Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Greetings! The 2021 legislative session finished April 25, on time, 105 days after it began on Jan. 11. I think most everyone is glad it is over. I'm looking forward to having time to be out in the community, meeting and visiting with people in our springtime weather.
Remote from beginning to end
We had hoped at the beginning of the year that at some point during the session, we would all return and be back together again at the state Capitol. We had also hoped to resume conducting the people's business in committee rooms and on the House floor, just as the Legislature has done since 1854 when the first territorial Legislature met in Olympia.
Instead, due to the pandemic, our meetings were conducted remotely through virtual computer programs, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. While we made it work, it was challenging and difficult, because we didn't have the ability to have that personal contact that is so critical to our work when negotiating bills. It also opened the doors to a more progressive Seattle-style agenda of legislation, while the rest of the state seemed to be left behind by the majority party.
The Capitol and other buildings on campus were blocked off from the public with chain-link fences. Security was tight. It was truly a session like no other in the history of our state.
In this newsletter, I reflect on the past four months of the 2021 session, legislation that passed, the budgets and our work to serve the 14th District and the citizens of the great state of Washington.
For a summary, watch my video: 2021 session review – 'A difficult and challenging session'
The budgets – operating, capital and transportation
Our legislative sessions are constitutionally set at 105 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. During the long sessions, we work to craft operating, capital and transportation budgets that are on two-year cycles and take effect July 1. The short sessions provide the ability to approve supplemental budgets that address unforeseen issues, changes in caseloads, or one-time opportunities. In the final days of the 2021 session, all three budgets were passed. Unfortunately, not all three were bipartisan.
The operating budget pays for most day-to-day operations of state government. In February, my House Republican colleagues released an operating budget framework that showed the state could fund priorities and vital services without increasing taxes. In fact, our plan included funding the Working Families Tax Credit for the first time in its 12-year history. It also proposed a sales tax exemption for basic necessities, such as prepared food and diapers, stipends to low-income families to defray the cost of remote learning, and provided for child care assistance for families. All without raising taxes.
Unfortunately, the majority party decided to go in a different direction. In fact, Republicans were not invited to the table to negotiate a budget. We were left on the sidelines while Democrats decided how much to increase taxes and how much to spend.
In the end, the final operating budget that passed, Senate Bill 5092, spends $58.9 billion, an increase of $7 billion (13.6%) over the 2019-21 budget cycle. It also spends another $7 billion in federal stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. It relies on a new income tax on capital gains and a new $100 surcharge on recorded documents. And the new budget transfers $1.8 billion from the rainy-day fund to the state general fund for ongoing operating costs.
I'm very concerned this level of spending is unsustainable. It is the largest budget in state history and continues the rapid pace of state spending – which has increased 74% since Gov. Inslee was elected in 2013. Republicans also showed there was no need to raise taxes. In fact, state revenue grew by 13.6% during the COVID shutdowns and is expected to grow by $4.3 billion in 21-23 without raising additional taxes. We also had a large infusion of federal funding. Yet, this budget is built on tax increases. I also do not support taking money out of the rainy-day fund and transferring it into another new account. For these and other reasons, I voted “no.”
The $11.8 billion biennial transportation budget protects current projects while meeting the maintenance and preservation needs of current transportation systems. This includes $4.3 million for the SR 14/Bingen underpass and nearly $83 million to widen I-90 on Snoqualmie Pass to Easton. With an influx of pandemic federal relief funds, we were also able to invest in fish passage barrier removal. I voted “yes” on this budget.
I serve on the Capital Budget Committee and am very pleased we were able to come up with a good, bipartisan capital budget, House Bill 1080, that includes more than $6.3 billion for statewide construction, repair of buildings, parks, infrastructure, and other projects in our communities. We secured more than $44 million for the 14th District. These are taxpayer dollars coming back to our region. Some noteworthy projects include:
- $3 million for a hospital micro-grid fuel cell project in Goldendale;
- $1.5 million for renovation of the Perry Technical Institute Auditorium;
- $750,000 for Children's Village Neurodevelopmental Center in Yakima;
- $350,000 for the White Salmon Valley Pool project;
- $262,000 for renovation of the American Legion Building in Goldendale;
- $129,000 for public restrooms at the Stonehenge Memorial Park; and
- many other local projects that will provide jobs and improve our communities.
Also, $250,000 appropriated in the 2019-21 capital budget for the first domestic violence shelter in Klickitat County has recently been distributed. The money was used to purchase a beautiful furnished duplex in Goldendale that will assist and house local domestic violence victims.
To see a list of all projects, click here. Choose the “14th Legislative District” and click “View Report.”
Caution: New taxes, higher fuel prices may be coming your way
There was no reason for taxes to be increased this year, especially since incoming revenues are up by 13.6% and will grow by $4.3 billion in the coming budget cycle without any new tax increases. Unfortunately, despite our efforts to block new taxes, majority Democrats passed legislation this session that eventually could lead to a statewide income tax and higher fuel prices at the gas pumps.
CAPITAL GAINS INCOME TAX
Senate Bill 5096 will enact a 7% percent tax on capital gains income exceeding $250,000 from the sale of long-term assets, beginning January of 2022. State revenue is up more than $4 billion, so a new tax is unnecessary. Washington voters who have rejected various forms of an income tax at least 10 times on the ballot, so it's unpopular. The measure is also likely unconstitutional. In fact, two lawsuits are being filed to challenge the measure. Public records show Democrat lawmakers want these suits so if a capital gains tax is upheld, they can seek to impose a broad-based statewide graduated income tax that everyone would pay.
