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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are in the last few days of the 2023 legislative session. We still have a few remaining issues to resolve before we wrap up on April 23, including finalizing and passing the three state budgets – operating, transportation, and capital – for the next biennium.
Vehicular Pursuit Update
But first, one of the biggest issues this session took center stage on the House floor late Monday night. The majority party brought Senate Bill 5352, the vehicular pursuit bill, up for a debate and a vote. This legislation intends to partially correct House Bill 1054, which passed in 2021.
Since then, criminals have felt emboldened and law enforcement has felt abandoned. This experiment has failed, and our communities are suffering. Crime is up and numerous innocent people have lost their lives because officers are not allowed to pursue unless they have probable cause.
Ultimately, after a spirited debate, the House passed the bill 57-40. There were reasons to vote both ways. On the plus side, this legislation is a small step in the right direction and better than what we currently have. But there is still much work to be done. It simply doesn't do enough to make our communities safe. That's why I hope the majority party will be willing to make the law stronger.
I have no doubt we will be addressing this issue again next year. We must restore the ability to pursue with reasonable suspicion if we expect our law enforcement partners to do their job and make our communities safer.
Update on the Blake Decision
Another important issue we've been working on is the effort to fix the State v. Blake Decision. In 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state's felony drug possession statute was unconstitutional. By invalidating the statute, the possession of hard drugs – like fentanyl, methamphetamines, and heroin – became legal in Washington state.
The Senate introduced Senate Bill 5536 this session, which sought to address this issue by making knowingly possessing fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine a gross misdemeanor. However, the House amended the bill to make drug possession a simple misdemeanor.
We debated this bill into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The bill, which was amended by the House, classifies possession of a controlled substance as a misdemeanor. The substance abuse crisis in Washington is not going away. People who are suffering need our help.
The Senate version of this bill would have had a greater impact and it had bipartisan support from three of the four caucuses. I fear this version of the policy, which passed on a near party line vote of 54-41, will not do enough. Sometimes, the only way to save people from themselves is to get them off the streets into a safe location.
The original Senate version would have also extended the statute of limitations to two years instead of one. That's significant because it often takes up to a year or more for people to get through the court system and get the help they need. If they get out of jail before getting sufficient treatment, they end up reoffending, and the vicious cycle continues. This won't be the last time we debate how to fix the state's substance abuse crisis.
Both the House and Senate have introduced and voted on two of their three budget proposals. Now both sides must find common ground on the items they didn't agree on. Here is a closer look at the House budget proposals as they currently stand.
The 2023-25 House operating budget proposal, which passed the House on a party-line vote of 57-40, would increase spending by $6 billion over current spending levels which would push the budget to more than $70 billion. As demonstrated by this chart, the operating budget has more than doubled since 2011-13, when the state operating budget was right around $31 billion.
Unfortunately, House Democrat budget writers did not include any Republicans in the process, and the spending proposal does not offer any real tax relief. Instead, it would allocate money for close to 1,500 new or expanded programs, in addition to other general funding for current programs. The House's proposal also fails to save for the future. It would only leave $2.1 billion in the rainy-day fund by the end of the four-year outlook period, despite the state treasurer's recommendation of 10% of annual revenues as a minimum target.
While the proposal does fund several important programs, it would be much smarter to save more money for future possible downturns. In addition to the need to put more money aside, now is a good time for us to provide some meaningful tax relief to Washingtonians. But unfortunately, this budget does not include any.
Unlike the operating budget, the House transportation budget did have bipartisan input, which is good news. However, House Republicans would have done some things differently, including how we allocate funds to different projects.
The transportation budget proposal spends a total of about $13.2 billion, which includes $646 million to help our state's police force. This money will go towards hiring new officers and increasing efforts to retain the ones we already have.
Washington continues to lag behind other states in the number of officers on the streets and public safety continues to suffer.
The transportation budget proposal also prioritizes some of the major projects of the Connecting Washington plan that the governor delayed or did not include in his budget.
The House transportation budget passed by a vote of 97-1.
Last but not least, is the House capital budget, which is also a bipartisan spending plan. Budget writers from both sides worked together to create this $8.34 billion spending proposal, which includes $4.18 billion from the sale of newly authorized, general obligation bonds. The remaining $4.15 billion is comprised of a combination of reversion of previously authorized bonds, other dedicated funding sources, and federal funds. It also leaves $160 million in bond capacity for next year's 2024 supplemental capital budget.
The capital budget makes appropriations for projects tangible in nature that have a long useable life, such as schools and other public buildings, behavioral and mental health facilities, parks, low-income housing, water infrastructure, and habitat, including nearly $13 million for 17th District projects, such as:
- $1.5 million for the West Fork Washougal Conservation.
- $1.25 million for the Green Mountain Wildlife Recreation program.
- $1 million for the Port of Skamania Cascades Business Park (North Bonneville).
- $1 million for the Rock Creek Bridge replacement.
- $1 million for the Fenton Community Park.
- $1 million for Criminal Justice Regional Training Facilities.
- $730,000 for the Camas Public Library.
- $669,000 for the Jones Creek Fish Barrier removal.
- $515,000 for Lacamas Lake Water improvements (Camas).
- $350,000 for the Harmony Sports Complex turf field.
For a complete list of our local projects, click on this link and select the 17th Legislative District in the drop down window and then hit the “view report” button. While this proposal still needs final approval, I'm hopeful these projects are funded when the House and Senate reconcile the final budget.
Update on My Legislation
House Bill 1112, which is one of the most important pieces of legislation to me this year, would allow for a person to be found guilty of an offense when he or she operates a vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers, or is likely to endanger, any person or property and causes the death of someone using a public way.
I introduced this legislation because a constituent came to me with a tragic story. He lost his daughter in a freak accident. The driver claimed to be swatting at a bug when he ran over this young woman. He simply paid a fine and walked away. It didn't matter that he took a life. This legislation could change that and give judges the ability to impose harsher penalties at their discretion.
This bill has passed the House and Senate, but because it was amended by the Senate, these changes must be approved by the House before it goes to the governor's desk.
Additionally, House Bill 1073 is also very close to becoming law. This legislation would ensure that medical assistants who have fulfilled all the necessary requirements and qualifications, would receive their medical assistant certification promptly. It also adds additional procedures medical assistants can perform when they become certified. This bill has also passed the House and the Senate and is waiting for the governor to sign it into law.
Thank You and Please Stay in Touch
Thank you again for allowing me to represent you in the Legislature. I'm here to listen, so please continue reaching out to me. If you'd like to set up a personal meeting with me, please click here.
It's an honor to serve,
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7976 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000