Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's hard to believe we are nearing the end of the year and beginning a new one, along with the 2020 legislative session, which begins Jan. 13.
In the months since the 2019 session adjourned last April, I've been busy traveling to legislative meetings and conferences — both in and out of state, from Boston to the White House, Fort Worth to Phoenix, Denver, and even in Saskatchewan, Canada, representing the interests of the 9th Legislative District and seeking solutions to problems and issues we face in our district. Somehow, I was able to fit in fall planting of wheat with my husband, Roger, on our 3,000 acre dryland farm near Pomeroy.
Here's a look at some of the issues I'm working on as we near the 2020 session:
Many communities in the lower Columbia Basin and particularly in the Odessa Subaquifer are facing a crisis as deep water wells become dry. At least 21 communities, and more than 125,000 people, are at risk of losing water.
I've been to the White House five times, the latest in May, meeting with federal officials and seeking support to complete the Columbia Basin water infrastructure project. President Trump signed my map of the project area.
Last session, I introduced House Bill 1889, which would provide $500 million in bonding authority for the state's share of the cost to get the project underway. Unfortunately, the bill did not advance. However, I'm not giving up. Water is the lifeblood of our district, and I am determined to do what I can to ensure this project moves forward.
In addition to these efforts, I've participated in several meetings relating to water, including:
- National Water Resources Association water summit in Portland;
- Legislative Council on River Governance meeting in Stevenson;
- Tour of the North I-90 Odessa Aquifer Groundwater Replacement Project;
- Ribbon cutting at Well #10, Othello;
- Palouse Basin water summit in Pullman; and
- Columbia Basin Development League Annual Conference.
Snake River dams
After going on a legislative tour of the Ice Harbor Dam northeast of Pasco in August, I provided an email update on the misinformation campaign aimed to remove our Snake River dams.
Gov. Inslee and Seattle-area legislators have joined forces with Western Washington environmental groups seeking to breach the four lower Snake River dams. Without a shred of scientific evidence, they believe dam removal would increase salmon population, which in turn would save starving Puget Sound Southern Resident orcas. In fact, in October, the Yakama Nation also held a news conference, calling for removal of The Dalles, John Day and Bonneville dams on the Columbia River — the first big push to remove these mainstream Columbia River dams.
During the 2019 session, Inslee secured $750,000 in the 2019-21 state operating budget to study dam removal. In August, the governor's office hired a consulting team to conduct the study. At the end of October, public workshops (not hearings) were announced on the study findings for Vancouver and Clarkston after the first of the year. It was only after Sen. Mark Schoesler and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse complained that the governor's office gave in and scheduled a meeting in the Tri-Cities in January.
I strongly feel the public should have the ability to weigh in and give their input during these public “workshops.” There is strong concern that the governor has already made up his mind in favor of breaching the dams. And while he and the state of Washington have no authority to order removal (only Congress can do that because these are federal dams), it's believed Inslee may try to use the study to influence a federal environmental impact study (EIS) that is to be finalized in June 2020. That EIS could determine re-licensing of the 14 dams on the Snake and Columbia river systems.
During the coming session, I plan to seek funding for a study to determine the costs to our state highway system and the impacts to transportation should the dams be breached. This would be similar to a study completed in 1999 that looked at the transportation impacts of breaching the dams. You can view that study here.
Rep. Joe Schmick and I will continue to fight any movement during and after the 2020 session to remove these dams. We contributed to an informational white paper on this issue, which is posted on the Washington House Republican website entitled, “Why breaching our dams would do more harm than good.” I invite you to read it and let me know your comments.
Implementing the Wild Horse Inmate Program in Washington state
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Florence, Arizona where the Arizona Department of Corrections operates the Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP) in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
To maintain their population on the western Arizona public rangelands at about 1,600 horses (a level that the desert habitat can support), the BLM gathers excess horses and offers them to the public through its Adopt-a-Horse Program. Before adoption, the horses are brought to the state prison in Florence where inmates care and feed about 700 wild Mustangs that are housed on site. BLM pays Corrections for its holding services, which provides jobs and training for inmates.
Up to 30 inmates work in the Gentling Program to calm and train the animals so they can be adopted. Many of the inmates have had no prior horse experience. The program gives inmates hands-on training in the equestrian field, helps them to build self confidence as they care for the animals, and provides the opportunity for employable skills they can use upon release. The recidivism rate for those inmates who have participated in the program and served their time is low.
I believe this would be a great program to implement in Washington state — and specifically at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Center in Connell. Walla Walla Community College has indicated interest in restarting its farrier program at the Correctional Center if the horse training program is located there. I am currently working on legislation that would create a study to look into the feasibility of this program for Washington state.
There are many other issues we will be discussing and debating in the 2020 session, including early wildfire suppression, the growing problem with wolves in our district, quagga and zebra mussel prevention, autonomous tractors, transfer of military training credits for civilian licenses, and much more. I will cover these issues in more detail as we begin the 2020 session.
In the meantime, please call, write or email my office with any of your concerns, comments, questions and suggestions about legislation. It is my greatest honor to work for you. As your state representative, your input is very valuable to me as I debate and vote on issues on your behalf.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you!