Hello Friends and Neighbors,
In the same week that state government’s budget surplus hit the $15 BILLION mark, the state Senate rushed a bill through that would mean triple-digit increases in certain costs for Washington drivers and has our neighboring states accusing ours of trying to tax them. How does any of that make sense?
Week 6 of this 60-day session brought the deadline for moving Senate legislation over to the House, and a return to work for the Senate committees. The policy committees, like the Business, Financial Services and Trade Committee I’m on, have through next Thursday to act on bills sent over by the House. The Senate’s two fiscal committees have until February 28 to do the same; one of those is the Ways and Means Committee, on which I am Republican leader.
Keep reading for a short rundown on some notable Senate legislation that is still alive – and some that appears to be “dead” for the year. But first, here’s an update on a few of the big news items from the week.
New revenue forecast supports our call for tax relief
Even though legislators came into this session with a surplus in the state treasury estimated at more than $10 billion, the majority Democrats have said nothing to suggest they will come up with a budget that provides significant, direct tax relief this year.
The tax-relief question is even more important now – and should be easier to answer – with the year’s first quarterly state-revenue forecast showing the surplus up to a whopping $15 BILLION! Click here for my statement about the revenue forecast, which I and the other members of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council adopted Wednesday.
Make your views heard Monday on weak emergency-powers bill
Tuesday was the “cutoff” to move Senate legislation over to the House (not counting budget bills), and if you’d asked me that morning whether the majority would bring its emergency-powers bill to a vote, I would have leaned toward “no” – they just didn’t seem that motivated. But that afternoon, SB 5909 came to the floor, and the majority passed it.
|Click here or on the image for why I decided to oppose the only option we’ve been given to change the emergency-powers law.
Considering how often I’ve written and spoken about emergency-powers reform in the past year, I can understand why someone might question my “no” vote on the Democrats’ bill. Click here for the rest of the story, and why I think the vote took place at all.
With his announcement yesterday that the indoor mask mandate will continue for ANOTHER MONTH, the governor has reminded us all why the legislative branch should have meaningful input into how long these prohibitive emergency orders last. SB 5909 doesn’t qualify as meaningful, but the House has an opportunity to fix that.
The bill will have a public hearing Monday before the House State Government Committee. The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. It’s the last opportunity the public will have to weigh in on this bill, so I encourage you to sign up to testify, either in person or in writing, and urge the committee to turn SB 5909 into a real reform by amending it to reflect the better ideas found in my SB 5943, the bipartisan BALANCE Act.
|Click here to sign up to testify remotely.
Click here to submit written testimony. If you need a suggestion about what to write, here’s something that could be copied and pasted:
Democrats’ ‘no-gas-tax’ plan includes… a gas tax
For reasons that aren’t clear, the majority rushed the revenue part of its new transportation package through the Senate on the evening of the cutoff day. This was only one week after the package was made public, and the “fiscal note” for the package wasn’t even ready yet. Their SB 5974 was not subject to the Feb. 15 voting deadline, so maybe there was some public-relations purpose.
Either way, the debate gave Republicans an opportunity to openly challenge the big fee increases in the bill and also point out that it would slap a 6-cent tax on every gallon of gasoline exported from Washington.
Our side explained that such a gas tax is likely unconstitutional, and would surely be noticed by the neighboring states that receive fuel by pipeline, truck or rail from Washington, but the Democrats didn’t blink. The neighboring states HAVE noticed, though – and they’re all very unhappy.
On top of that, don’t the Democrats realize fuel exported from Washington can find its way back into Washington from Oregon-based distributors? Can you say “double taxation”?
It’s dishonest for Democrats to claim there’s no gas-tax increase in their package when there is literally a gas-tax increase – even if it’s in a roundabout way. As I mentioned in last week’s report, Republicans have a better way to fund transportation that involves ZERO new taxes and fees. And that was before we knew the budget surplus had climbed to $15 billion!
Good bills still moving forward
As I’ve reported recently, my SB 5612 is on the list of Republican public-safety legislation to win Senate approval. This is the bill that would allow victims of domestic violence and survivors of DV victims to offer statements at the time the perpetrator is sentenced. I testified on it yesterday in the House public-safety committee, and a vote to move the bill forward is scheduled for next week.
