Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2023 Legislature adjourned “sine die” on April 23. As my first session, it was an eye-opener. There were some positives and negatives. In this email update I will give you an overview of the three budgets–operating, transportation, and capital–as well as the Blake fix, vehicular pursuit legislation, parental rights and much more.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact.
Grant writers for rural counties
One of the highlights this session was the passage of my first bill. I went into the legislative session not planning on sponsoring any legislation. As a freshman in the minority I was planning on taking a listen and learn approach and figure out how I could best be effective in my position.
However, I ended up introducing House Bill 1783, which passed the Legislature unanimously and it awaits the governor’s signature to be signed into law. The measure would require the Department of Commerce (DOC) to establish a grant program to support associate development organizations (ADO) in the recruiting, hiring, and retention of grant writers for rural counties.
Grant writers are not easy to find, especially in the rural areas of our state. We want to make sure DOC has the resources available to assist those rural areas with their grant writing and bring more economic development to those areas.
Another positive from the 2023 session was the capital budget. As the assistant ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee, I had the privilege to be at the negotiating table and be part of the development team.
It was great to be part of such a historic capital spending plan. It includes strong investments in K-12 school construction, mental and behavioral health facilities and affordable housing. We worked to address needs and fund projects that could benefit local economies.
Some of the 15th District projects include:
- $5,050,000 million for the Pasco process water re-use facility;
- $3.1 million for the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District;
- $1 million for Sentinel Gap Community Park in Mattawa;
- $850,000 for the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management area water supply;
- $840,000 for the Pasco Clubhouse safety modernization;
- $525,000 for the Yakima County Stadium;
- $500,000 for the Kiwanis Spray Park, lighting and walking trails;
- $412,000 for Othello’s Regional Water Plan;
- $361,000 for the Port of Mattawa Event Center Phase 3 upgrade project;
- $350,000 for the Kiwanis Park Futsal Court and restroom;
- $300,000 for the Zillah Park renovation;
- $155,000 for the downtown Pasco North Plaza;
- $25,000 for the Yakima Trolley Museum;
- millions of dollars for the infrastructure and repair work for the community and technical colleges; and
- millions of dollars for the Military Department and Yakima Training Center in our region.
The capital budget was a truly bipartisan effort and a good example of how government should work. Click the photo below to watch my floor speech.
The 2023-25 operating budget was disappointing. It passed on a party-line vote in the House as Republicans were left out of the budget process. It increases spending to $69.8 billion, a $5.6 billion increase, or 9% over current spending levels. The 9% increase is actually pretty modest compared to some of the other increases passed in recent biennia. However, the bottom line is, none of my constituents or employers in my district are running their household or business with that kind of increase in their operating budget. It is simply unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible. As the chart below shows, the operating budget has more than doubled since 2011-13, when the state operating budget was just over $30 billion.
The budget leaves only $3 billion in reserves by the end of the four-year outlook period. That is less than the state treasurer’s minimum target of 10% of annual outlook revenues. Finally, there is no tax relief for taxpayers in this budget. The state coffers have been flush with money the last few budget cycles. With Washingtonians facing uncomfortably high inflation and an uncertain economy, this was a missed opportunity to return some of their hard-working dollars to them.
I also supported the 2023-25 transportation budget. The $13.5 billion biennial budget funds infrastructure projects across the state, including maintenance and preservation, and prioritizes projects already underway for completion under the Connecting Washington package. It also prioritizes public safety by making investments toward our state trooper force in recruitment and retention efforts.
Police pursuit legislation
One of the most important issues we needed to address this session was the police pursuit legislation.
Background: In 2021, the Legislature passed a law that required officers to need “probable cause” to arrest someone before initiating a pursuit rather than “reasonable suspicion.” This set the bar unrealistically high for law enforcement to pursue suspected criminals. They were soon fleeing crime scenes before law enforcement could act or question them.
