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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The fourth week of the legislative session in Olympia is in the history books. The House of Representative completed hearings on bills proposed by members of our chamber on Thursday, Feb. 3, our first critical cutoff for hearing House bills. Today is the second big deadline – fiscal committee cutoff. Beginning tomorrow, we have all-day floor sessions to consider the bills that have been moved out of their respective committees. It is very likely we will work into the weekend, as the floor cutoff is Tuesday, Feb. 15. After that, we begin hearing Senate bills in our House committees.

I encourage you to access hearings on important bills by logging in and registering your views and share your expertise. You can sign in to testify or leave written comments. Go here to learn how you can participate. The silver lining of an all-remote session is that you can now testify without having to traverse the state in hazardous road conditions and without having to book hotels in order to have your voice heard.

Save the date! 9th District virtual town hall

Join me, Rep. Joe Schmick and Sen. Mark Schoesler on Tuesday, Feb. 22 for a 9th District virtual town hall meeting.

We will provide an update of the 2022 legislative session and then take questions from participants. Citizens may also submit written questions during the registration process.

The event will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. using the Zoom platform. Click here to register. After registering, a confirmation email will be sent about joining the webinar. Please be sure to register today!

House and Senate committees consider bills to limit the governor's emergency powers

More than 5,200 people signed in during a public hearing last Monday, Jan. 31, in support of a bill that would limit the governor's emergency powers to 60 days, unless extended by the Legislature. House Bill 1772 seeks to restore balance and trust in state government.

On Wednesday, an emergency powers bill put forward by the majority party passed a Senate committee. Senate Bill 5909 would allow the four leaders of the legislative caucuses to end a state of emergency after 90 days if the Legislature is not in session. It also makes permanent a committee formed to allocate funds from the federal government in an emergency.

Washington state ranks in the bottom for legislative oversite of the governor's powers during an emergency. Without legislative oversite, arbitrary policies were implemented that closed local small businesses and kept big box and national chains open. Washington state was the 48th state to reopen.

Pollution in Puget Sound

The first ORCA measure, House Bill 1822, restoring Puget Sound water quality, gets a hearing

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, my bill to invest in removal of toxic levels of nitrogen from wastewater flowing into Puget Sound was heard in the House Environment and Energy Committee. You can watch the hearing on House Bill 1822 by clicking here.

The Puget Sound region's 80 sewage treatment plants dump about 26 million pounds of nitrogen into the Sound each year, according to the Department of Ecology. Since 2006, between 19% and 23% of the Puget Sound inlet has failed to meet oxygen standards mandated by the federal Clean Water Act according to a 2019 state report. (Crosscut, Dec 7, 2020)

Dumping sewage causes blooms, creating blobs of reddish algae and cream-colored moon jellyfish that cover vast areas of the Sound, large enough to be seen from space. The prolific blooms imbalance the delicate ecology in the marine estuary, and their presence in abundance depletes the water supply's oxygen, suffocating marine creatures. These dead zones then release powerful greenhouse gasses as organisms decay.

Washington's Department of Ecology has requested an amendment to the federal general permit for wastewater discharges, allowing for more time to study the situation. This request has drawn the ire of Eastern Washington Congressional members. See article here.

My 9th District seatmate, Sen. Mark Schoesler, deals directly with Ecology's general waste water permit in Senate Bill 5786. This measure was heard in the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on Jan. 25 and can be watched by clicking here.

Puget Sound Partnership was created to crack the nut and achieve water quality restoration by 2020, an ambitious endeavor, but financially has been unable to overcome the political will that could cost sewer and water ratepayers an additional $150 per month to pay for needed improvements.

My House Bill 1822, one of three measures that are part of the House Republican ORCA Plan, would overcome the local funding problem. More than half the state's population lives around the Puget Sound. Millions of people use the municipal sewage facilities that discharge into an estuary ecosystem, sullying a treasured inlet by all Washingtonians.

This bill moves past the tradition that cities and counties must fund their own sewer and water systems. Instead, the policy directs funding to upgrade the facilities through the new cap-and-trade program. The investments are needed to build added capacity to accommodate the rapidly growing population.

Technology is available to remove the concentrated and toxic levels of nitrogen, but only one plant in Olympia currently uses the additional step to assure federal clean water quality standards are met.

House Bill 1822 acknowledges that the scale of the infrastructure needed requires a statewide commitment, one that is already made through the taxing of carbon emissions from our energy and manufacturing industries. We believe that those dollars are better spent doing needed projects to improve our environment today, rather than waste that money by purchasing all electric ferries to replace the hybrid ferries currently in use.

