Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now two-thirds of the way through the 105-day session. The past few weeks included a lot of House floor action. The House has passed 376 bills to date, with 122 bills prime sponsored by House Republicans. This is a 2:1 ratio, forcing Republicans to take hard votes on democratic issues. Of the bills lost, important responses to the Hirst decision were not considered. You can see a complete list, including how I voted on each measure, here. You can also find all of the bills I have prime sponsored and co-sponsored by visiting this link.
State lawmakers are now back to focusing on committee work, with the House considering Senate bills and vice versa (you can find my committee assignments on my website). Our next legislative deadline is policy committee cutoff (opposite chamber) on March 29.
I'll be working on many issues over the next month. However, I wanted to use this email update to provide you details on two issues that are very important to me and our communities: bringing broadband to underserved, rural areas of our state and saving our important short-line railroads.
Bringing broadband to underserved, rural areas of our state | Senate Bill 5679
At the start of the 2017 session, I introduced House Bill 1702. This bill is a proactive, concrete and dedicated effort to provide digital opportunities to our rural areas, through our ports. It would eliminate outdated rules and regulatory uncertainty in our current law.
Specifically, my bill would authorize ports to provide telecommunications outside their district, to areas with a population of less than 700,000. Ports would build the broadband infrastructure. Private telecommunications companies (telecoms) would contract to lite the lines and operate that infrastructure.
We all know ports are strong agents in economic development in their communities and want to engage in public-private partnerships. My bill would provide certainty for ports, who have to absorb a longer return on investment than telecoms can afford, and give the telecoms time to establish themselves in the market place. It would then open the network for other companies to put their content on that network.
While the House bill did not make it out of committee, the Senate companion, Senate Bill 5679, sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, passed with a vote of 48-1.
On March 16, this bill received a public hearing in the House Technology and Economic Development Committee – where I had an opportunity to testify in favor. You can watch my remarks here (16:07 mark).
I would like to clear up some misconceptions about Senate Bill 5679:
- First, this bill would not create a government or municipal-owned network. Ports aren't designed to operate an entire network. This bill would create more opportunities for private companies to serve less-populated areas and provide services that are already available in urban areas.
- Second, this bill would not provide a monopoly. It would actually create competition for companies wishing to enter into public-private partnership contracts with their port district. It would allow customers to have more choices because of the companies who want to put their content on that network.
How we can help our schools, students in rural areas
During this session, a major focus remains on our K-12 education system. There is strong digital infrastructure in the urban and suburban areas of our state, offering students the newest and hottest in cutting-edge technologies. Most rural students don't have access to this technology or the same opportunities to learn and be prepared for jobs in the 21st century. This is extremely troublesome to me. Senate Bill 5679 would help bridge the gap of the rural and urban divide.
Any legislation of this size and importance must be vetted carefully. That's what the legislative process is all about. For recent media coverage on the efforts to bring broadband to our underserved, rural communities, click here. I'll continue to lead the effort to push this bill across the finish line. Please stay tuned!
Saving our short-line railroads | House Bill 1136
On March 1, House Bill 1136 passed the House, with a 97-1 vote. This bill, which I primed sponsored, would help our small railroads thrive by removing the broad definition of 'oil' from our current statute. It would also tailor contingency plans to correlate with the size, type of product being shipped, and then moved via railroad.
Current statute defines agricultural oils and food-grade vegetable oils in the same category as Bakken crude and other petroleum based oils. This limits our ability to move agricultural oils produced in our state, both domestically and internationally. Our oilseed industry cannot prosper and grow without the proper use of our small railroads. My bill helps to fix this problem.
House Bill 1136 received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Telecommunications on March 14. I'm optimistic it will move through the legislative process and provide the necessary adjustments to protect our small railroads and help our agricultural economy.
Supporting agriculture in our communities
Agriculture is a key economic driver and employer in eastern Washington. It is a $51 billion industry and constitutes over 13 percent of the state's economy. Transportation infrastructure is vital to keeping our state's industries competitive in the global marketplace. We need the ability to transport our agricultural products so we can keep these critical jobs. Oversized regulations could injure one of the largest industries in the state and hurt the people who make their living on agricultural products shipped by rail.
Since the introduction of Canola production in Washington state in the late 1980's, our oilseed industry has grown to support a new domestic oil processing facility. Pacific Coast Canola, in Warden, is the largest U.S. company using expeller pressed technology. The facility crushes more than 350,000 metric tons of Canola seed annually, and produces 300 million pounds of Canola oil per year. Prior to construction of this facility, we shipped the raw seed to Japan for processing. The byproduct was then shipped back to our country. Conducting the processing here at home benefits the state's economy. We now locally produce high value feed for Washington's dairy industry and save carbon by not shipping the Canola meal back overseas from Japan.
While the industry is new to Washington state, it continues to increase production. The additional and unnecessary regulations on railroads will directly impact the ability of U.S.-produced Canola oil to compete in the world market, against the more established Canola oil industry in Canada.
The Bakken crude oil train regulations also affected our French fry processors. We ship the vegetable oil used for frying potatoes prior to freezing to processors in individual carloads throughout the year. The additional regulations make those shipments unaffordable to the short-line railroads. The cost of hauling small quantities of nontoxic, biodegradable and low volatile oils far exceed the value of the oil. This threatens the financial sustainability of the small rail industry in our state. Eastern Washington produces more than half of the French fries consumed in America. Value added agriculture, where producers can provide raw product to local processors, keeps jobs in America.
We are meeting the needs of a changing economy. One size fits all train regulations are not tailored to our diverse agriculture and economy in Washington. The unintended consequences of including agricultural oil and other kinds of oil in the Bakken crude regulations is disastrous to the agricultural industry and rural economic development.
It has been my lifelong work to build the Canola industry in Washington state. It's a wonderful industry producing high value cooking oil and providing an alternative crop for our region. Rail is a vital lifeline for the people and the economy of the 9th District. I will continue to fight for ways to protect and enhance this critical link.
Guests at the Legislature
Resolution recognizing the Future Farmers of America
I had the pleasure of introducing House Resolution 4614, which recognizes Washington's Future Farmers of America (FFA). This is such an amazing group of young people who want to learn, participate, and thrive within our agricultural industry. As a wheat farmer, I know how hard these young men and women work. They are the future of Washington agriculture. It was my honor to bring this resolution forward to continue supporting their efforts.
Mark your calendars!
Ninth District Telephone Town Hall
Thursday, March 23
Join me, and Rep. Joe Schmick, from the comfort of your own home for a community conversation. Our telephone town halls are similar to a call-in radio program. It offers you an opportunity to ask us questions or simply learn more about our perspectives on legislative issues. We look forward to hearing from you. Here are the details of the event:
When: Thursday, March 23
Time: 6-7:00 p.m.
To participate: Simply call (509) 724-2970 beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Staying in touch
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my update. Please feel free to share my email updates with your family, friends and neighbors, and encourage them to subscribe. You can also listen to my audio updates from Olympia by clicking here.
I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve for a second term as your state representative in the 9th District. Please contact me if I can ever be of assistance.