The Legislature adjourned the 2018 session late Thursday evening, March 8. Now that the dust has settled, I'd like to re-cap some of the pro-active wins, defensive wins and disappointments from the 60-day marathon of public policy, bills and debate.
When session began, I had several goals, most of which were about ensuring “bad” bills, and even worse public policy, did not get put into Washington state statute. With these damage control goals in mind, I believe we achieved some good results.
First, let's start with the Hirst fix and capital budget for 2017-19. When the Legislature convened in January, this was the hot issue. As you may recall, the capital budget stalled because the lack of a fix for the Hirst water-rights state Supreme Court decision, which essentially put the onus on local governments and property owners to determine if enough groundwater is physically and legally available before they issue building permits in rural areas.
Hirst stopped economic development in many parts of rural Washington and had the potential to cause an enormous tax shift to those who own properties with access to water – including urban areas. A solution for the citizens of Washington state needed to be reached.
Republicans stood firm that a solution for property owners needed to be put in place before striking a deal on the capital budget. It worked — we passed the Hirst fix within weeks of the start of session. The solution protects local residential water rights and assures that land owners in the 19th Legislative District, and throughout the state, can drill wells and develop residential properties.
With the Hirst fix in place, we immediately approved the $4.2 billion 2017-19 capital budget which contains money for major projects across the state, including K-12 school buildings and renovations, affordable housing and mental health facilities.
Washington now spends $13,900 per K-12 student and in 2018 we added more than $774 million for teacher salaries in the 2018-19 school year. Even with this success, we had to protect the “McCleary” education funding solution from being dismantled this session. The bill will not even be fully in place until 2019. Now is not the time to make any major changes in how this is being allocated.
Supplemental transportation, operating and capital budgets
All three 2018 supplemental state budgets passed in a timely manner. That means, no special sessions or delays in the state's construction projects. The 2018 supplemental operating budget increased state spending by $1.2 billion in the 2017-19 budget cycle and $600 million for 2019-21 ($1.8 billion over four years).
The budget funds the new K-12 salary allocations in the 2018-19 school year and provides a one-time property tax reduction of $.30/$1,000 of assessed value in 2019 only. Regrettably, the majority party used a budget “gimmick” to achieve these results. More on that in the “disappointments” section below.
More good news in the capital budget
Both the delayed 2017 and supplemental capital budget contain a number of great infrastructure projects for the 19th Legislative District, including the North Shore Levee, erosion control at North Cove, Naselle Hatchery renovations and deconstruction of derelict vessels in Ilwaco and dredging at the Ports in Chinook Marina and Ilwaco.
The debate continues | Marbled Murrelet
Although major reform is still needed, we managed to get some legislative oversight of the marbled murrelet Habitat Conservation Program (aka “spotted owl 2.0). The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) idea is that by locking up thousands of acres of trust lands for these birds, somehow the birds would increase in number. Meanwhile, our timber and forest industries are dying and people are unable to work or make a living wage. Additionally, counties, cities and schools are losing the non-tax revenue from these trust lands that would be generated if they were put to use.
Defensive wins | Carbon tax
The governor's “carbon tax,” and its related burden on households and commercial business was defeated during the final weeks of session. This is a big win for families who would have paid for this tax at the gas pump, electricity hikes and in heating their homes.
No means 'no' to the capital gains tax
Some lawmakers didn't think the $2.3 billion increase reported by the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast was enough money. They wanted to add a capital gains tax. In what has become an annual tradition by the governor and other lawmakers in the majority party, another proposal to tax income through implementing a capital gains tax was proposed and defeated this session.
We managed to do a good job defending our Second Amendment rights this year. No bans or new restrictions on certain types of magazines, clips or semi-automatic rifles were approved. However, the bump stock ban managed to get through.
I voted “no” on House Bill 5992, because I didn't like the fact that someone who bought a device legally could now be criminalized for owning that device. Although the measure passed, we limited the ban to just the device – it doesn't include other trigger modifications.
No overturn of I-200
An attempt to overturn the voter's anti-preferences initiative, put place more than 20 years ago, was also defeated this session. When it passed in 1998, the following language was added to Washington statute:
“The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
If enacted, Senate Bill 6406 would have ended this prohibition. Instead, the law was kept in place that stops the use of race and gender preferences by colleges, state and local governments.
Open government | Public records bill vetoed
The hastily approved Legislative Public Records Act was a hot topic this session. For a long time, the Legislature has exempted itself from the laws that apply to other state agencies. They haven't made public records like electronic email, letters and calendars, available to the public. House Bill 6617 was actually an attempt to open up some of this policy and make some, not all, of these records available to the public.
Although the bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and the House with strong bipartisan support, I was a “no” vote.
The reason I said no to this bill had more to do with the process than the policy. The bill was flawed, but it could have been fixed. The problem was the rushed way it was approved. Rather than going through the usual series of public meetings, public hearings and discussion and debate, this bill was hurried through the legislative process. It was voted on within days of being introduced and then passed on to the governor to sign. This kind of “swampy politics” needs to stop.
Ultimately, the measure was vetoed. This public policy issue is not going away. Lawmakers will need to work together on a more deliberate approach to crafting transparent and open laws for the Legislature.
So…what disappointments were there?
In order to pass the supplemental operating budget, too much money was taken out of the state's Budget Stabilization Account “rainy day fund.” The majority party used some clever budget trickery to siphon off this constitutionally protected money — this sets a very bad precedent for future budgets.
Other disappointments include the constitutionally-dubious passage of the law enforcement “reform” package, House Bill 3003 and I-940. On a nearly partisan vote, the Senate and House voted to pass HB 3003, which is most likely an unconstitutional attempt to amend a law that did not exist (the verbiage of I-940).
The bill was sent to the governor for signature, amending the initiative which had not passed the Legislature. I was a “no” on this proposal. This has the same “smell” of the hastily passed Legislative Public Records Act noted above.
Bills that should have made it
We almost passed a very interesting rural broadband infrastructure bill. It would have been great for 19th Legislative District and neighboring areas. The bill ran out of time in the short session. The deal is well-designed and we can pick it up next session.
And finally, more needs to be done for our state hatchery production of native salmon and other fish. We had several good ideas for doing this. They either didn't pass or didn't pass in full form.
Although the session has come to close, please continue communicating with me. My office remains open throughout the year. Please feel free to contact me with your comments, concerns or ideas about state government. My contact information is listed at the bottom of this update.
Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Olympia.