Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned the 60-day legislative session on time this year, the first time since 2014. Like any session there was some good, bad and ugly in Olympia this year.
The good – legislative accomplishments
Hirst solution and capital budget projects: Two of our biggest wins came in the first couple weeks of the legislative session. We reached a solution to the Hirst court decision, which lead to the passage of the biennial capital budget. The Hirst fix, Senate Bill 6091, grandfathers in existing wells and removes the mandate the state Supreme Court imposed on counties to find legal, available water. This would have been a huge burden, especially for small counties with limited resources and funds. This was a big win for property rights as well as clearing up the uncertainty of the court's decision.
The capital budget included a number of projects for our district. I sponsored three capital budget projects this session.
The Lane House Community Center in Roslyn. The Lane House is the oldest building, dating back to 1895. The money will be used to bring the home up to code.
The second project was funding for the Ellensburg Rodeo and Fairgrounds. The money will be used to address the ADA compliance issues and refurbish some of the animal housing.
Finally, the Historic Cemetery Grant Program. In the 2016 session I passed a law which would allocate grants to historic cemeteries around Washington that were falling into disrepair. Preference was given to cemeteries that interred veterans. This year, $515,000 was placed into that grant program from the capital budget.
We were also able to get funding for a replacement well at the Olmstead-Smith Historical Gardens, the Clymer Museum and Gallery to revitalize and restore the upper portion of the historical building and monies for the Inland Northwest Rail Museum, just outside of Reardan.
School safety: I was the prime sponsor of House Bill 2442, which would create the Students Protecting Students program. The legislation established a program in which students could use an iPhone app to anonymously alert school administrators to ominous or dangerous social media posts with the intent of preventing school violence. The bill passed out of the House Education Committee unanimously. The measure stalled in the House Appropriations Committee, but $750,000 dollars was allocated to school safety programs in the final budget. The House Education Committee chairperson and the ranking Republican member of the committee will be sending a letter to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) asking that some of the money be spent on the Students Protecting Students project. I am a little disappointed we have been pushing school safety legislation for four years and have yet to get a bill through the Legislature. However, funding for the program is progress.
High school civics: I was the co-sponsor of a bill to make civics or American government a required class to graduate from a Washington high school. I spent eight years as a high school social studies teacher and I want to make sure every student has a basic understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the American form of government before graduating. It is obvious through our communications that there is a lack of understanding of our government structure and process. Click here to watch my floor speech on the bill. The governor is expected to sign House Bill 1896 into law.
COLA for retired teachers: It has been almost 10 years since retired teachers have received a cost of living allowance (COLA). As the chair of the Joint Select Committee on Pension Policy, I prime-sponsored a bill to give each retired teacher a 3 percent raise, House Bill 2511. In the House Appropriations Committee, the bill was limited to 3 percent for only teachers on the bottom end of the earning scale. The final budget included a 1.5 percent increase for the retired teachers. We did try to pass an amendment during the budget debate that would have brought the amount back up to 3 percent, like my bill, but it was defeated on the House floor.
Railroad funding: As the founder and co-chair of the Legislative Rail Caucus, I have taken a keen interest in promoting rail projects in the state—particularly the smaller short-line railroads that crisscross Eastern Washington. This year, I was able to acquire several million dollars for the Palouse and Coulee City (PCC) rail line, as well as monies for the Inland NW Rail Museum in Reardan, WA.
Property tax relief: The Legislature passed a bill to provide some property tax relief, Senate Bill 6614. I supported the measure as many property owners are seeing large increases in property taxes, and we should be providing some tax relief while we can, especially for those who are on fixed incomes. However, I was a little disappointed. It is a one-time property tax cut in 2019, which equates to $90 on a $300,000 house. The state is experiencing record tax revenue, so I felt we could have easily provided the tax break this year and at a more substantial rate. House Republicans had at least three bills to implement property tax relief in 2018 – none were given public hearings.
Operating budget: I did not vote for the operating budget, Senate Bill 6032. I am concerned with the level of spending – up 16 percent over the last biennium – and the sustainability of the budget. The budget also relies on a gimmick to avoid placing money in the Budget Stabilization Account. The majority party's maneuver may not specifically violate the law, but it certainly doesn't pass the smell test. Republicans were also left out of the budget negotiations – one of the consequences of one-party control. We were able to stop the governor's carbon tax and keep the capital gains income tax out of the final budget that was the House Democrats budget proposal.
Pro-union legislation hurts home care workers: The 2018 legislative session may have featured a vote never seen before – at least not in recent history. On March 1, the state House of Representatives debated Senate Bill 6199 – relating to in-home caregivers. The bill passed the House by a vote of 50-0. Keep in mind there are 98 members in the state House of Representatives.
Democrats were pushing the bill to circumvent a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling stating individual providers cannot be forced to be a union member. The legislation gets around the court's ruling by allowing the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to contract out for provider wages to a private third-party entity. In this case the third-party entity happens to be the Democrats' political ally, the Service Employees International Union, or the SEIU.
I heard from numerous home care providers in the 13th District who did not want the bill to pass. House Republicans tried to read emails from home care workers in their districts who were opposed to joining the union, but we were repeatedly gaveled down by House Speaker. Since we were not allowed to have a true debate on the bill, we elected not to vote – so the final vote was 50-0. The governor is expected to sign the bill, but because a full vote was not officially taken, some question whether or not the legislation is valid. This issue may not be over.
It is great to be back in the 13th District. Please feel free to contact me during the interim. I am interested in ideas you may have for legislation, projects your organization or agency may be working on, and I am available to speak to groups and provide legislative updates.