Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2022 legislative session came to a close last night. It was a challenging, and largely disappointing, session for those of us who came in with high hopes of providing tax relief, ending our police officer shortage, and passing emergency powers reform. While those efforts died, the Legislature was able to pass a bill last week making pickleball Washington's official state sport. Not exactly the best use of our time and resources.
Let's talk about tax relief. Right now, our state has a $15 billion budget surplus. There has never been more money in state coffers. Even so, Democrats opted against providing tax relief despite skyrocketing inflation (now at a 40-year high), the highest gas prices we've seen since 2012, and ongoing supply chain challenges. Not only did they reject Republican efforts to pass a permanent sales tax cut, but they didn't even end up passing their own bill to provide a three-day sales tax holiday in September. It begs the question, if we can't provide tax relief with a $15 billion budget surplus, when will we ever do so? As I said during the floor debate on the 2022 supplemental operating budget, the best thing we could do for you is let you keep more of your hard-earned money.
In addition to our budget amendment that would have provided a permanent half-point sales tax cut, we also introduced an amendment to allocate $100 million in unspent federal stimulus dollars to fund the police through:
- $5,000 signing and retention bonuses.
- $90,000 grants to local law enforcement agencies for body camera costs.
- Funding for 10 additional Basic Law Enforcement Academy classes in each fiscal year, for a total of 25 classes per year.
- $150,000 for a study and recommendations on police officer recruitment and retention efforts, police staffing levels and how those compare to recommended levels, how much is spent on policing in Washington as compared to other states, and how to address police recruitment and retention over the long term.
Crime is on the rise and our state continues to rank last in the nation in terms of the number of police officers per thousand people. At some point, we're going to have to get serious about public safety. While the Legislature did fix some of last year's misguided “police reform” bills and accepted an auto theft prevention budget amendment I offered (more on that below), we didn't do enough this session to make public safety a priority. We should be making it crystal clear that we support our men and women in law enforcement as they put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. House Republicans will continue to do just that.
Despite these disappointments, there were a number of wins in the budget. Two wins came in the form of amendments I sponsored that were adopted. One of the amendments was to provide $19 million for assistance to refugees coming to Washington due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict. That figure was then increased to roughly $30 million, which I'm grateful for. It is critical we support these refugees in their time of need.
My other amendment will provide $3.5 million for the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority (WATPA). WATPA was created about 10 years ago to address the often complex and multijurisdictional nature of auto thefts. Over the years, funds for the authority have been diverted to other areas. The funds provided by my amendment will help law enforcement better address the record number of auto thefts we're seeing in Pierce County and in other counties around the state.
Democrats say no to emergency powers reform yet again
Many of you have emailed me over the last year to ask about the likelihood of the Legislature passing emergency powers reform. We now have our answer.
Early on in session, Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima, introduced a strong emergency powers reform bill that received a public hearing, but was ultimately killed by House Democrats. For their part, Senate Democrats advanced an emergency powers bill, but it wasn't written in a way that would meaningfully restore the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches. In fact, editorial boards around the state called it 'ineffective,' 'weak,' and 'milquetoast.'
When that bill came to the House floor for a vote, Rep. Corry introduced an amendment in an attempt to make it stronger. Several House Republican members spoke in favor of his amendment, which ultimately led to House Speaker Laurie Jinkins stopping debate on the bill. In total, the bill was on the floor for about 30 minutes. After being pulled, it was never again brought up for a vote.
When asked why she made that decision, Jinkins said our caucus talked too much.
From The Center Square:
At about 1:30 in the morning on Friday, debate on SB 5909 was cut off in the House by majority party Democrats after some 30 minutes of discussion on a proposed amendment offered up by Republican Rep. Chris Corry to strengthen the legislation. It was not brought up again.
“We had it on the floor the day before cutoff, the night before cutoff for Senate bills,” Jinkins explained at the press conference in response to a reporter's question. “We believed that, you know, there would be some debate on the bill, but that it would move forward and we – our caucus was supportive of it moving forward. And then it became clear during the first amendment that was offered that there was going to be a lot of debate, a lot of speeches on the Republican side.”
