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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2023 session ended a little over a week ago on Sunday, April 23. Among a variety of concurrence votes on amended bills sent over from the Senate, lawmakers worked the final days of session debating and voting on the state's three main budgets: operating, transportation, and capital. For the 19th District, some big wins were funded in the transportation and capital budgets, some of which are noted at the bottom of this update.
More than 2,100 bills were introduced this session, with 480 going to the governor for signature — but only one needed to pass to avoid the outright decriminalization of hard drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamines: Senate Bill 5536 the “Blake Fix,” which might now be more accurately labeled the Blake “fizzle.”
The Blake Fix
It's rare in Olympia for the Speaker to bring a bill to the floor without being sure it will pass; it's even more rare for several members of her own party to vote against it. But that's exactly what happened. SB 5536, also known as the “Blake fix,” was brought to the floor for a vote just prior to the conclusion of session. The bill failed to pass the House with a vote of 43-55.
SB 5536, as amended, is not a good bill. The measure was supposed to fix the state Supreme Court's State v Blake decision, which effectively decriminalized the possession of hard drugs. The court's ruling took place in 2021, more than two years ago. At that time, the Legislature could have revised the statute by recriminalizing illegal drug possession; but, instead, they punted the issue by putting a temporary measure in place, making it a misdemeanor with an expiration date set for this summer.
Unfortunately, SB 5536 sought to extend many of the same bad policies that continue to undermine the safety and well-being of our communities, allowing the drug crisis — including the growing number of fentanyl overdoses — to explode across the state. The measure would have legalized drug paraphernalia and equipment, allowing for a “gross misdemeanor” with no teeth if the case was deferred. That lack of a credible diversion program and robust mental health support would lead to a revolving door, with plenty of room for people to game the system. Even worse, the bill gave local governments less control over this public safety problem than they have now.
Read my recent statement on SB 5536 here.
This is not about politics; this is about life and death. Two things are necessary to address this issue: adequate criminal penalties and a support system that helps individuals to get and stay sober. Criminal penalties often serve as a deterrent for drug-related crimes. By providing adequate rehabilitation services alongside those penalties, we can reduce the impacts of addiction on individuals, families, and communities. This bill was ineffective at both.
Democrats control the House. They knew going into the 2023 session one of our top priorities would be fixing the drug-possession law set to expire on July 1, but they let the issue go until the final few hours of the session — running out of time for any fixes. Now that we've adjourned, the only way a bill can be approved is if the governor calls a special session. With drug overdoses reaching historic highs, let's hope a better solution emerges soon.
On Tuesday, April 25, the governor closed the Legislative Building to sign a trio of controversial anti-gun bills: House Bill 1240, House Bill 1143, and Senate Bill 5078. One bans the sale of certain so-called assault weapons, another imposes a 10-day waiting period on firearm purchases, and the last clears the way for lawsuits against law-abiding gun industry members, including gun makers and sellers.
Watch my recent video update, which includes the closure of the Legislative Building, by clicking here or below.
These bills clearly impair the right to buy, sell, or keep arms in defense of yourself or your family. They also violate Article 1, Section 24 of the Washington State Constitution — which reads: “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, of the state, shall not be impaired….”
With the ink not yet dry on these constitutionally dubious bills, they're already being challenged in federal court. Considering the U.S. Supreme Court's recent New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen ruling, it's likely they'll be overturned. The Bruen decision holds that state laws restricting, impairing, or infringing gun rights are unconstitutional. Following the decision, federal courts have been ordering states to repeal bad policies like the three listed above.
Visit my legislative website for more resources on this topic, or click the links below:
- State Rep. Jim Walsh criticizes firearm regulation bill after House passage (The Chronicle)
- Rep. Jim Walsh Commentary: A Clear and Present Danger to Constitutional Rights (The Chronicle)
- Rep. Jim Walsh discusses recent House concurrence vote on so-called assault weapons ban
- House concurs on questionable 'assault weapons' ban, Rep. Jim Walsh issues statement
- Rep. Jim Walsh shares remarks on the House floor in opposition to high-capacity magazine ban bill, Senate Bill 5078
Transportation and Capital budgets
The final transportation and capital budgets approved prior to adjournment from the 2023 legislative session include $72 million for a railway-grade separation project in Aberdeen and more than $111 million for other public works across Southwest Washington's 19th Legislative District.
Lawmakers OK Aberdeen grade separation and public works across SW Washington
The railway grade separation — State Route 12/East Aberdeen Mobility Project, a vehicle traffic intersection overpass, will allow cars to go over the railroad tracks more easily—where currently there's a lot of congestion. That's a major plus!
The capital budget also funds the building-out of Terminal 4 at the Port of Greys Harbor, which needs several upgrades — helping to bring in more agricultural export business. And finally, the North Shore Levy, which is a flood control diking system, will make lowland residential neighborhoods — currently prone to flood — less likely to be damaged, removing the need for flood insurance.
Taken together, those three projects will play off each other in a synergistic way that will be better than any of the other single projects — a tremendous benefit to the 19th District. Two other projects worth noting include a transportation project that involves a rail-traffic intersection in Kelso, Cowlitz County, and a capital project that continues funding for veterans housing in Raymond, Pacific County.
Other projects in the capital budget plan include:
- 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
For a complete list of local projects included in the final capital budget spending plan, click here, select the 19th Legislative District in the drop-down window, and then hit the “view report” button.
For a complete list of transportation projects included in the final budget plan, click here, select the 19th Legislative District in the drop-down window, and then hit the “view report” button.
Thank you and stay in touch!
Although the 2023 legislative session has concluded, I work year-round representing you. Feel free to reach out to my office with your concerns or comments about the recent session, or other state-government-related issues. If you'd like to meet with me, click here to set up a time.
It's an honor to serve you.
428 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7806 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000