Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now into our second week of the scheduled 60-day session, which began last Monday, Jan. 10. There is an immense amount of work to do in only two months, and already our days are filled with committee hearings. I invite you to take a few minutes to read about session operations and priorities as we begin a new year in the Legislature.
Session operations mostly remote, public banned from House chambers, legislative offices
Much like last year, most session activity in the House is being conducted remotely. Only a few designated House members are allowed to access the House floor to vote and debate. The few members and staff allowed to work on the Capitol campus are required to undergo testing for COVID on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Credentialed press have limited access to cover proceedings from the House gallery only after they have provided verification of vaccination. No guests or visitors are allowed in the House chambers or any of the House legislative offices.
It is disappointing that the public is once again being shut out of the Capitol again this year. My Republican colleagues and I have pressed for openness and transparency in government. Last year, we were concerned that a remote session would clear the way for the majority party to ignore opposing viewpoints and pass bad legislation. Unfortunately, those concerns came true, as you will read later in this email update. Majority Democrats have once again turned another legislative session into remote operations, and we fear this is by design so they can again have a clear and unobstructed path toward adopting their heavy-handed, Seattle-based progressive agenda.
Your involvement is crucial!
Although the chain-link fences and National Guard that surrounded the Capitol at this time last year are gone, the House Democratic majority has decided the public will still not be allowed inside the House chamber, nor in any of the House offices during the 2022 session. Nevertheless, there are still ways you can and should participate.
The Legislature has implemented a system designed to allow the public to comment on a bill. I highly recommend you do this. Go to this page for more information: How to comment on a bill.
You can also sign in to provide written testimony on legislation or testify remotely during a committee public hearing. Go to this page for more information and to sign in: Committee Sign-In – Remote Testimony (House/Senate/Joint)
To learn more about citizen participation, we have set up a page with all the information you need. Go here: How you can be involved in the legislative process.
You can also watch all of the proceedings live on TVW. org.
Please contact my office if you have questions or comments on legislation that you would like directed to me. My contact information is at the bottom of this email update.
ORCA Plan is best proposal to address flooding, wildfires, drought resiliency and Puget Sound cleanup
In my last email update to you at the end of November, I wrote about the new ORCA (Outdoor Recreation and Climate Adaptation) Plan we unveiled Nov. 29. As the ranking Republican on the House Environment and Energy Committee, I've been working throughout the interim last year to create this proposal.
The ORCA Plan would use Climate Commitment Act (CCA) dollars from the governor's “cap and trade” legislation passed last year to address such issues as forest health, drought resiliency, flood mitigation, and Puget Sound restoration. We would also eliminate the annual $30 Discover Pass, invest in new parks and playgrounds, recreational trails, lower other recreational fees, and pay for the $425 million maintenance backlog. You can read the details about the House Republican ORCA Plan here.
Here's legislation I have sponsored to support the ORCA Plan:
- House Bill 1822 – Improving Puget Sound water quality: The bill would direct nutrient discharge reduction activities to be expedited toward the achievement of clean water quality standards in the Puget Sound. This includes more accountability in the reporting of untreated stormwater and sewage discharges into state waters. It would also establish the Office of Puget Sound Water Quality to provide technical assistance to local governments and municipal wastewater treatment system operators in the goal of reducing nutrient discharges into Puget Sound. A wastewater nutrient reduction account would be created for grant and loan opportunities to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities and other activities to reduce wastewater discharges in Puget Sound. Referred to the House Environment and Energy Committee.
- House Bill 1823 – Concerning environmental leadership through outdoor recreation and climate adaptation investments: The bill would require the transfer of $125 million each biennium into a special account for wildfire response, forest restoration and community resilience. Part of that money is directed to be used for grants and loans to small forest landowners for activities that increase carbon sequestration. It would also be used to advance the state's forestry riparian easement program and the family forest fish passage program. Plus it would provide grants administered by the Community Economic Revitalization Board to help make timber and farming towns sustainable and vibrant. The measure also calls for funding to mitigate flood risks, providing drought resilience investments including water supply projects to support the agricultural industry, investing in Puget Sound water quality pollution control upgrades, and directing money into the support and expansion of state and local outdoor recreation programs and local trail improvements. This bill is in the House Appropriations Committee.
