Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The final gavel has dropped on the 2023 legislative session. There were a lot of bipartisan efforts throughout this session, and by working together, we accomplished many good things. Unfortunately, there were also some disappointments. But before I get into the session recap, I want to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to contact me. I truly want to represent everyone, and I value your input and feedback. I look forward to continuing the dialogue with you during the interim.
Coming into this session, Republicans were focused on public safety. We still are. It’s one of our major priorities. There were two bills introduced to address these issues – Senate Bill 5352 (vehicular pursuit) and Senate Bill 5536 (drug possession and treatment, i.e. the Blake fix) – but only one of them advanced to the governor’s desk: SB 5352. Here’s a recap on these issues and how they played out.
Vehicular Pursuit Update: Likely one of the most important and most controversial bills of the 2023 session was the police pursuit legislation. In 2021, the Legislature enacted a new law that required probable cause instead of reasonable suspicion as the standard for pursuit. This has emboldened suspected criminals to flee crime scenes before law enforcement could question them.
During this most recent legislative session we tried to fix this law. However, in the end, not much was done to correct this issue. Ultimately, Senate Bill 5352 passed both chambers, but it was watered down after being amended in the House. It is now waiting for the governor’s signature to become law.
The amended version will allow police pursuits under the reasonable suspicion standard of those suspected of committing a violent crime, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offenses, vehicle assault, driving under the influence, and trying to escape arrest.
However, officers are still unable to engage in vehicular pursuits for crimes such as auto theft, residential burglary, stalking, reckless and aggressive driving, and others without probable cause. It is better than we have now, but it is not enough, and we will have to address this issue again.
Drug Possession Law (Blake Fix) Update: In February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in “State v. Blake” that the state’s felony drug possession law was unconstitutional. Under that ruling, all criminal penalties for drug possession were removed, and convictions were vacated and dismissed by an order from the court.
That same year, the Legislature voted to penalize drug possession charges with a misdemeanor and mandated two pre-arrest referrals for substance abuse by law enforcement before an arrest. That law, however, expires on July 1.
There were several different attempts to address this issue. However, the final proposal was brought to the floor in the last few hours of the 2023 session on Sunday evening. It failed, with 15 Democrats joining House Republicans in voting no.
That means unless the governor calls a special session before the current law expires, no state statute will outlaw the possession or use of controlled substances on July 1. People will continue to abuse drugs, and we will keep losing lives. We can’t afford to wait another year to resolve this crisis.
State Government Budgets Finalized
Our most important responsibility as legislators, year in and year out, is to negotiate and pass the three state -government budgets: operating, transportation, and capital. The groundwork for this process starts before the session ever begins. While each budget is created differently and funded from separate resources, they collectively provide us with opportunities to achieve victories for our district – and there are many to report this year.
Capital Budget: The final capital budget, Senate Bill 5200, spends $8.98 billion, $4.18 billion of which is from the sale of newly authorized, general-obligation bonds. The remaining $4.8 billion is comprised of a combination of reversion of previously authorized bonds, other dedicated funding sources, and federal funds. It leaves $95.4 million in bond capacity for the 2024 Supplemental Capital Budget.
It makes significant investments statewide in housing, behavioral health, K-12 schools, and infrastructure, including more than $42 million for local projects in the 16th District such as:
- $12.5 million for the Washington State Penitentiary Unit Six roof replacement.
- $5 million for the Three Rivers Behavioral Health Center.
- $4.7 million for the Walla Walla 2050, EIS, Bi-State Flow study.
- $4+ million for repairs, preservation, and program improvements at Walla Walla Community College
- $2.1 million for the Mill Creek Passage – 5th Avenue Bridge.
- $2 million for the City of Walla Walla’s Library Capital Improvement Program.
- $1.7 million for the Mill Creek Passage – Roosevelt Street.
- $798,000 for Habitat for Humanity infrastructure.
- $773,000 for the Community Learning Center (Kennewick).
For a list of our local projects, click on this link, select the 16th Legislative District in the drop-down window, and then hit the “view report” button.
Transportation Budget: The Legislature also passed the two-year transportation budget. This $13.5 billion bipartisan plan funds infrastructure projects across the state, including maintenance and preservation of current transportation systems, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Washington State Patrol, and other state transportation agencies.
This budget also represents the dedicated, cooperative work between the Democratic transportation chairs in the House and Senate and their Republican counterparts. As a member of the House Transportation Committee, I have been directly involved with the bipartisan development of this budget. Both parties put their differences aside to create a good budget for Washington. It’s an excellent example of what we can accomplish when we work together, regardless of political affiliation.
Perhaps the most important project included in the budget for our district is the $21.8 million in funding for planning and acquisitions for the completion of the U.S. Highway 12 corridor project spanning from Walla Walla to Pasco. We also secured an additional $13.4 million for improvements for the State Route 224 Red Mountain corridor project.
Unfortunately, we could not block the inclusion of money for a study about replacing the transportation capacity on the Snake-Columbia River system made possible by our state’s four federal Snake River dams. However, Republican budget leaders influenced the language to limit the likelihood of a biased, politically driven outcome.
Operating Budget: Lastly, state government has its new two-year operating budget. Despite ongoing economic concerns, the good news is state tax collections remain strong, and budget writers have $2.7 billion more in revenue for 2023-25 compared to what was assumed in last year’s budget. However, the 2023-25 operating budget increases spending to $69.8 billion, representing a $5.6 billion increase over current spending levels.
While the proposal funds many important programs, it does not reflect bipartisan input to the extent of the other two budgets, especially House Republicans. The spending proposal does not offer any significant tax relief or keep enough in reserves, even though an economic slowdown has been forecast.
Instead, it allocates money for nearly 1,800 new or expanded programs and other general funding for current programs. To make things even worse, there is also an appropriation for a study of how to replace the power generation and irrigation capacity that would be lost if the Snake River dams were to be breached. That clinched our decision to oppose the budget.
Update on My Legislation
House Bill 1293 has been sent to the governor after passing both legislative chambers. After the governor signs the bill, it will streamline regulations and the permitting process for housing development in urban growth areas. The bill requires cities and counties planning under the Growth Management Act to ensure their design review process is clear and objective.
We all know there is a housing shortage in Washington, and we came into this session needing real solutions to help relieve that problem. We need to move the needle in the building industry. And we can do that by cutting regulations and expediting and streamlining the permitting process.
HB 1293 will cut through red tape by providing exemptions for residential projects within an Urban Growth Area from some environmental considerations if certain conditions are met. The legislation also requires expediting the review process by limiting the number of public hearings during the design review process. Lastly, it will integrate the consolidated review and design process to streamline and ease the overall approval process.
Join Us in Walla Walla and West Richland for our Town Hall Meetings
I will join my seatmates, Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, andSen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg, for two town hall meetings in the 16th Legislative District on May 2 and 3 to discuss the outcome of the Legislature’s just-concluded annual session. Both meetings will begin at 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday’s town hall will be held at the performing arts center at Walla Walla Community College’s campus in Walla Walla, at 500 Tausick Way. The Wednesday town hall is at Libby Middle School, 3259 Belmont Blvd. in West Richland.
In addition to reviewing some of the bills that passed in the Senate and House of Representative and providing an update on our legislation, we also plan to answer your questions and address your concerns. We hope to see you there.
Thank You for Your Support!
Thank you again for your trust and for allowing me to serve you in Olympia. It is truly an honor to represent you in the 16th District. I represent you all year, so please continue reaching out to me to share your thoughts, questions, ideas, and opinions during the interim. My door is always open.
It is an honor to serve,