|Part of the job of Senate Republican budget leader is standing in the Senate chamber to speak about whether to vote for or against the budget being debated. That’s what is happening in this photo from Sunday afternoon, hours before this year’s regular legislative session ended.
April 27, 2023
Hello Friends and Neighbors,
The state Legislature’s regular session adjourned on schedule on Sunday. Unfortunately, the word “regular” is important in a way that I would not have expected even a week ago. That’s because we may be called back to the Capitol before July for an overtime session, to deal with a failure that never should have happened. There’s more on that below, and other actions from the final week of the 105-day session.
First, let me invite you to the “virtual” town hall meeting we are holding next Wednesday, from 6 to 7 p.m. Rep. Harris, Rep. Waters and I will be on the Zoom platform to report in more detail about the just-concluded regular session and listen to your questions and concerns. If you want to join us, just register for the event online at this link.
We opted for a virtual town hall this time, instead of more in-person meetings like we had in March, knowing people have more to do on weekends now that some good weather has finally arrived. Hope you can join us online!
Lawmakers pass new budgets in closing days
It’s almost customary for the budget votes to be among the final decisions in any legislative session. This year was no different.
Votes by the Senate on Saturday afternoon completed the Legislature’s work on the capital and transportation budgets for 2023-25. On Sunday afternoon we took up the new operating budget. All of these budgets are compromises between the two legislative chambers, in the sense that they were negotiated by selected members of the Senate and House.
Going in order of their adoption:
Capital budget: The new capital budget as passed by the Senate and House (in unanimous votes) will invest nearly $19.4 million in the 17th District.
This final capital budget will maintain investments I secured in the Senate version, such as $4 million for infrastructure projects at the Washougal waterfront and $750,000 for a new roof for the high school in Stevenson. There’s $1 million for the Port of Skamania Cascades Business Park; close to $5 million for recreation and conservation work across the 17th District, such as park improvements and fish-barrier removal; and $4.5 million in funding to support essential community services in Skamania County that can no longer be supported by timber revenue due to Endangered Species Act restrictions.
There’s also $1 million to go toward a new regional training center for law enforcement officers, to help get new hires onto our streets and roads sooner, $730,000 for the Camas Public Library, and $515,000 to improve water quality at Lacamas Lake.
Overall, the state capital budget (Senate Bill 5200) appropriates a total of $9 billion in spending, including nearly $694 million for affordable-housing projects; $872 million for K-12 education projects; $1.5 billion in total funding for higher education; $884 million to address behavioral-health needs; and $2.4 billion for natural-resource projects that address water quality and supply, salmon recovery, outdoor recreation and conservation, state parks, state trust lands and more.
Transportation budget: For the most part, the transportation budget for 2023-25 follows through on funding decisions made in previous budget cycles. House Bill 1125 does not include a new package of transportation revenue to be allocated (in contrast to last year, when the tax-and-fee-heavy “Move Ahead Washington” package was approved in a partisan vote).
There’s a new entry in our district for 2023-25: $12 million for a mix of “corridor improvements” on State Route 14 in both Clark and Skamania counties, and construction of auxiliary lanes on SR 14 between Interstate 205 and SE 164th Avenue.
The new transportation budget received heavy bipartisan support (46-3 in the Senate, 98-0 in the House).
Operating budget: I had multiple reasons to support the Senate’s version of the new operating budget last month. Much of that carried through to the compromise version of Senate Bill 5187.
To be clear, I was officially on the “conference” committee that came up with the compromise budget – but in name only. I was not allowed in the room for those talks, which added about $400 million in spending beyond the Senate level.
Still, the final number of $69.8 million over the next two years represents less than a 9% bump in spending. That’s less than half of the average spending growth (percentage-wise) of the past few biennia, and a win for Republicans.
The new budget balances without the new taxes that the Democrats threatened in the past couple of weeks. In fact, it assumes several smaller tax reductions, all due to Republicans one way or another. One was the proposal to extend a lower tax rate to food processors (fruit, dairy, etc.), which came out of my SB 5277.
It also does good things related to public safety, controlling the cost of living, and K-12 education – the Republican priorities for this year.
Some important things in the Senate budget, passed March 29, were lost in reaching a compromise with the House on a final budget. One was the Senate’s approach to addressing the learning loss suffered by our K-12 students because of the pandemic; the money that was earmarked by the Senate to provide advocates for special-education students and their families was another. Republicans felt strongly about both of those because they are clearly issues of equity, and it’s puzzling that the House would not go along with us on them.
Given my history on the issue of emergency powers, I was happy to see an emergency-powers workgroup in the budget we passed on March 29. That’s also gone from this final budget, unfortunately, but a very high-ranking colleague from the other side of the aisle has assured me that the Senate will take up this issue in 2024. I am trusting him on that.