- House Bill 1824 – Concerning outdoor recreation affordability: This measure would eliminate the annual Discover Pass and the daily permit fees that apply to access of state outdoor recreational opportunities and state parks. Awaiting consideration in the House Community and Economic Development Committee.
Governor's plan vs. ORCA
On Dec. 13, Gov. Jay Inslee came out with his own proposal of how to spend the $4 billion of CCA money that is expected to come in to the state over the next 10 years. The governor wants to provide rebates to every Washington citizen who purchases an electric vehicle. He wants to prohibit the use of natural gas in homes and buildings, and fully eliminate the natural gas industry, and retrain workers whose jobs rely on natural gas. He wants to electrify state ferries.
During his press conference, the governor spoke of the dangers of climate change and his concerns about smoke in the Methow Valley because of wildfires, flooding that displaced families, destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of good forests, drought that has caused reduction of wheat crops, damage to grapes in Walla Walla, and oyster beds at risk in Puget Sound. However, nothing in his climate proposal does ANYTHING to address these issues. Read more of my comments about the governor's plan here.
How does it help the residents along the flooded Nooksack or Chehalis rivers to have an electric vehicle when their homes are floating away? How does it help homeowners in wildfire-stricken areas such as the Okanogan to have electric vehicles when their houses and fields are going up in smoke? Quite frankly, it doesn't. But the ORCA Plan would. And that's why it is the better plan.
Fixing bad policy from last year is this year's theme
In a recent article published in the East Washingtonian, I joined with my seatmates, Sen. Mark Schoesler and Rep. Joe Schmick, to give a preview of the 2022 legislative session. We noted much of this session's work will be to undo, fix, or “tweak” legislation that passed last year. From legislation spawned from the Defund the Police movement to the governor's emergency powers and his state of emergency proclamation that is soon approaching two years, real reforms and solutions are needed. We are dedicated to bringing your voice to the table on each of these issues. I invite you to read our article here. Each week during session, my 9th District seatmates and I will be providing a legislative update article in the East Washingtonian. I invite you to read it.
Record budget surplus — Time for tax relief
We now have the largest four-year budget surplus in state history — $8.8 billion, with another $2.2 billion in reserves, and another $1.2 billion in unspent federal stimulus funds. It was disappointing during the governor's State of the State address on Jan. 11 that he talked mostly about more spending, more programs and larger government, but said nothing about tax relief.
State government is doing very well financially. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about citizens in our district and across the state of Washington — working families who are struggling to make ends meet. Families are paying more for groceries, energy, fuel, and medical costs. We should be giving some of that back to the hard-working families in our state.
We could provide tax relief through expansion of the Working Families Tax Credit, lowering property taxes, and eliminating the Long-Term Care payroll tax.
Long-term care tax should be repealed and replaced with affordable options
I share your concerns about the WA Cares Fund or long-term care payroll tax and program. The majority party passed this legislation in 2019, but both parties now agree this is flawed public policy. More than 443,000 workers tried to get out of the program through an exemption, while thousands more wanted to opt-out, but could not, because they were unable to secure a qualified policy before the deadline.
My seatmate, Rep. Joe Schmick, co-sponsored House Bill 1594, which would fully repeal the program and payroll tax. Rep. Drew Stokesbary, ranking Republican for the House Appropriations Committee, introduced House Bill 1913, which would repeal the long-term care mandate and replace it with an affordable and optional alternative.
During floor debate on Wednesday, Republicans made motions to bring these bills to the floor for a vote. Majority Democrats rejected those motions. Instead, they passed their own alternatives.
House Bill 1732 delays the tax and program until July 1, 2023. House Bill 1733 offers some exemptions. Unfortunately, neither of these bills address the concern that this program will eventually be insolvent. When that happens, the Legislature will either have to increase the payroll tax premium, lower the benefit, or both. For more information on the Long-Term Care Act, click here.
Stay involved and in touch!
In addition to issues I've discussed above, we will also be working to reform the governor's emergency powers, advance a Safe Washington plan to make our neighborhoods safer from crime and return tools to law enforcement so they can do their jobs, use surplus money to fix our roads, highways and bridges, and provide meaningful property tax relief.
Your involvement and input is important to our legislative process. Should you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation, committee hearings, the legislative process or state government, please call, write or email me. I am here to serve and represent you!
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to be your voice in the Legislature as we embark on a new legislative session.