Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Due to lack of an agreement on a new, two-year operating budget, the governor called the Legislature back for a 30-day special session on April 24. I share the feelings of many who are frustrated lawmakers couldn't reach a compromise during the regular 105-day session.
As special session continues, I remain optimistic budget writers will continue to work diligently in negotiations and we can finally adjourn with a budget that puts students first and funds essential services.
Different approaches to the operating budget
What's causing the delay in adjourning legislative action for the year are differences in approach to taxes and ensuring K-12 education is amply funded without continuing our unconstitutional reliance on local levies.
On one hand, House Democrats have offered a budget that relies on $8 billion in new and increased taxes, among which they would impose a new capital gains income tax and a 20 percent B&O tax increase. We have seen record growth in state revenues recently with an additional $3 billion available for the coming budget cycle. We should keep the momentum of that economic growth going — unnecessarily increasing taxes on families and businesses will only hurt economic recovery.
In addition, the House Democratic budget proposal doesn't actually make reforms to the way we fund K-12 education, which will make the state vulnerable to future lawsuits, or a McCleary 2.0.
On the other hand, Senate Republicans have proposed a plan that will fundamentally change the way K-12 education is funded in Washington state by implementing statewide levy reform. Their proposal calls for a flat tax assessment as a state portion of the property tax. Their plan has received mixed reviews since property-rich districts would be required to pay higher property taxes while property poorer districts would pay less. At the very least, their plan would provide the state with a dependable revenue source to fund education and would hopefully help us avoid future litigation.
Like I said in my last email update, neither of these plans reflect what the final budget will look like. You can expect to see a hybrid of these two proposals, with input from the other two caucuses. Stay tuned for more information as negotiations continue.
Bills delivered to the governor
As of the adjournment of the regular session, 339 bills passed the Legislature and were sent to the governor. Of those, roughly a quarter were sponsored by House Republican lawmakers. My first bill of the year signed into law was House Bill 1329, which will lower the fine incurred by those seeking affordable housing opportunities in mobile or manufactured homes. With the fine lowered, it'll be easier for individuals to do business with the Department of Labor and Industries. You can read more about the bill here.
Two more of my bills are scheduled for the governor's signature next Tuesday, May 16:
House Bill 1258, or the 'Travis Alert Act' — Modifying the Enhanced 911 system and training programs for first responders in order to help individuals with disabilities who may be present at the scene of an emergency. Learn more about how this bill could help your family here.
Aside from my prime-sponsored legislation, one important public safety bill is on the governor's desk, and is also scheduled for a signature May 16:
House Bill 1109 — Supporting victims of sexual assault. This bill will provide victim-centered response training for law enforcement so they can best provide support to survivors. The bill will also create local community response teams to conduct cold case investigations associated with previously unsubmitted rape kits.
This bill was born out of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examinations (SAFE) Task Force, which I co-chair with Rep. Tina Orwall, who sponsored House Bill 1109. I co-sponsored the legislation.
You can find more information about bill signings here.
Unfinished business — capital budget and a Hirst fix
Aside from the operating budget, two big items remain on the Legislature's to-do list this year.
One is a new, two-year capital budget. This budget, sometimes called the “bricks and mortar” budget, funds infrastructure and construction projects for educational and mental health facilities, and many community projects throughout our state. The House passed a $4.1 billion capital budget earlier this month, which would include more than $20 million in projects that would directly benefit the 14th District. Negotiations on the capital budget are ongoing, and I'm optimistic our district will see a number of important projects funded in the final outcome of that budget.
The other major item on the list is enacting legislation to resolve some of the problems created by the Hirst decision. A number of individuals in our communities have contacted me this session expressing concerns over the October state Supreme Court ruling that effectively jeopardized development in rural Washington. In the case, the court determined domestic wells could potentially harm water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act and, therefore, may not qualify for a permit exemption. While the case originated in Whatcom County, some counties were quick to act as a result of the ruling to safeguard themselves against a lawsuit, including Yakima County. Residents of the county are now facing the possibility of having their wells metered and having to pay a fee based on use.
There were a few bills introduced this year that would have addressed Hirst in one fashion or another. Senate Bill 5239 was considered the 'Hirst fix' bill by many, and it would have taken us back to the days prior to the Hirst decision and placed the onus of determining water impairment back on the Department of Ecology. Senate Bill 5239 did not advance in the House but with the start of special session, all bills that were previously considered dead can now be revived. The Senate re-passed Senate Bill 5239 on May 2, with a vote of 28-18.
I truly believe we can enact a solution that will be fair to counties, land developers and current and prospective landowners, while still protecting our water supply.
Yakima student gets a front-row seat to state government
A.C. Davis High School student Stephanie Franco-Avila served as a legislative page in the state House of Representatives this April. It was a joy seeing her take an active interest in civics and fulfill an important role in the legislative process this session.
Stephanie was one of many students who travel to Olympia during session to participate in the legislative page program. During their week-long service in Olympia, they deliver important documents to legislators and staff, attend page school for an hour each day, and work with fellow pages on legislation for a mock hearing. Pages earn $35 per day while participating in the program.
Though it's too late to participate in the legislative page program this year, please contact me if you have a student between the ages of 14 and 16 who would like to participate in next year's program.
Showing leadership on a diverse range of policy areas
Aside from my traditional role as a member of the state House of Representatives, I also serve in other legislative capacities.
I am currently as the ranking Republican on the House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee. The committee considers a variety of issues, including accessible and affordable housing, homelessness, veterans, tourism, and government relations between the state and tribes. This was a new assignment for me, and I enjoyed working in the policy areas covered by the committee — many of which affect the communities of the 14th District. I am also the assistant ranking Republican of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee and a member of the House Business and Financial Services Committee. These assignments allow me to put my years of business experience to good use.
In addition, I have been selected to serve on a few committees operated by national organizations that support state legislatures in public policy development. The first of these is the National Conference of State Legislatures, of which I'll be serving on their Law, Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and their Legislative Effectiveness Committee, which meets twice a year to examine the effectiveness of state legislatures and discuss how they can be improved. I was also appointed to serve on the Council of State Governments West Energy and Environment Committee. All of this means I'll be busy travelling during the summer months once session adjourns for the year to attend these committee meetings.
These appointments, along with my roles in the state Legislature, complement the 14th District and provide important tools and knowledge I need to serve as a voice on a broad spectrum of issues for our communities. I look forward to fulfilling these new roles and will keep you posted on any policy developments that result from these meetings.
Representing you year round
Session or no session, it's my job to represent you 365 days a year. Should you have any questions about the status of a particular bill, have ideas for improving state government, or want your voice to be heard on a specific issue, I encourage you to contact me. My direct contact information is listed at the bottom of this email, and I look forward to working with you. I truly cannot be an effective voice for you without your input.
Honored to serve you,