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The 105-day legislative session adjourned on Sunday, April 23. It was good to be in Olympia for my first fully in-person session since I was first elected. Meeting with constituents, seeing folks testifying in public hearings, and being able to work face-to-face was a welcome site at the state Capitol campus.
There was much more of a bipartisan effort on some issues and committees. Unfortunately, there were many disappointments this session. In this update, I will touch on some of those and some of my successes this session. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
No Blake fix: Adjourning the session without an answer to the Blake court decision was the session's biggest disappointment. The governor has called a special session to start on May 16. He can only call a special session for 30 days, but our real deadline is July 1. That is when the current felony drug possession law expiries.
It is important to note a special session does not mean a fix is guaranteed. House Republicans are working with the Senate and our counterparts in the House to reach a solution before we descend on Olympia again. Click here to read House Republicans' recent letter to the governor outlining our concerns and our solutions.
How did we get here? In Feb. 2021, when the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington's felony drug possession law was unconstitutional, the Legislature passed legislation that same year. It was a temporary solution, as mentioned above, the law expires July 1.
Despite the urgency to come up with a Blake fix this year, we left Olympia without a solution.
What happened? 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.
In the final hours of the session, House Democrats brought their own version to the House floor for a vote, only to see it fail. The bill had no teeth and obviously not enough votes.
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)
We will continue communicating with the other caucuses and offer important commonsense solutions to come up with a legitimate Blake fix, so our communities and streets are safe, and people are getting the treatment and guidance they need..
Law enforcement pursuits: I was also disappointed in the solution put forward to address the law enforcement pursuit issue. 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.” The unrealistic bar was set so high for law enforcement, suspected criminals 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. It was co-sponsored by 20 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.
This doesn't go nearly far enough to restoring what our law enforcement officers need, so I voted “no.”
I expect the crime problem to continue, and we will be back here next year still working to come up with a legitimate solution for our law enforcement.
I was able to get a couple of bills delivered to the governor's desk this session.
- House Bill 1043 would streamline rules and regulations in common interest communities. Currently, common interest communities are governed by four statutes, depending on the type of community and the timeframe it was created.
- House Bill 1782 would address the operation and maintenance of the Wahkiakum County ferry. This is an important piece of legislation for many communities in southwest Washington who utilize the ferry daily for work.
- House Bill 1777, which I co-sponsored, would allow energy-saving projects to be funded by private entities when the building owner does not have the capital up front to fund the project. This ties to what we are trying to accomplish with school funding. Some schools cannot generate funds to get more energy efficient lights, HVAC, or windows. This gives us another tool to ensure our students have a quality learning environment.
My House Bill 1044 died as the result of a stalemate between the House and Senate. This legislation would have provided funding for small school districts through a grant process based on need. School districts would have received a score based on certain criteria. The grant dollars would have gone to the school district whose score reflects the most need. Projects eligible for grant funding would need to correct critical physical deficiencies such as modernizing, repairing, reconfiguring, or replacing existing buildings and construction of new buildings. All students deserve a quality place to learn no matter their zip code.
The bill passed the House unanimously and the Senate by a vote of 46-3. There was also language in the capital budget to fund the bill. Unfortunately, the Senate added several amendments, but House leadership did not agree with the other chamber's changes. I will continue working on this issue. We are making good strides in capital funding for school districts in need, and this is a vital piece of continued bipartisan efforts to make that happen.
Capital and transportation budgets
The capital budget, Senate Bills 5200, was one of the budgets in which Democrats and Republicans worked together to craft strong, bipartisan legislation. It passed the Legislature unanimously. The $8.98 billion proposal makes significant investments statewide in housing, behavioral health, K-12 schools, and infrastructure.
There were many notable projects for the 19th District including:
- Naselle Hatchery Renovation: $11.5 million
- Beaver Creek Hatchery: $2.6 million
- Terminal 4 expansion and redevelopment (Aberdeen): $3.5 million
- Port of Willapa Harbor (South Bend): $800,000
- Dylan Jude Harrell Community Center Gymnasium: $384,000
- Grays Harbor County Courthouse: $225,000
- American Legion Veteran Housing and Resource Center: $493,000
- South Bend School District: $300,000
- Kelso School District, construction and renovation: $165,000
- Library Capital Improvement Program (Longview): $750,000
- Library Capital Improvement Program (South Bend): $249,000
- City of Longview Mint Valley Golf Course Irrigation Replacement: $2 million
- Cloney Inclusive Playground (Longview): $1 million
- Lower Columbia College, David Story Field: $1.3 million
- Chehalis Basin Strategy (shared with neighboring districts): $70 million
The final transportation budget, also negotiated in a bipartisan manner, included $72 million for the State Route 12/East Aberdeen Mobility Project, a vehicle traffic intersection overpass, to allow cars to go over the railroad tracks, easing congestion in the region.
To read the news release from 19th District lawmakers, click here.
While the capital and transportation budgets were negotiated in a bipartisan manner, House Republicans were completely shut out of the crafting of the operating budget. The $69.77 billion budget continues an unsustainable pattern of spending by the majority party. As you can see by the chart below, spending has more than doubled in the last decade.
I voted “no” on the operating spending plan. Not only does spending continue to be out of control, there is little transparency. The majority party did not share final operating budget information with us until the day before we voted on the 1,404-page bill. It leaves a small ending fund balance and reserves are less than the state treasurer's recommended target of 10%. It also provides no relief to Washington taxpayers.
Second Amendment and parental rights threatened
The rights of citizens continue to be infringed upon by the majority party. They passed three anti-gun bills that have already been signed into law by the governor.
- House Bill 1240 bans the sale, production or transfer of most semi-auto firearms, also known as “assault weapons.” 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 law is already facing a court challenge.
- House Bill 1143 impairs your right to buy, sell or keep arms. The measure imposes various training and testing requirements on law-abiding gun owners and retailers before they can exercise their constitutional rights.
- Senate Bill 5078 holds gun manufacturers legally responsible for how individuals misuse their products.
I expect more lawsuits to follow.
Parental rights: One of the most disturbing bills to pass this session may be Senate Bill 5599. The legislation would 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. We need to let parents be parents without government interference. This bill will put barriers between parents and children in loving families – even when they may not agree. I ask any parent out there, wouldn't you want to know where your child is if they left home?
Following your state government
Even though the Legislature has adjourned, there is a lot happening in our state government. I urge you to stay informed. Below are some informative websites. The Capitol Buzz and Ledger are updated daily.
- The Ledger | A legislative news aggregator.
- Capitol Buzz – Daily news clips | Daily news clips.
- The Current | An online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans.
Please keep in mind, I am your legislator year-round. Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns or comments about the Legislature or our state government. Your input and feedback are important to me.
It is an honor to serve the great people of the 19th District!
Your Humble Servant,
409 John L. O’Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7870 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000