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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Just after 10 p.m. Sunday, April 23, the final gavel fell, culminating 105-days of legislative work for the people of the state of Washington. It's been an honor to serve and be your voice at the state Capitol. However, I'm glad to be back home in Puyallup enjoying the springtime of our beautiful 25th District.
As with any legislative session, there are successes and disappointments. I wanted to take a few moments to highlight each in this end-of-session newsletter.
Legislature passes operating, transportation and capital budgets
Democrats and Republicans came together to craft and pass bipartisan capital and transportation budgets.
The capital budget is what we call the “bricks and mortar” budget, because it pays for buildings, parks, infrastructure improvements and repair projects.
Out of the statewide $8.9 billion capital budget, the 25th District will be receiving just over $38 million for local projects, including:
- $25 million – Chief Leschi School heating, ventilation and air conditioning
- $2.6 million – Step-by-Step Early Learning Center
- $1.5 million – Pipeline Trail development – Pierce County
- $1 million – Thun Field emergency response and meeting space
Funding is also provided for the Puyallup Elks roof replacement, Heritage Center at Meeker Mansion, VFW Post 2224 renovations, community college improvements, and repairs to the Puyallup Food Bank facilities. To view these and our other 25th District capital budget projects, go to this link, make sure the version is the “As Passed Legislature (04/22/2203),” choose the 25th Legislative District from the drop-down menu, and click the “View Report” button.
The transportation budget pays for transportation activities, such as designing and maintaining roads, and public transit. This year's transportation proposal spends $13.5 billion, providing $10 billion for the Washington State Department of Transportation, $1.3 billion for Washingtonian State Ferries, $650 million for Washington State Patrol, and $431 million for the Department of Licensing.
In the 25th District, just over $925 million is appropriated for projects for the coming biennium, including $873 million for the Puget Sound Gateway projects (new freeway from Puyallup to Tacoma – SR 167/SR 509), and $13.5 million for congestion relief on SR 167/SR 410 to SR 18. The governor's transportation proposal would have delayed projects that have been in the works for years. The final plan prioritizes projects already under way for completion before shifting funding to new projects, ensuring there are no delays.
While we were pleased that both parties worked together in a bipartisan way on the capital and transportation budgets, it was disappointing Republicans were completely shut out of building a new two-year state operating budget. Even though I am the assistant ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, the majority party did not share final operating budget information with us until the day before we voted on the 1,404 page bill.
The final 2023-25 operating budget spends $69.77 billion. As you can see in the chart above, spending in the state operating budget has more than doubled in the past 10 years and has even risen above inflation. How many people do you know who have been able to double their own budgets in the past 10 years?
While this budget doesn't contain any new broad-based tax increases, the majority party has increased numerous taxes since 2019 (see the details here) to support this additional spending.
I am also concerned that instead of focusing spending on key priorities with clearly defined outcomes, spending is spread across 1,800 separate line items with little accountability. The budget also leaves a small ending fund balance and reserves are less than the state treasurer's recommended target of 10%. Most disappointing, while other states have found ways to reduce taxes and help people struggling to fight against inflation, this budget provides no relief to Washington taxpayers. House Republicans proposed sales tax relief, property tax relief and expanding the Working Family Tax Credit. None of these measures received support from the majority party.
I will add that there are good things in the new operating budget. I was successful in securing some budget proviso money for a study with kids who have developmentally disabled parents. The funding ensures adequate support and resources are available to those unique families with unique needs.
Unfortunately, the concerns of this budget outweighed the positives, so I did not support the final version.
Police pursuit bill passed by Legislature does not include stolen vehicles
No parent should have to go through the pain and agony of losing their child. But that's exactly what happened when a thief stole a large flatbed landscaping truck in January 2022 and hit two 12-year-old girls walking home from a school playground near Midland. One of the girls, Immaculee Goldade, died at the scene and her friend was critically injured, but survived. Rather than helping the girls, the thief worked to free the truck from where it got stuck, and then he drove away. None of this should have happened because law enforcement had previously stopped him. However, he fled, and the police vehicular pursuit laws the Legislature passed in 2021 prohibited officers from chasing and arresting him. Had those officers been able to apprehend this criminal the night he was stopped, it would have prevented this tragedy.
This is one of the reasons I have been so passionate about reforming the state's vehicular pursuit law, which is allowing criminals to flee without consequences or being held accountable.
Under the law that changed in 2021, officers need probable cause to arrest someone before initiating a pursuit rather than reasonable suspicion. A bipartisan measure, House Bill 1363, was introduced in January to restore the reasonable suspicion standard. This would have also allowed officers to pursue suspected stolen vehicles and make arrests, such as in the Goldade case. Unfortunately, the bill did not advance from the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee before the cutoff.
Instead, a Senate companion measure, Senate Bill 5352, passed the Senate and was amended in the House committee with language limiting police pursuits under the reasonable suspicion standard. The amended version would allow police pursuits under the reasonable suspicion standard of those suspected of committing a violent crime, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offenses, vehicle assault, driving under the influence, and trying to escape arrest. Unfortunately, this new law, passed by the Legislature, does not allow pursuits of stolen vehicles, and continues to limit law enforcement's ability to do their jobs.
We had the ability to provide meaningful and reasonable changes this session. Unfortunately, it fell short. I did not support the police pursuit bill sent to the governor because we could have done better.
