Session gets under way, massive tax hike already being proposed

leg budget preview
When I and other budget leaders met with news reporters to preview our session I spoke about the need to be conservative about appropriating the billions of dollars collectively generated by the capital-gains income tax, the long-term care payroll tax and the cap-and-trade law, because those sources would go away if three of the citizen initiatives in play are passed. There’s more about the initiatives below; click here to view the legislative preview, which included discussions with other legislative leaders and the governor.

January 13, 2024

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

The Legislature convened at the state Capitol this week. Our highest priority during this 60-day session is to make adjustments and corrections to the three biennial (two-year) budgets adopted in 2023. Beyond the budget there is work to do on several fronts: citizen initiatives, public safety, affordability and education/children issues. We have until March 7 to finish up, so the deadlines for thinning out the crop of legislation will come up quickly.

After the opening-day ceremonies and housekeeping votes, the governor’s annual state-of-the-state address to the Senate and House of Representatives and the response from my Yakima County colleague, Sen. Nikki Torres, the Senate’s first week was taken up by the first round of committee meetings. It was nice to see some of my legislation on committee agendas this soon!

On Tuesday, for instance, I testified before the Senate State Government and Elections Committee on SB 5835, the government-transparency legislation I introduced for this session. The committee voted yesterday to move that bill ahead – unanimously! It’s the first time any of my legislation has moved through the state-government committee; now let’s see if SB 5063, the emergency-powers bill I filed in 2023, gets the attention it hasn’t received in past years.

The other win this week came Thursday when my colleagues on the Senate Law and Justice Committee supported my SB 5836, which would add a 12th position to the Clark County Superior Court bench; I’d also testified in support of it Tuesday.

I already have one bill lined up for a hearing this coming week: SB 5911, which takes a novel approach to funding cancer research by proposing a temporary diversion of some tax revenue into the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) fund. Senator Hill, who was Republican budget leader and then chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, had beaten cancer prior to his election in 2010, then it came back and took his life in 2016 at age 54. As a cancer survivor and as Republican budget leader, I consider it an honor to be the prime sponsor of this legislation, which is coming before Ways and Means on Wednesday.

The full list of bills I’m prime-sponsoring is here. Two have to do with fighting fentanyl, which is our state’s worst drug issue. SB 5010, which passed the Senate unanimously in 2023 only to stall in the House (for no good reason), would update Washington’s list of synthetic opioids to promote justice for children who are injured but not killed when a parent or other adult exposes them to fentanyl in some fashion. The new one for 2024 is SB 5906, to fund what I call a “One Pill Kills” ad campaign.

Because it came out of the Senate so easily last year, SB 5010 is on the fast track this session. It has already been placed on the Senate voting calendar, meaning it won’t have to go back through the Senate committee process and could come before us at any time.

My bill to create a Mount St. Helens special license plate is also on deck already. When SB 5590 did not clear the House late in the 2023 session after sailing through the Senate, I was concerned that the supporters outside the Legislature might have to again gather the signatures needed to confirm a certain level of interest in the MSH plate. I worked with the Mt. St. Helens Institute and its lobbyist to get a deadline extension from the state Department of Licensing, so we can hopefully get the bill across the finish line this year!

The legislation I’m co-sponsoring is here. It ranges from increasing the penalty for unlawfully obstructing traffic (SB 6160, inspired by incidents such as this on Interstate 5 through downtown Seattle) and reinstating a tax incentive for the semiconductor industry (SB 6137) to another anti-fentanyl bill similar to my SB 5010 (SB 5929, to make reckless endangerment with fentanyl a Class B felony).

Majority revives plan to enable massive property-tax hikes

One of the benefits of being a budget leader is that it allows me to alert you quickly about the majority’s proposed tax increases. I’m disappointed that the Senate Democrats couldn’t even get through the first week without reviving tax legislation from late in the 2023 session.

SB 5770 would allow a tripling of the allowable growth rate for property taxes. If you’re familiar with the voter-endorsed 1% cap that has been a friend to property owners (and renters) since 2007, it’s the target. The bill would lift the allowable growth rate to 3%, which translates to the possibility of $12 billion in additional property taxes.

When floating the idea this past April, Democrat sponsors hinted the higher taxes would allow investments in public safety and education. That’s unacceptable. State government already has the revenue needed, and more to the point, providing for education is the Legislature’s paramount duty – no legislator should ever use it as leverage to seek tax hikes.

