Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2019 session began Monday, Jan. 14. It is a busy time, with committee schedules, meeting with constituents and working on bills.
It is an honor and privilege to be in Olympia for a fifth term representing the people of Clark County in the 17th District.
Key issues before the Legislature
We have a number of big issues before us this session. Below is a breakdown of just some of those issues.
Operating budget – State spending is substantially outpacing personal income. In December, the governor proposed a budget that if adopted right now, would increase spending by 75 percent in eight years. That is simply unsustainable and not fiscally responsible. The Legislature should be able write a budget within its means.
Tax increases – The state is experiencing historical levels of taxpayer revenue coming into its coffers. Revenue has grown 17 percent since last biennium alone. However, the governor has proposed implementing new taxes and raising others. His budget includes a capital gains income tax, a B&O tax increase, and adjusting the real estate excise tax, which could drive up the cost of homes. There are also other tax proposals being considered. However, none of them are needed with our record revenues coming in. It comes down to priorities and living within our means.
Mental health – The state has spent millions of dollars on state-run facilities such as Western State Hospital with poor results. There is a shortage of beds and services for our state's vulnerable citizens with mental health needs. We need to increase community mental health and addiction services and expand our behavioral health workforce.
Affordable housing – Washington state has over-regulated and it has increased costs associated with development. Our population growth has outpaced the number of new housing units by 4 percent since 2005. We need to keep costs at a minimum by ensuring there is a diverse and adequate housing supply. We can focus on increasing supply and decreasing hard costs for new construction.
Homelessness – We must identify why our homelessness problem has become so significant. Is it mental illness, drug addiction or lack of affordable housing?
Opioids – Prescription opioid abuse has been on a slight decline, but deaths and hospitalizations related to heroin have increased sharply. We need to focus on prevention and treatment, to help people out of addiction.
Tobacco 21 – This is my top individual priority. House Bill 1074 would prohibit the sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vapor products to anyone under the age of 21. The bill has already had a public hearing in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. There is strong bipartisan support for this legislation and I believe we have a good chance of passing it into law this year.
Vaccinating to prevent disease – As you know, we are facing a measles outbreak in Clark County, which is now spreading to other parts of the state. I have introduced House Bill 1638 that would eliminate the personal exemption for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Most of the confirmed cases in Clark County were not immunized from the highly contagious disease. Washington is one of only 18 states that allows parents to opt out of vaccinations for personal, moral or other beliefs.
California's mandatory vaccination law survived a court challenge last year.
Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1944 ruling that refused to exempt a religious group from child-labor laws, the state court said, “The right to practice religion freely does not include the liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”
The governor declared a statewide emergency on Friday. You can read his proclamation here.
I have been elected caucus chair this year by my colleagues. I am honored they have entrusted me with this leadership position. The caucus chair presides over caucus meetings and leads discussions on bills, amendments and other legislative matters.
Keep an eye on Olympia
What is the best way to follow what is going on in Olympia? Below are some links and websites to follow the Legislature and some of the things I am working on.
- Capitol Buzz: It is a daily electronic clip service with headlines and stories from media outlets around the state – newspaper, radio, television. Click here to subscribe – no cost.
- Check out my website: www.representativepaulharris.com/. Here you can find my news releases, email updates and bills I have sponsored.
- TVW: The state's own version of C-Span, TVW broadcasts floor and committee action live: www.tvw.org
- Legislature's website: You can get bill reports, track legislation, view committee agendas and information about upcoming activities in the Legislature at: www.leg.wa.gov.
You can also follow House Republicans on Facebook.
Please contact me if you have any questions, thoughts or concerns about the legislative session or state issues. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at (360) 786-7976. I look forward to hearing from you!