We're past the halfway point of the scheduled 105-day legislative session. March 8, was the final date for bills to pass out of the chamber in which they originated. After several long days of voting on the House floor, we passed over 376 bills. Those bills are now heading to the Senate, where they will begin the process all over again. The Senate also approved 283 bills. Those bills are now being debated and discussed in the House.
Click here for a list and count of all approved House bills.
Putting the brakes on the “levy cliff”
Last week, the state House approved a bill that would change the provisions relating to school district levies, commonly referred to as the “levy-cliff” bill. The governor will sign the bill into law on March 15. I voted “yes” for one primary reason – our school districts need certainty in their financial planning for the coming year.
For too many years, the state failed to pay all the costs of basic education. In order to plug the gap, many school districts use a big chunk of their local levies to pay for teacher, staff and administrator salaries. In 2010, the Legislature agreed to let districts, with voter approval, increase levy rates while it worked to find a way to provide additional funding for public schools. Under the current law, levy rates would roll back to their prior level at the end of 2017. Senate Bill 5023 extends the deadline for local levy collections at their current rate for another year, to Jan. 1, 2019.
The bill also contains a couple carefully crafted amendments to help schools keep better track of how levy money is spent. Beginning in 2018, levy collections will need to be deposited into a separate account from state and general funds. In addition, schools are required to track, and report, all levy money used to support supplemental programs and activities. These reports will go to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction before any maintenance and operation levies can be put on the ballot to support school activities.
The reality is the “levy-cliff” bill is a band-aid on a problem that needs a permanent solution. We cannot keep kicking the can down the road. The state must provide a solution that ends the over-reliance by school districts on local levy dollars. The result must produce an ample, and equitable, funding system for K-12 basic education costs. An eight-member team, with two lawmakers from each caucus are looking at this issue. The progress has been constructive and I am optimistic the Legislature will produce a viable plan this year.
Economic opportunity – the key to improving quality of life
Timber, agriculture, and fishing were once the lifeblood of the economy here. This is something people in urban areas get wrong – we don't want to live in the city. We haven't lost hope in a brighter future, nor do we feel stuck and unable to move. We like it here. And, generations of us have been willing to put in the blood, sacrifice and hours needed to make a living, and stay. It's time the government ponied up, by putting together a plan of cooperation between private and public sectors for rural economic development.
For our region, the key to improving quality of life is reducing the unemployment rate. For more than 20 years, the majority of our job growth has been in government programs. We need more private sector jobs, and more people working and generating tax revenue, rather than consuming it.
Since my arrival in Olympia, I've been working with a team of lawmakers, and staff, to put together a plan focused on incentivizing industry in rural areas. And, we're already seeing some modest improvements in some jobs numbers – but we still have a lot of work to do.
Our people need, and deserve, the opportunity to make an ample living wage. House Bill 2133 would streamline the permitting process for agriculture, help reduce the regulatory burdens, and incentivize growth in the timber and fishing industries. I dropped this bill early, so that we can refine it over the summer and get it launched immediatly next session. This bill will be reintroduced next session and I will be doing all I can to get it approved. We've got to be relentless in pursuing public policy that targets rural economic development. The time for just talking about helping is over – this bill is about getting it done.
Good policy bills
Good policy is important. People delegate their authority to lawmakers, to make their lives better. Our job, as representatives of the people, must be on good policy that makes your lives better, work more productive, and businesses more profitable. Here are a few bills recently approved by the House, or Senate, that do just that:
House Bill 1148 would extend the reporting date for timber purchases from July 1, 2018 to July 1, 2021. The change helps account for potential changes in tax policy and market conditions.
The delay in the start, or extension of the overall schedule of an Environmental Impact Schedule (EIS), can compromise business development. This bill incentivize agencies undertaking an EIS to finish them within 24 months. House Bill 1086 passed the House unanimously, 98-0.
We live in the age of the internet. Ports rely on the grid of information networks, voice, data and internet, to communicate. The lack of basic broadband services is an economic development problem that disproportionally affects rural areas. This bill would give rural port districts the opportunity to provide internet services. Senate Bill 5679 passed the Senate, 48-1.
The practical result of the HIRST decision was the prevention of counties from granting building permits that rely on permit-exempt wells. In many cases, this puts an impossible financial burden on landowners. It also effectively halts development in many of Washington's 39 counties, with rural counties being hit the hardest. Senate Bill 5239, approved by a vote of 28-21, would ensure water is available to support development by revising the law the state Supreme Court based its decision on.
Want to learn more about what is happening in Olympia? Visit my SoundCloud page to listen to my recent radio interviews and podcasts by clicking here.
Telephone Town Hall reminder
I'll be hosting a telephone town hall, March 20. The community conversation, which is similar to a call-in radio format, will begin at 6 p.m. and last an hour. To take part community members can call (360) 682-3579. Once connected, you can listen-in and press * (star) on your telephone keypad to ask questions.
If you are unable to participate, or would like to send me your questions, comments or ideas prior to the event please click here or on the picture below.