At almost the same time, I also was in front of the House Committee on Housing, Human Services & Veterans yesterday afternoon to speak in support of SB 5607. It’s my bill to improve the accuracy of the annual homeless-population counts conducted at the county level, and is also scheduled for a committee vote next week.
My SB 5620, which is aimed at assessing and reducing Medicaid fraud by requiring the state Health Care Authority to do more in the way of “program integrity,” has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing in the House. Considering this bill concerns the proper management of a LOT of money, it deserves to keep moving – even if it makes some bureaucrats uncomfortable.
Other bills that advanced from the Senate before the Feb. 15 “cutoff” with my support include these efforts to restore public safety, return affordability or rebuild trust:
- SB 5054 – Would expand the “lookback” period for impaired driving / DUI, which could mean more felony DUI charges
- SB 5781 – This bill targets a crime that has been in the news a lot recently… “organized retail theft.”
- SB 5839 – Would make it a crime to interfere with a firefighter or emergency medical services provider while they’re performing their duties (this should be a crime already, but apparently not).
- SB 5933 – Would establish a program to offer grants to schools to improve their seismic safety.
- SB 5841 – I co-sponsored this legislation to provide cities and counties with more funding to hire more law-enforcement officers, through a shared tax credit. It was just scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday by our Ways and Means committee.
- SB 5380 – This legislation would streamline building-permit approval.
- SB 5504 – My bill to eliminate the Discover Pass (SB 5608) died in committee; this would extend “Discover Pass Free” days to all state recreation sites
- SB 5593 – Would revise standards for designating urban growth boundaries.
- SB 5758 – This measure would encourage condominium homeownership, and would include a look at the conversion of multifamily buildings to condominium ownership.
- SB 5849 – This would promote manufacturing, especially in less-populated rural areas, through the extension (or a “re-up”) of tax preferences.
Good bills that didn’t make it
Unfortunately, this list includes a few of my bills. SB 5407 would make firearm theft a class B felony; it continues to get a chilly reception from the majority side, even though you’d think they would share Republicans’ interest in reducing the number of stolen firearms on the streets.
Senate Joint Resolution 8209, about prohibiting bail for felony domestic violence offenses, is no ordinary bill – it would amend the state constitution, if voters agree. But first the Legislature has to get behind my legislation with a supermajority vote, and we now know that isn’t going to happen in 2022.
I also wanted to at least have a conversation about how state employees who were put out of work by the governor’s vaccine mandate were also denied – in what I thought was a very vindictive way – the ability to seek unemployment benefits.
I’m thinking particularly about the many who were granted religious exemptions but then told they could not be “accommodated,” which for them had the same effect as being fired. But my SB 5864 was ignored by the Senate committee on labor and commerce.
Here are some other bills that deserved to get farther than they did this year:
- SB 5522 – Would have increased the penalty for assaulting a law enforcement officer.
- SB 5927 – An effort to crack down on the wave of robberies of retail cannabis outlets.
- SB 5945 – This bill also had me among its co-sponsors; it would have extended the statute of limitations for human trafficking.
- SB 5954 – This was a comprehensive bill to address chronic homelessness.
- SB 5802 – Would have meant property tax relief for seniors and disabled people.
- SB 5922 – By lowering the local levy cap for K-12 funding and increasing the state-level investment in K-12, this would have meant more money for schools and a tax cut for property owners.
This next week will put a spotlight on the supplemental budgets – operating, capital and transportation. I’m concerned about transparency, because I’m told the Senate majority’s proposed operating budget will be made public at 8 a.m. on Monday, with a public hearing at 4 p.m. that same day.
If you think that’s a quick turnaround that allows very little time to plow through a huge document, the House majority apparently plans to make its operating budget public at noon Monday, with a public hearing at 3:30 p.m.
The overlapping public hearings are bad news for anyone who thought they could testify at both. It’s another reason the public trust in government is so low. I’ll have details about the Senate budget in my next report.
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!