While it still is not a budget Republicans would have written, nor is it a true “bipartisan” budget, I still appreciate how the Senate Democrats’ budget team listened and included Republican ideas. As Republican budget leader, I was in the room throughout the development of the Senate budget. That’s more involvement than the minority side usually has, and Republican influences can be seen as a result. That helped keep me and many other Republicans at “yes” on the budget, and hopefully we’ll see a similar level of bipartisan cooperation next year.
Epic collapse from majority Democrats on fixing drug-possession law
With six days left in our session, on April 17, a bipartisan majority in the Senate went along with the police-pursuit bill that came out of the House. I was a “no” when the Senate first voted on SB 5352 on March 8, in hopes that the House would make the bill better. That didn’t happen. The new law will only be a half-step stronger than what it will replace, unfortunately, because law-enforcement officers still can’t pursue suspected car thieves or reckless drivers. We need a pursuit law that will actually deter criminals. This will be on the list again in 2024.
While the outcome of the pursuit issue is a disappointment, it doesn’t compare to the dramatic failure of leadership that was on full display Sunday in the House of Representatives, regarding the effort to reform Washington’s disaster of a drug-possession law.
The Senate Democrats and Republicans worked together across party lines to put a good solution on the table (SB 5536, which I supported March 3) which the House Democrats then undercut. We wanted to replace the law passed in 2021 – which limited the charge for drug possession to a misdemeanor – with legislation to make possession of fentanyl and similar drugs a gross misdemeanor. This would give more leverage when trying to get people with substance-use issues into and through treatment programs.
After the majority Democrats in the House said no, they wanted to stay with a misdemeanor, negotiations between the House and Senate produced a new proposal that tried to bridge the different positions held by the two chambers. Under the rules of the Legislature, the House had to consider that compromise first, because it involves a Senate bill.
To make a long story short, the bill failed on a 43-55 vote. Let me tell you, it’s extraordinarily rare for a bill to fail after it’s brought to the floor for a vote. There’s been a lot of finger-pointing since in the Republicans’ direction, but to quote an insightful analysis by a left-leaning columnist for The Seattle Times, “Democrats blamed Republicans for what was their own lack of leadership and resolve.”
Because the drug-possession law adopted in 2021 is expiring July 1, by design, one of two things is going to happen now. The first is that the Legislature ends up in a special session, and Democrats will have to decide whether they’re going to get behind a proposal that is workable and has the support of the key stakeholders – the cities, the prosecutors and law enforcement. The second is that no new state law is put in place by July 1, and the job of dealing with drug possession falls to the local governments.
That means Stevenson might have a different drug law than Camas, for instance, but this is the situation the Democratic majority in the Legislature has caused.
In my next update, I’ll share what the 2023 session meant for making life in Washington more affordable, and for K-12 education. Those, along with public safety, are the priorities Republicans brought to Olympia this year.
|On April 21 the north steps of the Legislative Building were the scene of rallies for and against SB 5599, one of the most divisive bills of the session. The COVID restrictions that had kept the public out of the Capitol – the “people’s house” – during the 2021 and 2022 sessions were gone this year; it was nice to again see people exercising their First Amendment right to assemble peacefully and make their voices heard.
Final tally: four Wilson bills, four Wilson policies to become law
I had four bills complete the journey into state law this session. One is SB 5278, which is about getting more home care aides certified to address the “silver tsunami” of demand for in-home care. The second is SB 5497, which is about Medicaid accountability, aimed at the state Health Care Authority because the HCA doesn’t track fraud.
The third is SB 5396, about eliminating financial barriers for commercial-insurance patients who require medically necessary diagnostic breast imaging. As I’ve noted before, as a breast-cancer survivor I am a living testament to the importance of breast imaging. Number four is SB 5295, to eliminate unneeded accounts from the state treasury – a useful bit of financial housekeeping.
On top of that… just as the tax relief I proposed for food processors was passed as House legislation, two of the other policies I offered took alternate routes to the governor’s desk. The substance of my tax-transparency bill (SB 5158) became a “proviso” in the 2023-25 operating budget. My bill to reform and pump up the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority account (SB 5672) didn’t pass as a Senate bill, but the language from it was grafted into HB 1682 – and that will become law. Finally, the new budget also includes a reappropriation of nearly $1.8 million to assist counties with implementing the victim notification available through the Tiffany Hill Act. Some of those dollars will be reserved for our state’s judicial branch to do outreach and promotion that will raise awareness of the law. Not bad for being on the minority side!
Click here for a list of the bills I prime-sponsored this session; next time I’ll go over some that didn’t pass but should have – like my SB 5010, which would expand the crime of “endangerment with a controlled substance” to include fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. I can’t believe there is opposition to holding adults accountable when children are injured by exposure to such dangerous drugs.
I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government.
Yours in service,
To read this e-newsletter in other languages, click here to visit my Senate news page and find the “Select Language” menu in the upper left corner!