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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The 2014 legislative session began yesterday. If you have any comments or concerns about pending legislation or anything the Legislature is working on please do not hesitate to contact me. There are many pressing issues before us this session – jobs/economy, transportation, taxes/budget, healthcare, public safety and many others.

Jobs and the economy

The recent vote by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ to accept Boeing’s latest contract offer appears to have secured the company’s 777X jetliner project for Washington state. However, Boeing’s threat to leave once again brought up legitimate questions about our state’s competitiveness for employers. All sectors of our economy face serious challenges not just the aerospace industry. Among the challenges is an expensive workers’ compensation system, a unique business and occupation tax, an uncertain permitting process, and a cumbersome regulatory climate. It’s great that we are helping the aerospace industry, but we should be helping all sectors of our economy. They need to be able to invest and hire more people. There are proposals on the table to lower workers’ compensations costs, lessen tax burdens, streamline the permitting process, and slow down the growth of rules and regulations. Our economy has seen slight improvement but there are still many people who are unemployed or underemployed. If you have a moment, please consider watching a video my legislative colleagues have put together that contains many solutions that could improve our economy. You can watch it by clicking Solutions for our economy.

Transportation

A transportation gas tax revenue package continues to be negotiated between leaders in the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle. I have been adamant that reforms need to be part of the discussion for any transportation plan. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) must be able to show us they can be accountable and efficient with the dollars they have before the Legislature asks the taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets and when we already have one of the highest gas taxes in the country. Read: Problems push 520 project over budget from The Seattle Times last week. While negotiations are ongoing, it is difficult to predict if a transportation tax package will be passed by the Legislature this session.

There is no current plan to provide funding for the Columbia River Crossing in the current proposal. It cannot be ignored. We still need a plan that is inclusive of all stakeholder groups, efficient, transparent and is in the best interest of our communities. Until we can come up with a plan that does those things, this will continue to be a contentious issue with little progress. Rep. Harris confers with colleagues on the House floor

Budget/taxes

This is a supplemental budget year. With revenue projections changing little over the last year, I don’t expect significant changes in the state’s operating budget with a supplemental plan. That said, some House Democrats are discussing reviewing or eliminating tax incentives and looking at our state’s tax system. That always makes me nervous given the fact last session began with over $1.3 billion in proposed tax increases by the House majority party.

Healthcare

While Obamacare is federal law and being implemented by our federal government we are looking at what the state can do to make the implementation of this healthcare law much more plausible. Our state has had their own share of challenges surrounding this law:

  • Our insurance commissioner said “no” to the president’s directive of being able to keep your policy if you like it.
  • 290,000 Washingtonians have received health plan cancellation notices.
  • Our website has crashed several times.
  • Thousands of calls to the Washington Healthplanfinder’s hotline have gone unanswered.

Most of the sign-ups have been for Medicaid. This issue is a moving target at the federal level, but our caucus is introducing legislation this session to make Obamacare more workable. You can read the release by clicking: Republicans introduce legislation to address Obamacare glitches.

Since I serve on the House Health Care Committee and I am the ranking House Republican on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health & Human Services, I have become more involved in healthcare issues. I will be sponsoring a number of bills related to health care issues this session including:

  • House Bill 2163 would require a person to show proof of age if purchasing any products containing dextromethorphan, a drug you find in over-the-counter cough or cold syrups. There is a problem with youth using the substance to get high.
  • House Bill 2173 would allow licensed optometrists to continue to prescribe hydrocodone for pain related issues regardless of actions by the federal government to reclassify the narcotic.

I have also introduced a few other bills, including legislation that makes some technical clarifications for health plans offered outside the exchange. And legislation that would require the Medical Quality Assurance Commission to establish a quality improvement program to address concerns in the practice of physicians and physician assistants.

Public safety

Keeping our communities safe is always a top priority of government. I expect there to be legislation strengthening DUI laws, building on what was passed last session. There will be legislation to regulate the legalization of marijuana initiative that voters passed last November. Whether you agree with its passage or not, the state will need to make sure we have regulations in place to monitor production, distribution, and possession. We may also see legislation related to criminal street gangs and firearms.

Education

We did some great things for education last year particularly in the budget — providing additional dollars to lower class size, for the Learning Assistance Program, student transportation obligations, full-day kindergarten and we reinstated the 1.9 and 3 percent pay reduced in the previous budget. However, the recent state Supreme Court McCleary report on January 9 seems to question on our progress on education. The report from the court is currently being reviewed by the state attorney general. Until we receive the opinion from the attorney general, we cannot say what the Legislature will be obligated to do this session.

Stay in touch

Obviously, there are a lot of issues that may come up this session for debate or a vote. If you have any comments or concerns about any legislation I mentioned or something I did not, please feel free to contact me. It is a short 60-day session and it will be difficult to address all the needs of our state, but your input is important to me as we discuss these issues.

It is an honor and privilege to serve the 17th Legislative District.

Sincerely,


Paul Harris

State Representative Paul Harris, 17th Legislative District
RepresentativePaulHarris.com
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
paul.harris@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7976 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000