Senate Bill 5126 will establish a new program to be implemented by Department of Ecology to artificially cap greenhouse gas emissions. This damaging regulation scheme will raise the price of gas, food, goods, and heating on those who can least afford it. It will also hurt small businesses and make our state's business climate less competitive. California is the only other state in the nation with a cap-and-tax policy. We do not need this program, and it will only harm Washingtonians.
LOW-CARBON FUEL STANDARD
Democrats also passed House Bill 1091, which requires the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. A low-carbon fuel standard is a policy that will increase fuel prices and punish those who drive vehicles using gasoline or diesel. Combine this, along with the cap-and-tax bill, and likely a state gas tax increase to fund a new transportation revenue package, and you can expect to pay as much as an additional 55 cents per gallon of gasoline or more. Many individuals, families, and small businesses simply cannot absorb these additional and burdensome costs.
Police reform, drug possession, dominate Public Safety Committee discussions
I was honored to be chosen in December as the ranking Republican on the House Public Safety Committee. As I said back then, “Public safety is one of the most basic and important elements of government. It's essential that we keep our streets, neighborhoods and citizens safe. That will certainly be my primary goal.”
Due to the high profile deaths linked to police last year in Minneapolis and other places across the U.S., a number of police reform bills were introduced this session. Originally, legislation was moving forward that would have essentially defunded and disarmed law enforcement officers, making it impossible to safely do their jobs. I worked across the aisle with sponsors to address their concerns, but ensure our police officers have the tools necessary to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe.
These are the police reform bills that passed:
- House Bill 1054 – Tactics and equipment used by peace officers.
- House Bill 1310 – Permissible use of force by law enforcement officers.
- House Bill 1267 – Establishes Office of Independent Investigations in governor's office for investigating deadly force incidents.
- Senate Bill 5051 – State oversight and accountability of police and corrections officers.
Addressing the Blake Decision
In February, the state Supreme Court ruled (State v. Blake) that Washington's law prohibiting the simple possession of drugs is unconstitutional. This ruling has widespread repercussions across our state, making thousands of convicted drug felons eligible for release into our communities. In addition to local courts releasing drug convicts, Gov. Jay Inslee was also commuting sentences.
One of those released early under the governor's order was arrested only two days later for driving through Olympia-area neighborhoods at speeds of nearly 120 miles per hour. When caught, he told authorities, “Governor Inslee let me out of prison early and I wanted to have some fun.” You can read that story here.
Aside from that story, I've been very concerned about the effects of drug possession in our local communities. I joined with other Republican members on the House Public Safety Committee to introduce five bills to address the Blake Decision. Read more about these bills here. Unfortunately, none of these bills moved forward.
Instead, the final bill that is heading to the governor's desk makes simple drug possession a misdemeanor and funds development of a statewide framework for treatment and recovery. It is not the legislation for which most of us had hoped, but I voted for Senate Bill 5476, because it is better than doing nothing. Doing nothing is unacceptable. The measure also expires in two years, so it is my hope we can return to work on legislation that would emphasize treatment and provide more help for those addicted in the cycle of drug abuse.
Mosbrucker bills gain governor's signature
I am honored that two of my bills gained unanimous approval in the Legislature and were recently signed into law. They include:
- House Bill 1315 – This measure creates a joint legislative task force to identify the role of the workplace in helping to curb domestic violence. This is the same measure I introduced last year, which passed the Legislature. However, it became one of the 147 bills Gov. Inslee vetoed to save money to address the COVID-19 crisis. This year, it passed the Legislature and was signed into law on April 14.
- House Bill 1455 – This bill seeks to prohibit the Employment Security Department (ESD) and Labor and Industries (L&I) from requiring and using full Social Security numbers from citizens who need their services. It is in response to a massive personal data breach in the state Auditor's Office affecting those who filed for unemployment benefits in 2020.
For more details on these bills, read my press release here.
Mosbrucker provisos pass in state operating budget
There's more than one way to enact legislation. Sometimes, we are able to attach policy in the state operating budget — also known as “provisos.”
The new state operating budget includes two provisos that will help those afflicted with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and fund a program that provides for expedited DNA processing in crime cases.
My former legislative assistant has a son who suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). It is a painful and debilitating affliction that affects more than 6,000 children across Washington state. At the time he was diagnosed, there were only two doctors in the state that specialized in the treatment of JRA and they were both in Seattle. Section 962 of Senate Bill 5092, the 2021-23 operating budget measure, requires the Department of Social and Health Services to consider pediatric and juvenile rheumatologists for eligibility of the health professional loan repayment and scholarship program. This will help expand the pool of rheumatologists across the state. There is no cost to the taxpayers from this proviso.
The second proviso, Section 402 of the operating budget, appropriates funding for an enhanced forensic capabilities pilot program that provides expedited DNA technology and forensic services to assist in crime scene evidence. We have backlogs of DUI tests dating back four months, which is not acceptable. This will help to ensure untested sexual assault kits are processed in a timely manner and not sitting on shelves while perpetrators are running free.
For details on these provisos, read my press release.
I work for you throughout the year
Although the 2021 legislative session is now finished, I want you to know that I work for you throughout the year. I will be working on numerous issues, including the next step of finding missing and murdered indigenous people (read more background in this story from the Washington Gorge Action Programs), enacting tougher restrictions against those annoying and illegitimate telemarketing calls, and seeking more support to create a youth suicide review team. However, I also want to hear from you. In fact, the best legislation comes from the people I serve. So please keep in touch with my office if you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation, or if you are having difficulties with state agencies. My contact information is below.
I am humbled and honored to serve you.
Honored to serve you,