Inadequate 'Blake fix' drug possession bill fails just before Legislature adjourns
We (House Republicans) had an agreement with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate on a Blake fix. But in the last hours of the session, House Democrats came up with their own conference bill — one that didn't even have enough of their own votes to pass the bill. Senate Bill 5536 failed on the House floor by a vote of 43-55, with 15 Democrats voting against their own party's compromise bill.
By way of background, the state Supreme Court ruled in February 2021 that the state's drug possession law was unconstitutional because it did not require the state to prove a defendant knew they possessed the illegal substance.
In the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5476, which re-criminalized drug possession as a misdemeanor rather than as a felony. It also encouraged prosecutors to divert cases for assessment, treatment, or other services. The criminalization of possession of drugs by this bill was set to expire on July 1, 2023, if no solution was reached by the Legislature by that expiration date.
We had all session to address the problems caused from the Blake Decision. And we negotiated in good faith for legislation that would hold people accountable and get them the treatment they need to break addiction. The 11th hour “fix” by House Democrats was wholly inadequate. It would not have held people accountable, wouldn't help them recover, and would have given them broader access to drug paraphernalia and devices to perpetuate their addiction. We felt this was no fix at all. So I joined with House Republicans who voted no. Unfortunately, the Legislature adjourned before another compromise bill could be considered.
Gov. Inslee has now called a special session for Tuesday, May 16, to address Blake. House Republican Leader Drew Stokesbary responded with this statement:
“House Republicans remain committed to passing statewide legislation that provides opportunities for those who are willing to undergo treatment and accountability for those who aren't. However, we will not support a bill that falls short of either of these goals and simultaneously prevents local governments from enacting their own solutions. Since the regular session adjourned, House Republican leaders have remained engaged in substantive, bipartisan and bicameral conversations regarding how to incorporate our caucus' priorities into new legislation that could be passed during a special session. The governor's announcement today doesn't change our involvement in finding a solution.”
Cocktails-to-go bill to become law
During the pandemic, a temporary law was enacted to allow restaurants and breweries to serve “cocktails-to-go.” That law was set to expire June 30. I co-sponsored House Bill 1375 to make this law permanent. The bill passed from the House Committee on Regulated Substances and Gaming, where I serve as ranking member. Unfortunately, it did not get out of the House Rules Committee before cutoff.
The companion measure, Senate Bill 5448, did advance, fortunately, and passed both houses in the Legislature. It is now on the governor's desk, awaiting his signature.
This bill helps to ensure more success with restaurants and with bars, especially since the restaurant industry has a very high failure rate. When this measure was temporary, it helped those businesses keep their doors open during the pandemic. This will help them with profitable sales into the future.
This also helps improve safety on our roadways. Rather than people being out drinking and then driving home, cocktails-to-go allows people to have their favorite cocktail delivered to their home, along with a meal.
Since the start of the pandemic, 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws allowing for the permanent sale of cocktails-to-go.
Long-term care worker shortage bill stalls in Senate, but key components advance in other measures
Earlier this year, I introduced House Bill 1568 in response to a serious health-care worker shortage in Washington's nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitative care centers, and other long-term care facilities. The bill, which passed the House in March, sought to incentivize current long-term care professionals to stay on the job, and encourage others who retired or left long-term care to return to the profession.
Unfortunately, the measure stalled in the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. Two other bills that passed the Legislature (House Bill 1694 and Senate Bill 5278) adopted some of the language I had in my bill to address the workforce shortages:
- Waives late fees for former certified nursing assistants and home care aides whose certifications have expired between six months and two years if they return to work by July 1, 2025.
- Directs the Department of Health to notify those with certificates that have expired since Jan. 1, 2020, of the exemption from the payments.
- Streamlines requirements for returning home care aides who have been out of work for five or fewer years by removing the requirement they complete continuing education from the time they were away.
- Provides an extension of the 200 days an applicant can work between completing all the education requirements and taking their certification tests.
These two bills may not have my name on them, but the language in these measures certainly have my fingerprints on them. Most importantly, these provisions will help to reduce long-term care worker shortages and increase needed services for patients.
Voluntary Stewardship Program now open to all counties
The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) offers an alternative approach for protecting critical areas on lands where agricultural uses exist. Created in 2011, it gave only a short window of time for counties to sign up, with a 2012 deadline, and 27 counties chose to participate.
Because other counties have expressed an interest in the successful program, I introduced House Bill 1421. My bill would have provided the opportunity for other counties to join the program through July 1, 2024.
Although my sponsored legislation did not advance, a similar bill, Senate Bill 5353, made it all the way through the Legislature and was recently signed into law. The Senate bill removes the 2012 deadline in state law for counties to take part in the VSP, opening up the program statewide without further deadlines.
The change in the law will be good for Pierce County farmers who have been wanting this additional flexibility.
District office reopening
I'm pleased we will be reopening the 25th District office and sharing it with my seatmates, Sen. Chris Gildon, and Rep. Cyndy Jacobsen. I work for you throughout the year, not just when we are in session. So please reach out to my office if you have any questions, concerns, or comments about state government. Our interim phone number is: 360-746-3670. The district office is open by appointment only. We are located at 101 South Meridian, Suite 202. Puyallup, WA 98371. I hope to hear from you soon.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!
426 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7948 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000