She elaborated, “[Democrat Majority Leader] Rep. [Pat] Sullivan and I went and visited Rep. Wilcox and said, 'Hey do you want to pass the bill or do you want to give a lot of speeches?' And he said, 'Let me think about it.' And came back over about 15 minutes later and said, 'We want to talk about it. We want to give a lot of speeches.'”
That prompted the decision to end debate on the bill, according to Jinkins.
It's remarkable Speaker Jinkins would blame us for their failure to pass a bill. Had they truly wanted to act on emergency powers, they would have. Make no mistake about that.
Senate Bill 5078 set to take rights away from law-abiding gun owners
One bill the majority had no problem sending to the governor's desk is Senate Bill 5078, which infringes on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners. As of July 1, the manufacture, importation, distribution, and sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition will be prohibited.
House Republicans fought hard against SB 5078. We tried, to no avail, to convince the majority that it would do nothing to stop criminals, while putting law-abiding gun owners in more danger. In my speech, I asked simply: “If somebody were coming for your life, would 10 rounds be enough to defend your life against someone that was intent on taking it? What if you were defending your spouse, your children?”
You can watch a mashup of our speeches below:
Senate Bill 5078 is now on the governor's desk. He is expected to sign it into law.
Two of my bills approved by the Legislature this session
Despite it being a difficult session in many respects, I'm pleased to report two of my bills were approved by the Legislature.
In a recent scientific brief, the World Health Organization revealed that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 percent. In addition to these challenges, substance abuse has also worsened over the last two years. Even before the pandemic struck, however, Washington was dealing with a mental and behavioral health crisis due to a shortage of providers and lack of access to services.
Under House Bill 1286, Washington will be the latest state to join the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT). The compact, which 28 other states are part of, is designed to facilitate the practice of telepsychology and the temporary in-person, face-to-face practice of psychology across state boundaries. The overall goal is to increase access to care and facilitate the coordination and continuity of care when a patient travels or relocates. Under my bill, qualified psychologists in Washington will be authorized to practice telepsychology, as well as 30 days of in-person psychology, in all states that are part of the compact.
While the Legislature has been working to increase funding for mental and behavioral health care in recent years, we know there is much more work to do. I believe House Bill 1286 represents a positive step forward in our journey. The bill was signed into law by the governor last Friday.
My other bill that was approved by the Legislature is House Bill 1530, which will allow for the creation of a specialty Washington wine license plate. It is now on the governor's desk awaiting his signature.
More than 4,000 people signed a petition in support of creating this new specialty plate, and in committee, hundreds of supporters from across the state signed in to support the bill. Under HB 1530, a fee of $40 will be charged for the plate, which will feature a scenic landscape of Washington wine country. All funds generated from sales of the plate, as well as from the $30 renewal fee, will go to State of Washington Tourism to advocate, promote, develop, and sustain destination tourism marketing across the state.
Unfortunately, Washington's tourism industry has been suffering for more than a decade now. In fact, prior to the pandemic, Washington ranked 48th in the nation in tourism marketing spending. Many communities that were badly hurt by the closure of the state's tourism office in 2011 have felt even more pain over the last two years due to the pandemic and subsequent government-imposed lockdowns. My bill provides a creative way to promote one of our state's most important industries and some of the most beautiful wine country in the world, while also generating tourism funding to help our small mom-and-pop shops, hospitality businesses, local restaurants, and Main Street retail. I'm grateful for the strong support it received in both chambers.
Although this year's legislative session has come to an end, please know I am here to serve you year-round and will continue working on issues that are important to our district and communities across the state. I encourage you to continue reaching out to me with your comments, questions and concerns. My email address is Kelly.Chambers@leg.wa.gov, and my phone number is (360) 746-3670.
It is an honor to serve you.