By investing in desperately-needed sewage treatment upgrades, we can restore water quality to levels that will assist in recovering Puget Sound Spring Chinook populations from the brink of extinction. This one species is the essential food supply for Southern Resident Orca. Removing ammonia and uric acid from sewage would also eliminate a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. These by-products left untreated turn into methane and nitrous oxide in the marine environment.

Unfortunately, Gov. Jay Inslee's plan wants to spend those cap-and-trade revenues on electrification of ferries and provide rebates to people who purchase electric vehicles. Not one dime of his plan will help clean up Puget Sound, reduce wildfires, stop the devastating flooding we've seen in recent months, or provide water resources and storage for farmers during drought years. That's why our ORCA Plan is the better proposal. We directly address mitigation of each of those issues in the ORCA Plan, which also includes:

  • House Bill 1823 addresses similar projects needed to adapt to the state immediate environmental need by directing cap-and-trade dollars to forest health and rebuilding timber town economies, building infrastructure to protect Washingtonians from catastrophic loss of life and property as a result of flooding, investing in irrigation infrastructure to assure our state is resilient in the face of droughts, and directing funds to develop more and better parks and trails.
  • House Bill 1824 eliminates the Discover Pass, making it easier for all Washingtonians to enjoy the parks their tax dollars pay for.

Unfortunately, the majority party did not schedule public hearings on either House Bill 1823 or House Bill 1824, and they did not move House Bill 1822 out of committee before the cutoff.

I have not given up and will continue to fight for common sense and funding REAL solutions for our environment, such as the ORCA Plan.

Hearing on wildfire suppression bill sheds light on shortcomings of DNR rapid response policy

In another stunning rebuke to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Asotin County Fire District #1 Chief Noel Hardin and long-time aviator Jim Pope again impeached DNR's concerns with a policy designed for rapid response and prevention of catastrophic wildfires. Both men testified during a public hearing Jan. 28 on House Bill 2086 in the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

With a small reimbursement fund, county fire departments would have financial capacity to deploy aircraft and extinguish most of the fires that commonly occur in the steep and remote terrain typical of our Southeast Washington county. Blue Mountain Fire District that borders Asotin has such a miniscule budget that funding the use of aircraft in similar terrain is a financial impossibility.

House Bill 2086 continues my work to ensure rapid aerial fire response by local firefighting entities during the initial breakout of a wildland fire. The measure would create the Aviation Assurance Funding Program within the Washington State Conservation Commission helping local fire suppression entities to defray the cost of contracting with private aerial fire response during the initial attack phase of a wildfire.

Looking back at the School Fire, Columbia Complex and Grizzly fires, we know the lessons learned are that our local county fire departments, front-line defense against these horrific events, need shoring up financially. With proper use, aircraft in the tool box, counties could save untold acreages of natural resources, crops and rangelands. Greenhouse emissions eclipsing all of Gov. Inslee's 30-year plans could be prevented every year for the cost of one mobilization fire.

Unfortunately, majority Democrats have not moved that bill out of committee. I will continue working on this issue during the remainder of the session and beyond.

House committee approves my judge vacancy bill

More than once, controversy has hit the front page when a solo judge takes off for a while and there is no other person to do the work. Justice delayed is justice denied. Judges take this point very seriously.

There are more than 112 single judge courts in Washington state. Currently, when a vacancy arises, it could take weeks to months to fill that position.

To fill the silence in the law, I worked with the office of the administration of the courts and judges with experience to draft House Bill 1825. This bill ensures that gap is filled so cases can be heard in a timely manner and to reduce the possibility of a backlog on the court's docket.

The measure passed the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee on Jan. 21 and is on the House floor awaiting a vote.

Other Dye legislation

  • House Bill 1917 – Establishing the Washington state men's commission. In 2018, the Washington state women's commission was created to address specific issues related to women, such as domestic violence, child care, child support, sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, equal compensation and job pathway opportunities in employment, and specific needs of women of color. This bill seeks to create a similar commission for men to address such issues as homelessness, criminal justice, education, mental health, domestic relations, family law matters, and workplace safety. This bill has been referred to the State Government and Tribal Relations Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.

Working remotely to serve in the 2022 session

It has been more than a stunning 700 days since COVID-19 shuddered our economy and closed us in our homes. Legislators and staff have adapted to Zoom, Teams, and Vote-From-A-Far to conduct business in a virtual world. Where the governor's party enjoys comfortable majorities in both the House and Senate, it is even more important that we lean into the technology tools provided to have our voices heard.