Rising property taxes are a common concern among my constituents, as many on fixed incomes are being priced out of their homes. I also hear often about property-tax increases being passed on to renters in the form of rent increases. Imagine what tripling the property tax could likely do.

Still, the bill is scheduled for a public hearing before our Senate Ways and Means Committee at 4 p.m. next Thursday. Visit this page for instructions on how to register your opposition, submit written testimony, or testify in person or by Zoom. If you know others who might also want to be heard, please pass this information along.

Beyond fighting off tax increases, much of my time as budget leader will go to keeping the upcoming budget adjustments to a minimum, especially from a cost standpoint. Budget changes in the off-year should be focused on things that really can’t wait, like anti-fentanyl efforts. That said, we will inevitably be asked to consider some big-ticket items that are not truly urgent; I will work to push those off until next year’s 105-day session, when a new set of biennial budgets will be developed and there is more time to evaluate each request.

Constitution puts priority on citizen initiatives over most other bills

The people of Washington have the power to make or repeal laws directly through citizen initiatives. You may be familiar with initiatives from seeing them on ballots or engaging with initiative-promotion efforts in parking lots and other spaces.

Initiatives come in two forms: one that goes straight to the ballot, and one that goes to the Legislature instead. Either kind must receive a certain number of signatures of legal Washington voters to be certified. Once certified, an initiative to the Legislature can be enacted like any other piece of legislation – but we also have the option to let it go on through to the general-election ballot.

I’m expecting a total of six initiatives to the legislature to be certified in the next month. That would smash the current record of three in one year, from 1972. One of the six crossed the certification threshold yesterday, according to the secretary of state. It’s I-2113, which would repeal the restrictions on police pursuits imposed by majority Democrats in 2021, and has been referred to our Senate Law and Justice Committee. Seeing how over 420,000 voters signed the petitions for I-2113 (click here for the text), this new legislation deserves to receive a public hearing and discussion in committee.

Three of the remaining initiatives would repeal the capital-gains income tax, the long-term care payroll tax, and the governor’s cap-and-trade law. The latter, the so-called Climate Commitment Act, is responsible for adding about 50 cents to the cost of each gallon of gas in the past year alone. These also were created by majority Democrats in 2021 or have taken effect since then.

Another initiative would prohibit a full-blown state income tax; the sixth would strengthen parental rights about the information they can obtain about what their children are being taught.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, whose district extends south into Clark County, explains here why these initiatives should be high on the Legislature’s to-do list for 2024, and includes the relevant language from Washington’s constitution. I agree and hope our Democratic colleagues join us to uphold this important duty.

cjtc ceremony
As a member of the Senate Law and Justice Committee AND a supporter of law enforcement I happily accepted the invitation from Monica Alexander, executive director of the state Criminal Justice Training Commission (that’s her with hands outstretched), to attend the ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the CJTC’s new regional campus in east Vancouver. This facility and another regional campus in Pasco will add badly needed training slots as communities work to build (and rebuild) their policing capacity. It’s unacceptable that our state continues to rank dead last in the number of law-enforcement officers based on population. This will help get new officers trained and out into the field sooner.

Proposal would give constitutional protection to hunting, fishing and more

As a recent appointee to the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Executive Council and recent inductee to the Hunters Heritage Council Hall of Fame, I am glad to add my name to new bipartisan legislation this year that would establish a constitutional right to hunt, fish, forage, and trap.

A similar proposal offered in 2017 had bipartisan support but didn’t get beyond a committee hearing. The measure I’m co-sponsoring this year, Senate Joint Resolution 8208, adds foraging and trapping to go with hunting and fishing. It isn’t easy to amend our state constitution, nor should it be – but I’m optimistic this year because SJR 8208 has attracted twice as many Democratic sponsors as the 2017 legislation.

There’s something ‘fowl’ about how AG distributed settlement money

If you’re one of the 400,000-plus in our state who recently received a check in the mail with Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s name on it… you would be right to think something is fishy (or “fowl”) about it.

There’s nothing wrong with the payment itself, as it’s part of a settlement reached with producers of canned chicken and canned tuna. But the person who is supposed to be our state’s top law-enforcement official, who happens to be running for governor, overstepped in the way the checks were distributed, as this report in The Center Square explains (many checks went to deceased people, which is a separate problem).

I have filed SB 6170 to discourage similarly unethical behavior going forward. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship and has been referred to the Senate committee on state government.

Students, consider applying to serve as Senate pages

I’m allowed to sponsor up to six teens as Senate pages during the upcoming session, and three slots are still available – so if you know some good candidates, encourage them to apply!

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.


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

Yours in service,

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