E-Newsletter: Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

November 23, 2023

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

While the next legislative session won’t begin until January 8, the prep work is already under way.

kidney care tour
Earlier this month several members of our Clark County legislative delegation visited the Fort Vancouver clinic operated by Fresenius Medical Care, where we talked with staff and patients about chronic kidney disease (CKD) and the needs of dialysis patients and providers. Kidney health and kidney treatment facilities have come before the Legislature many times over the years, most recently as 2023’s Senate Bill 5569 (which passed unanimously).

Next week (November 28-December 1) I’ll be at the Capitol for the Senate’s “Assembly Days,” when our committees meet to discuss what’s happened since we adjourned in April and look ahead to what needs done during the 2024 legislative session. The committees in the House will take their turn the following week, on December 4-5.

Bills may be “prefiled” starting December 4. I already have some legislation in draft form and hope to get it into the hopper before the year is out. Also, I can already tell you that my priorities for the upcoming session are the same as for this past session. Here they are:

Public safety

It’s frustrating how the majority Democrats demonize firearms when drug overdoses are still the leading cause of death for Washington residents under the age of 60. The statewide drug OD statistics track King County’s numbers pretty closely, and they’re worse than ever: the 1,103 fatal overdoses recorded in King County through last month are 44% higher than this time a year ago, 88% higher than this time two years ago, and 161% higher than this time three years ago.

Like me, you may have seen news coverage of some of these overdose deaths – young adults with no known drug-abuse history take what they believe is a “regular” pain pill (how they get such pills without a prescription is a different question, I know) that turns out to contain a fatal amount of fentanyl. That’s why one of the bills I’m looking to introduce would create a public-awareness effort along the theme of “One Pill Kills.”

The appalling numbers go beyond drugs. There were nearly 400 murders in our state last year, and it’ll probably be higher this year. Washington is second-worst in the nation for auto theft, and again, news reports tell us how those stolen cars are so often tied to other crimes. Our state is worst, period, for retail theft, and the value of the goods stolen makes us third-worst.


Nothing illustrates the affordability crisis in our state better than the price of gas. Since the cap-and-tax law created in 2021 took full effect this year, we’re learning just how unaffordable it is making gas for many Washington families. Today the AAA gas prices tracker has the average cost of gas in our state at $1.15 per gallon above the national average. Only in California does gas cost more, and as I’ve noted before, it’s the only other state with a carbon-pricing law.

Supporters of what is formally called the Climate Commitment Act want you to believe it has nothing to do with our high gas prices. At the same time, they can’t show that the law has done anything to reduce carbon emissions. And beyond that, what’s going to be done with the huge amount of revenue generated by the law, which is approaching $2 billion this year? I say it should be put toward tax relief as part of the supplemental operating budget we’ll be adopting next March. Keep reading for more on my priorities as Senate Republican budget leader.


On average, one of every three students tested this past spring isn’t at grade level in math and English, yet the superintendent of public instruction’s office is still sitting on a ton of federal money intended to help meet the “academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Those dollars need to be spent by next September. I will try again in 2024 to route them toward interventions like intensive tutoring. In the meantime, the fact that our K-12 education agency seems to be in denial about learning loss helps explain why post-pandemic enrollment is 42,000 lower than pre-pandemic. As a member of the state Caseload Forecast Council, I also know Washington’s birth rate has fallen, which means enrollment numbers are likely to continue their decline.

The drop in education caseloads isn’t limited to K-12. Our baccalaureate institutions and community colleges are serving 12% and 20% fewer students post-pandemic. These are factors that need to be considered when budgeting.

No need for new taxes to support budget adjustments
Roughly speaking, three-fourths of state spending goes toward education, Medicaid and our correctional system. The caseloads are down in each category – I mentioned the decline in school enrollment, it’s expected that the Medicaid rolls will shrink now that the feds are again requiring eligibility checks, and Washington’s prison population hasn’t been this low all century (it’s down 25% from pre-pandemic alone).

Smaller caseloads should mean less work for state agencies, but when the governor’s budget office asked agencies to submit spending requests for the rest of this budget cycle, more than 400 came in… and the total price tag would be $2 billion for those alone.

Because our state budgets cover two years at a time, the upcoming session is a “supplemental” year. When we reopen the plan adopted this past session, I’ll insist that the adjustments stick to tradition. Respond to emergencies, changes in caseloads, and one-time opportunities, and also fix any errors in the underlying budget – that’s it. There’s no way the 400-plus agency spending requests all fall into one of those categories.

The budget process relies heavily on the revenue forecasts prepared every quarter by the state’s chief economist are critical. We use them to develop budget proposals when legislators are in session; the rest of the year we refer to them to see whether the enacted budgets are remaining in balance.

On Monday the final revenue forecast for 2023 was adopted by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. It’s probably most valuable to the Office of Financial Management, which has collected spending requests from state agencies and needs to roll them into a budget proposal for the governor to submit to the Legislature in mid-December. His proposal will comprise the adjustments he wants us to make in the two-year budget that took effect in July.

I see it like this: There’s no budget deficit on the horizon, and the forecast adopted Monday has revenue coming in at a level nearly $200 million higher than expected for the current budget cycle. That confirms Olympia has more than enough revenue to maintain services and programs, which means – to quote from the news release I issued after the meeting, as ERFC chair – “there is absolutely no justification for raising even more money through new taxes.”

My full comments about the revenue forecast are at this link.

Following Monday’s revenue forecast I was a guest on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program, where I discussed the state’s financial situation, my budget priorities and more. The show airs tomorrow evening on the TVW network; once the interview is posted on the TVW website you may click here to view it.

In the News: Update on the Tiffany Hill Act
It’s hard to believe nearly 4 years have passed since Vancouver mom and former Marine Tiffany Hill was murdered by her estranged husband, in front of her 3 kids and her own mother.

What happened on November 26, 2019 was an unspeakable tragedy that finally convinced our state Legislature to pass my bill that allows the use of “electronic monitoring with victim notification technology” to help victims of domestic violence or other crimes protect themselves in real time.

Wright Gazaway with Portland’s KATU-TV recently interviewed me about my work on domestic-violence issues, with a particular focus on the implementation of the Tiffany Hill Act. Click here to view his report, which aired November 15.

Applications being accepted for legislative page positions
If you know a teen who would be interested in working as a page for the Senate (or House) during the upcoming session, it’s time to apply!

During their one week of work at the Capitol, pages deliver messages and perform other tasks that allow senators and staff to focus on legislative duties. They also spend two hours each day in page school learning about the legislative process.

It’s a great way to see to see the state Legislature in action while meeting other pages from around the state and earning some money along the way (the stipend is $65/day). I’ll have five page slots available this next session, and can tell you from years of sponsoring young people that it’s both a fun and educational experience for us all.

To be a page, students or homeschooled students need to be at least 14 years old and have not reached their 17th birthday.

Students and parents interested in the Senate Page Program may phone my office at 360-786-7632 or visit the program’s webpage. Senate Civic Education Director Myra Hernandez also can provide information; she’s at 360-786-7498 or myra.hernandez@leg.wa.gov or SenatePageProgram@leg.wa.gov.


I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government.

Also, I have a good handle on the needs of our district, but if you have ideas to suggest, I’d like to hear them. Please use the contact information below.

Have a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving tomorrow!

Yours in service,

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