At the beginning of session there was strong, bipartisan legislation, House Bill 1363, to restore the reasonable suspicion standard. I was co-sponsor of this legislation along with 19 other Republicans and 20 Democrats. Unfortunately, the bill was never brought up before the full House of Representatives for a vote.
What ended up passing was Senate Bill 5352. The measure 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.
While this doesn’t go nearly far enough to restoring what our law enforcement officers need, I voted “yes.” It is a small step forward and if we have prevented at least one more tragedy we have done the right thing. For more information my seatmates and I issued a news release on the night the House passed the bill.
I can assure you we will be working on this during the interim and hoping to address this further next session.
No Blake fix
The other critical public safety issue we needed to address this session was the Blake fix.
Background: In February 2021, in the “State v. Blake” case the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state’s felony drug possession law was unconstitutional. Under the court ruling, all criminal penalties for drug possession were removed, and convictions were vacated and dismissed by an order from the court.
In an attempt to address the court ruling, that same year the Legislature voted to penalize drug possession charges with a misdemeanor. However, that law expires July 1, thus the urgency for the Legislature to come up with a “Blake fix” this session.
As the end of session approached, there was agreement between three of the four caucuses – Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats, along with House Republicans – on the original Senate Bill 5536. It would have increased drug possession penalties to a gross misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a fine up to $5,000, and extended the statute of limitations to two years instead of one. But House Democrats amended the bill to a lesser penalty of a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 90 days and a fine of $1,000.
The House Democrats brought their version to the House floor for a vote in the final hours of the session, only to see it fail. The bill had no teeth and obviously not enough votes. The majority party had two years to come up with a Blake fix and have yet to do so.
This isn’t about politics. It is about doing what is right. People are dying in our streets. There is speculation a special session could be called. But the bottom line is the majority party had two years to address this and failed. For more information check out the columns below.
- Column: WA Democrats, you had one job (Danny Westneat/The Seattle Times)
- Inside the stunning fall of WA’s drug-possession legislation — and what comes next (The Seattle Times)
- Editorial: Call special session of WA Legislature to fix drug possession mess (The Seattle Times)
House Republicans remain committed to resolving this critical issue for Washington state. Click here to read House Republicans recent letter to the governor outlining our concerns and our solutions.
Gun bills threaten Second Amendment rights
The majority party is also pushing gun bills that may not be constitutional and would punish law-abiding citizens. Three bills in particular:
- House Bill 1240 will ban the sale, production or transfer of most semi-auto firearms aka “assault weapons.” It contains an emergency clause, meaning it goes into effect immediately since the governor signed it on April 25. This legislation goes against a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the upcoming federal district court ruling on the California “assault weapons ban,” which most believe will be overturned. This ban will have a greater impact on law-abiding citizens than the individuals who commit crimes. Criminals do not obey laws.
- House Bill 1143 will impair your right to buy, sell or keep arms. The measure would impose various training and testing requirements on law-abiding gun owners and retailers before they can exercise their constitutional rights.
- Senate Bill 5078 will hold gun manufacturers legally responsible for how individuals misuse their products. The governor signed this bill and HB 1143 on April 25 with HB 1240.
Parental rights under attack
One of the most upsetting pieces of legislation passed this session is Senate Bill 5599, the measure to allow youth shelters and similar organizations to not notify parents that their children are at a shelter if they are receiving “gender affirming” care or reproductive services. Parents have a right to parent. This measure puts barriers between parents and their children in loving families when they may not agree with everything they do. Wouldn’t you want to know where your child is if they left home?
Following your state government
Here are some websites and links that will help you stay informed about what is happening in state government during the rest of the year, even though the Legislature is not in session.
- Capitol Buzz – Daily news clips | Daily news clips.
- The Ledger | A legislative news aggregator.
- The Current | An online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans.
Please do hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns or comments even though the Legislature has adjourned. Your questions and input are important to me.
It is an honor to serve the great 15th District!