Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This short 60-day 2020 legislative session is officially in the books. A lot happened during the last two months as lawmakers pushed through hundreds of bills to the governor's desk. Before I get into all of the updates, I want to say thank you one more time for your input throughout this session.
I take my role as a public servant very seriously, and I do my best to truly represent the people in my district. I can't do that without your feedback, ideas, and support. So, thank you again for meeting with me and sharing what's on your mind.
As you know, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is becoming a major issue. Although, we continue to discourage fear and panic, we are aware of the seriousness of this virus and its implications. This is affecting all of us in so many ways, but we can't allow it to defeat us.
Here's what we've been doing in the Legislature. One of the last bills we passed this session directs $200 million to help deal with the outbreak. It just needs the governor's signature to become law.
As the number of cases continues to climb, there is increased awareness and concern. If you have questions, you can call the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) at 1-800-525-0127 and press #. You can also stay up to date by following them online at the various websites and social media channels below:
Lastly, please remember to be diligent and vigilant to stay safe and healthy. The best way to avoid getting sick is to wash your hands regularly, avoid large crowds and others who are sick, and limit touching your face. We want to get through this, and we want everyone to stay healthy, especially our most vulnerable.
Charter Schools Bill Reaches the Governor's Desk
I sponsored and co-sponsored several bills this session, and I'm happy to say that my bill to help improve our state's charter school administration abilities overwhelmingly passed both the House and the Senate.
House Bill 2853 would help set up charter schools for success by allowing the Washington State Charter School Commission to hire an executive director. The last step in the process to becoming law, is the governor's signature. We should know within the next few days.
Money for WSU Life Sciences Building
I'm also happy to report that I was able to help secure financial assistance for building a new Life Sciences building at the Washington State University Vancouver campus. Together, with other lawmakers in our county, I asked for $4 million to help make this happen. The money was not originally going to be included in the capital budget, but in the end, we were able to get it done.
The WSU Vancouver campus is an important contributor to our communities in Clark County. This funding will help bring additional opportunities and benefits to employees and students.
West Biddle Lake Dam Restoration
As a reminder, I was also able to secure $412,000 from the capital budget for another important project in Clark County, the West Biddle Lake Dam restoration project. The dam is part of the Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center, which is a non-profit organization in Vancouver. The money will initially be used to study the numerous aspects of this project and what effects it would have, and then eventually go toward repairing or replacing the dam.
Final Operating Budget Passed
In my last update, I told you about majority's proposed 2020 supplemental operating budget. After several rounds of negotiating and conferencing, both chambers have passed the final budget and it now awaits the governor's action. Here's a recap.
Despite historic revenue growth and a projected $2.4 billion surplus, the majority party is not giving anything back to taxpayers. Instead they chose to spend more than $1.5 billion of the surplus. With all of the economic uncertainty from the coronavirus, now is not the time to be spending our state revenue carelessly.
Instead, we should be investing in critical government services and offering meaningful tax relief. This also sets our state up for failure if we experience any kind of economic downturn or crisis, meaning we'll end up dealing with painful cuts or tax increases later. The current coronavirus situation is a perfect example.
However, instead of controlling their spending, our state government chose to increase it. Total state spending for 2019-2021 will jump to $53.5 billion, an increase of nearly 20% over last biennium. This kind of unchecked spending cannot be sustained.
Lastly, I was pleased to see that a portion of the spending increase is focused on homelessness, which is one of our state's greatest problems. No one needs help more than people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse, which are often all connected.
Comprehensive Sex Education
This was by far one of the most controversial issues we've ever debated during my time in the Legislature. The idea of mandatory sexual health education for every student K-12 in Washington, is deeply personal to so many people.
Hundreds of passionate parents and educators visited the Capitol to voice their concern, while thousands more emailed and called us to oppose this bill. Republicans offered 29 amendments and debated this for several hours on the floor, but to no avail. It passed both chambers despite our efforts and clear opposition from most Washingtonians.
Personally, I believe proper, age-appropriate sexual health education is important for all kids. However, I also strongly support local control and parental rights, which is why I voted against this bill. Unfortunately, it's now in the hands of the governor. Here's more information and facts about this legislation.
Town Hall Canceled
In my most recent email update, last month, I told you I would be joining my fellow legislators from the 17th District for a town hall meeting in April. However, Sen. Linda Wilson, Rep. Vicki Kraft, and I have decided to cancel this event.
We know many of you would like to meet with us, and we enjoy these opportunities hearing your ideas, questions, and concerns. However, due to the continuing threat of coronavirus, and in keeping with the guidelines set forth by health authorities and our governor, we have canceled the town hall. If you would like to share your questions or concerns, please contact us by phone or email.
Don't Miss a Thing Going on at the Capitol
As we enter the interim, you can still stay up to date with what's going on with me and in Olympia:
- RepresentativePaulHarris.com – you can visit my website to keep up with me, including my email updates, news releases, and the bills I have sponsored.
- www.leg.wa.gov – you can also track legislation, get bill reports, view committee agendas, and information about upcoming activities in the Legislature.
- The Washington State Ledger – this daily informative and comprehensive news aggregator is the House Republican Caucus's latest tool to keep you in tune with everything going on in Olympia and throughout the entire state.
- Capitol Buzz – this daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
- TVW.org – tune into TVW, Washington's own version of C-SPAN. If you missed any floor action you want to catch up on, this is the place.
Please Keep in Touch
Even though the 2020 session is over, I'm still your representative for the entire year. I will be very busy this interim meeting with you. Whether it's in-person, business tours, community events, or speaking engagements, I will be out and about in the 17 District making sure we stay in touch.
Please don't hesitate to reach out to me to share your input. I find it very valuable as I make important decisions in Olympia. You can contact me by calling my office at (360) 786-7976 or via email at Paul.Harris@leg.wa.gov. You can also schedule an appointment directly by clicking here. I look forward to seeing you this interim.
It's an honor serving you in Olympia!