits. As the primary sponsor of this measure, it's gratifying to know the positive impact it will have on retired employees of counties, municipalities, and other governmental entities. My bill allows retirees back into the Public Employee Benefits Board system if they choose to do so. House Bill 1250: This measure converts the Low-Income Home Rehabilitation Revolving Loan Program into a grant program. Established in 2017, the program provides deferred loans to rural, low-income households needing repairs and improvements on their primary residence for health, safety, or durability. The program prioritizes homeowners who are senior citizens, persons with disabilities, families with children aged five years or younger, and veterans. Since the 2021 Supreme Court's State v Blake ruling effectively decriminalized the possession of hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamines, and others—House Republicans have advocated for bipartisan, meaningful policy that helps individuals break the cycle of addiction and keeps our communities safe. Unfortunately, after months of work on a solution, the majority party could not pass their own bill—with several of their members voting “no.” Senate Bill 5536, also known as the “Blake fix,” was brought to the floor for a vote just prior to the conclusion of session. The bill failed to pass the House with a vote of 43-55. Two things need to be present to make this policy effective: adequate criminal penalties and robust, sensible rehabilitation services. This bill had neither. SB 5536 sought to legalize drug paraphernalia and equipment, allowing for a “gross misdemeanor” with no real teeth if the case was deferred. That lack of a credible diversion program and robust mental health support would lead to a revolving door, with plenty of room for people to game the system and not get the real help they need. Even worse, the bill gave local governments less control over this public safety problem than they have now. Because the majority party let this issue go until the final few hours of the session, they ran out of time for fixes. Now that we've adjourned, the only way a bill can be approved is if the governor calls a special session. With the all-too-obvious impacts drugs continue to have on individuals, families, and communities, let's hope that happens. We all want a solution in place that strikes a balance between compassion and accountability. Although the session is over, I work for you year-round. Contact me if you have questions about state-government-related policies or issues.


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