March 17, 2023
Hello Friends and Neighbors,
There aren’t many things the Legislature must do, but in odd-numbered years like this, approving new budgets is one of them.
There are three state budgets: operating, capital and transportation. They cover a two-year period that begins July 1 in odd-numbered years. The current budgets took effect July 1, 2021 and expire June 30 of this year, so we need to have new plans in place to kick in the following day, when the 2023-25 biennium begins.
The operating budget pays for the day-to-day operations of the state, including early learning, K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, criminal justice, natural resources, courts, and other areas. While this is my third year as Senate Republican leader on the operating budget, it is the first time – because of COVID restrictions the past two years – that I have literally been in the room for the bipartisan discussions that are part of the budget-development process.
My Democratic counterpart for these discussions is Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. I appreciate that she already has been receptive to many of my suggestions about items to include in the new operating budget, and we’re continuing to toss ideas around as the public unveiling of the Senate proposal approaches. It’s projected for next Thursday – pretty typical timing, as it gives the Senate and House approximately a month to get a final budget negotiated before the scheduled April 23 end of the session.
Senator Rolfes and I are both members of the state Economic Revenue and Forecast Council. I’ve just moved up to become chair of the council, so it’ll be me running the meeting next Monday when the state’s non-partisan chief economist presents us with the first of the quarterly revenue forecasts for 2023. The revenue numbers from the forecast will be factored in as the finishing touches are put on the Senate plan.
It’s possible something could change at the last minute, but as of today I don’t expect the Senate budget will call for new taxes. We came into this session with around $6 billion in reserve, and maintaining programs and services at their current level shouldn’t cost more than $1.5 billion. That leaves billions to address new needs – although I’d rather put a big chunk into the state’s rainy-day fund instead, as there is still reason to worry a recession could be just around the corner. And I’m still pushing for tax relief as well.
The public release of the Senate capital-budget proposal is expected Tuesday. That budget funds the construction and maintenance of state buildings, public-school matching grants, higher-education facilities, public lands, parks, and other assets. The release of the proposed Senate transportation budget is projected for March 29.
|With Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, whose bill to combat organized retail theft didn’t reach the Senate floor, in spite of good bipartisan sponsorship. I’m also a co-sponsor of SB 5160.
Bills from House still fail to get at real public-safety issues
After pausing for a week-plus while we voted in the Senate chamber on which bills to send to the House of Representatives, the various Senate committees are hard at work again, looking at bills sent over to us by the House. The committees in the House are doing the same with the legislation we sent over.
During the first half of the session, no legislation generated more email to my office than the majority Democrats’ bills to go after Second Amendment rights. That pattern is repeating itself now that bills like House Bill 1240 and HB 1143 have come over from the House.
HB 1143 is familiar, being much like SB 5232 – which did not get out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. This bill would add to the requirements already in place for the sale or transfer of a firearm, going beyond a background check to also require verification that the buyer has completed firearm-safety training.
I’ll say the same thing about HB 1143 as I did with the Senate legislation: As a licensed firearms instructor, I’m all for people being trained in firearm safety. But it’s one thing to encourage safety training and another to require safety training, when we’re talking about exercising an unalienable right that is further protected under both the U.S. and Washington constitutions.
Speaking of constitutions, I don’t see how HB 1240 would ever survive a court challenge, if it became law. While it would not ban the possession of the semi-automatic firearms Democrats label as “assault weapons,” HB 1240 would basically prohibit everything else: manufacture, importation, distribution, selling, and offering for sale. Haven’t the governor, attorney general or any others supporting this bill seen the no-nonsense ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court last June in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen? I’m quite sure there will be lawsuits filed.
As a woman, I appreciate a firearm that has an adjustable stock. Because I can adjust it to fit my dimensions, I’ll have better control whether target shooting or defending myself or others. Yet that feature alone would make a firearm an “assault weapon” under HB 1240. It’s ridiculous.
I will see both of these bills next Thursday morning when they come before our Senate Law and Justice Committee.
Another bill on that same meeting agenda is also troubling even though it doesn’t directly involve a Second Amendment right. HB 1268 is another effort by majority Democrats to weaken sentencing laws, similar to the change they made to remove second-degree robbery as a “most serious” offense, retroactively. That basically removed admitted Clark County killer Roy Wayne Russell Jr. from the list of criminals who qualified for a mandatory life sentence.
Under Washington’s “Hard Time for Armed Crime” law, created by voters in the 1990s, using a gun to commit a crime brings a sentencing “enhancement” – meaning extra time behind bars. There can also be sentencing enhancements in certain cases of impaired driving or crimes with sexual motivation. State law doesn’t allow that enhancement time to be whittled down through good behavior or good performance. HB 1268 would change that, making an earlier release from custody possible.
Bottom line: While pushing firearms bills that won’t truly get at what they call “gun violence,” Democrats want to reduce criminal penalties for those who actually commit violence using guns. Tell me how that makes our communities safer.
Auto-theft prevention bill is still on the move
Unless the House amends the police-pursuit bill passed by the Senate last week to allow for the pursuit of suspected car thieves – and I’d like to see that – the best legislation under consideration that directly targets vehicle theft is my SB 5672. It would replenish the funding of the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority, established by law in 2007.
The organization’s 10-member board allocates funds to public agencies for programs to combat motor-vehicle theft. It had been funded with a $10 fee per traffic infraction, but too much of the resulting revenue has been diverted over the years. My bill would bring in a new stream of money from an insurance-premiums tax that otherwise goes into the general fund. It received a public hearing yesterday before the House Appropriations Committee. The bill was featured in a report by Seattle’s KING-TV this past week, as part of its coverage of the auto-theft epidemic in our state. Click here to view that report.
Here’s more on bills of mine that received attention in the House this week:
- Diagnostic imaging (SB 5396): This legislation is about eliminating financial barriers for commercial insurance patients who require medically necessary diagnostic breast imaging. It came out of the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness on Wednesday.
- Exposure to fentanyl (Senate Bill 5010): This would expand how the crime of “endangerment with a controlled substance” is defined. It received a public hearing Tuesday. I sure hope the majority Democrats in the House don’t “kill” this bill, as the ODs of babies and toddlers are on the same trajectory as fentanyl ODs.
- Eliminating ‘obsolete’ accounts (SB 5295): This is a housekeeping sort of bill, to eliminate financial accounts that have been declared obsolete by the state treasurer. It was moved forward Wednesday by the House Appropriations Committee.
- Homecare aide certification (SB 5278): This legislation would identify and overcome the barriers to getting home-care aides trained and certified. We all know the Silver Tsunami is just around the corner with so many people hitting age 65 all at once, this will help to build up the necessary aides we will need for this “storm.” Since receiving a public hearing early this week it’s been set for a vote next Tuesday from the House Committee on Postsecondary Education and Workforce.
I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government. And please join me, Rep. Harris and Rep. Waters at our town halls tomorrow… at the Port of Camas-Washougal in the morning or at the Skamania County Fairgrounds in the afternoon!
Yours in service,
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