Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned the 60-day, 2014 legislative session on time, Thursday, March 13. This is the first time since 2009 there will be no special session. Last year we had three special sessions and lawmakers were in Olympia until the end of June. It was definitely a positive for lawmakers, but also for taxpayers. Avoiding a special session not only saves taxpayer dollars, but sometimes more harm can be done than good when the Legislature is in session. More on that in this update, along with my budget vote, legislation important to the 13th District and an update on election-year restrictions.
Supplemental operating budget
As with most budgets there is good and bad. The supplemental state operating budget passed by the Legislature does not raise taxes. It adds $58 million for K-12 education materials, supplies, and operating costs, continuing our education investment. It increases funding for the higher education Opportunity Scholarship for students in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. It funds programs for mental health and people with developmental disabilities and the ending fund balance is much higher than the last budget.
However, I opposed the budget because of what it did not do. You will recall last November legislators were rushed back to Olympia for a whirlwind special session to vote on tax incentive legislation to keep Boeing jobs in the Puget Sound region and provide millions of dollars in infrastructure. Some legislators from Eastern Washington reminded all legislators during the debate to remember this during the 2014 session so we can also help the little guys, the small employers in rural Washington who continue to struggle in this sluggish economy. Bills or proposals to improve job creation and strengthen our economy included:
- House Bill 2204, which I prime-sponsored to reestablish the Rural County Sales and Use Tax Deferral Program – a program that proved very successful from 1994 to 2009. The bill received a public hearing but died in the House Finance Committee. It would have helped up to 31 counties;
- Senate Bill 6550 would have extended the tax incentive legislation for data centers constructed in our state;
- House Bill 2693 would have extended the same tax incentives Boeing received to rotorcraft (i.e. helicopters). This legislation was introduced because a company was interested in building helicopters in Southwest Washington; and
- attempts to restore funding to the Public Works Trust Fund in the budget failed after the fund was swept in the previous budget. This is one of the few mechanisms to provide economic development for smaller, depressed counties.
The governor and House Democrats continually talk about “one Washington” but that doesn't seem to extend outside the I-5 corridor. There seems to be a “one Washington” and a “forgotten Washington” and for that reason I did not support the budget. I would also point to the latest unemployment numbers. King County has the lowest rate at 5.2 percent while the counties in the 13th District look like this:
- Kittitas: 9.2 percent
- Grant: 11.5 percent
- Douglas: 9.0 percent
- Lincoln: 9.0 percent
Legislation signed into law
We were successful in getting a number of bills I sponsored or co-sponsored through the legislative process and signed into law by the governor, many directly impacting the 13th District.
House Bill 2253 clarifies the scope of work for those in the telecommunications industry and allows people who install telephones and Internet cables to keep their jobs after an adverse ruling by the Department of Labor and Industries. It is estimated that without this legislation the jobs of 4,000 installation techs were threatened. My bill, House Bill 2254, was also amended into HB 2253 to allow telecommunications workers who obtain a training certificate from L&I before July 1, 2015 to apply actual work experience toward taking a professional competency certification exam to become a limited energy system 06 specialty electrician.
House Bill 2255 – I introduced this bill, referred to as the Milwaukee Road Corridor legislation, because this old railroad path was the first of its kind to be turned into a trail and it has been managed by the state and operating under different rules than most rail trails. My legislation simply gets rid of the arcane statutes and lets the Parks and Recreation Commission manage the Milwaukee Trail as it does all rail trails under its jurisdiction. This will also help farmers access different parts of their fields from along the corridor.
House Bill 1417 – makes some technical fixes to irrigation district law including administration, public hearings, reviewing delinquent assessments and authorizing hydroelectric generation facilities in certain circumstances. Anything we can do to improve the flow of water is helpful to all of us in the 13th District, not just the irrigators.
House Bill 1254 prohibits L&I from collecting an affidavit certification fee from individuals or entities that are exempt from the requirement to pay prevailing wage, eliminating some paperwork redundancy and a fee being collected by the department.
House Bill 2547 gives Kittitas County the option to create a less than countywide port district, if voters approve the proposal before Dec. 31, 2020.House Bill 1634 will allow solar, geothermal and biomass energy facilities to be treated the same as wind power facilities for taxing purposes. This will generate additional revenue for school buildings and other public projects without shifting any burden to homeowners.
Concerns with the session
While I was pleased we adjourned on time, no new taxes were passed and a number of bills benefitting our region were signed into law, there were certainly some eye-opening pieces of legislation introduced this session. Not all were passed into law, but it is reason for concern, particularly for employers. There were proposals to:
- increase the minimum wage;
- require mandatory sick and safe leave;
- require mandatory vacation leave; and
- add or expand provisions related to Obamacare.
I introduced two bills, House Bill 2220 and 2221, to do the opposite – address some of the problems with Obamacare. The bills would have allowed Washington residents to buy catastrophic health care plans in other states and would instruct the Office of the Insurance Commissioner to enter into compacts with other states to facilitate the purchase of out-of-state health care plans. Neither bill received a public hearing.
Due to state election-year restrictions, this will be the last e-mail update I am sending out until after the general election in November. I appreciate you taking the time to read my updates.
While the legislative session is over, please remember I'm your state representative year-round. I'm here to answer your questions, listen to your ideas and help you navigate problems with state government on any issue. Feel free to contact my office to schedule a time to meet with me or if you would like me to attend a meeting or speak at an event. The contact information for my district office is listed below.
It is an honor and privilege to serve the 13th District in Olympia.