We miss the festive atmosphere on campus and the vigorous debate, in the committee hearings, in the marbled halls, in members offices and around the cafeteria coffee kiosk. It is the interplay of multiple viewpoints, based on lived experiences combined with the personal relationships that foster better policy for all of us.

Members of the House Republican Caucus are still spending time in Olympia, submitting to COVID testing three times per week to access our offices, but are restricted from seeing visitors. Whether at home or in Olympia, we are still participating in committees and floor debate on our computers.

State's new long-term care insurance program and payroll tax delayed 18 months

The state's new controversial long-term care insurance program and payroll tax is on hold for 18 months following action recently taken in the House and Senate. Majority Democrats voted for this legislation in 2019 without a single Republican voting yes. We knew we were on the right side of this issue when 63% of voters said the legislation should be repealed through Advisory Vote No. 20 in 2019. It is also revealing that more than 450,000 workers made the decision to purchase a qualified private plan and seek an exemption. Many other people wanted to opt out but could not find a private plan in time.

Democrats started realizing this past summer the program is deeply unpopular. In December, they and Gov. Inslee asked for a delay of collection of the payroll taxes, which began Jan. 1. This also caused more confusion. And one of the biggest challenges is that the numbers don't work — this program is insolvent, which means premiums will likely have to be increased. Plus, many people who would pay into this system would never see a benefit, especially if they move out of state.

I supported legislation co-authored by my seatmate, Rep. Joe Schmick, to repeal the program and tax. Unfortunately, majority Democrats refused to bring that measure to the House floor for a vote. Instead, the House debated and voted out two bills relating to this issue. The first, House Bill 1732, delays implementation of the program by 18 months and moves premium collections out to July 1, 2023. The second, House Bill 1733, creates four new voluntary exemptions from the program.

Gov. Inslee signed those measures into place on Jan. 27 and declared the issue “fixed.” However, it is far from fixed, because neither of those bills address the insolvency issue and there are many who will still pay into the system and never get any of the $36,500 lifetime benefit. 

Legislative Assistant Ruth Johnson and Rep. Mary Dye

In memory of Ruth Johnson

Many of you have inquired about my legislative assistant, Ruth Johnson. I'm very saddened to share the news that Ruth passed away Nov. 30 after being hospitalized in Olympia for two weeks with an undisclosed illness. It was not COVID-19.

Ruth came to work in the state House of Representatives in January 2016 as an assistant broadcast coordinator in our House Republican Communications Department. She was a former radio and television journalist, having worked at TV stations in the Tri-Cities, and later as a news anchor at KIRO Radio in Seattle. I met Ruth in our House radio studio in 2016 when I came to be interviewed on radio stations. Her position there was temporary — only during the session. We hit it off and I hired her as my legislative assistant.

Ruth really cared about people who called my office and needed our help. She put her heart and soul into helping people throughout our 9th Legislative District and beyond. She used her investigative skills she had learned as a reporter to dig deep into issues and casework to find answers for the people we serve.

After Ruth's passing, Rep. Joe Schmick's former legislative assistant, Pam Shaffer, came out of retirement to help me during the 2022 session. She noted in an email, “There isn't a day that goes by that I haven't had to explain to constituents and other callers from state agencies asking for and about Ruth. She was clearly well regarded.”

Our legislative staff provides the support we need as lawmakers to best represent you. Ruth's kindness and dedication to our constituents was amazing. I miss her greatly and I know you do too.

Get more information, get involved!

Your awareness and involvement in the legislative process is very important, especially during this COVID-19 remote session. There are several ways you can stay informed and involved:

How to get involved

Testify remotely

Track legislation

Want to track a specific bill? Here are some resources to get you started:

  • Go to leg.wa.gov.
  • On the left-hand panel, click “Bill Information.” 
  • If you know the bill number, enter it in the search field and hit enter.
  • Don't have a bill number? Under the section “Standard Reports,” you'll find alternative tracking tools. You can search based on topic, legislative digests, cross-references, and within a specific biennium.

Contact my office

Please contact my office any time you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and/or state government. My contact information is below.

Thank you for allowing me the amazing honor of serving you and the citizens of the 9th Legislative District.

Sincerely,


Mary Dye

State Representative Mary Dye, 9th Legislative District
RepresentativeMaryDye.com
432 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
mary.dye@leg.wa.gov
(564) 888-2380 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000