Dear Friends and Neighbors,
There are now less than two weeks to go in the 2023 legislative session. There has been much cooperation from both sides and by working together we have accomplished several good things. The biggest issue we still need to finalize are the state's three fiscal budgets – operating, transportation, and capital – for the next biennium.
Vehicular Pursuit Update
But before I get into the budgets, one of the biggest issues this session took center stage on the House floor late Monday night. The majority party brought Senate Bill 5352, the vehicular pursuit bill, up for a debate and a vote. This legislation intends to partially correct House Bill 1054, which passed in 2021.
Since then, criminals have felt emboldened and law enforcement has felt abandoned. This experiment has failed, and our communities are suffering. Crime is up and numerous innocent people have lost their lives because officers are not allowed to pursue unless they have probable cause.
After a back-and-forth debate, the House passed the bill 57-40. There were reasons to vote both ways. On the plus side, this legislation is a small step in the right direction and better than what we currently have. But there is still much work to be done. It simply doesn't do enough to make our communities safe. But ultimately, after speaking with law enforcement from the 16th District, I voted in favor of the bill because they concluded something was better than nothing.
But this is not the end. It's just the beginning. I have no doubt we will be addressing this issue again next year, and hopefully we can make this policy stronger. We must restore the ability to pursue with reasonable suspicion if we expect our law enforcement partners to do their job and make our communities safer.
Update on the Blake Decision
Another important issue we've been working on is the effort to fix the State v. Blake decision. In 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state's felony drug possession statute was unconstitutional. By invalidating the statute, the possession of hard drugs – like fentanyl, methamphetamines, and heroin – became legal in Washington state.
The Senate introduced Senate Bill 5536 this session, which sought to address this issue by making possession of fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine a gross misdemeanor after three offenses. However, the House amended the bill to make drug possession a simple misdemeanor.
We debated this bill into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The bill, which was amended by the House, classifies possession of a controlled substance as a misdemeanor. The substance abuse crisis in Washington is not going away. People who are suffering need our help.
The Senate version of this bill, which had bipartisan support from three of the four caucuses, would have done more to help people with substance abuse disorder. I'm concerned this version of the policy, which passed on a near party-line vote of 54-41, will not do enough. Sometimes, the only way to save people from themselves is to get them off the streets into a safe location.
The original Senate version would have also extended the statute of limitations to two years instead of one. That matters because it can often take up to a year or more for people to get through the court system before getting the proper care and assistance. If they get out of jail before getting treatment, they end up reoffending, and the vicious cycle continues. This won't be the last time we debate this issue in the Legislature.
Honoring a Wounded WSP Trooper
Speaking of law enforcement and safer communities, I also want to take this opportunity to tell you about an officer from our district who was brutally attacked while on duty in September of last year.
Washington State Patrol Trooper, Dean Atkinson Jr., who was 28 at the time, was shot in the face while on duty in Walla Walla. Despite his critical injuries, he drove himself to the hospital before being airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
According to court documents, the man charged with the crime, was being evicted. He left a note in his home reading, “evict me and I will execute any cop or manager you send period.” He was charged with first-degree attempted murder with a firearm, first-degree assault with a firearm and attempting to elude with a firearm. This was a senseless attack on Trooper Atkinson.
Despite taking three bullets, including two to his face, Atkinson survived and has made great improvement. It was my honor to host him at the State Capitol this week, where we presented him with a House Resolution, which you can read here.
Trooper Atkinson fully embodies the Washington State Patrol's motto of “Service with Humility” by performing his duties professionally with a positive attitude, a ubiquitous smile, and a sense of respect for the community he serves.
I commend, salute, and honor Trooper Atkinson for his exemplary and exceptional service and I express my profound appreciation and enduring gratitude to him and all the brave men and women that protect our state every day as law enforcement officers.
Now to the budgets. 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, as seen in the chart below, the 2023-25 House budget proposal increases spending to $70 billion, which represents a $6 billion increase over current spending levels.
Additionally, the budget empties the “shadow reserve” leaving only $2.1 billion in the rainy-day fund at the end of 2025-27. Lastly, despite continuing high inflation, this budget provides no relief to taxpayers, in stark contrast to other Democrat controlled states across the nation.
As a member of the House Transportation Committee, I have been directly involved with the bipartisan development of this budget. While this legislation doesn't cover everything, I'm happy to report this collective effort does accomplish many good things, which is why it passed by a vote of 97-1.
The House Democrats' 2023-25 transportation budget proposes spending $13.2 billion, including $9.8 billion for WSDOT ($1.2 billion for Washingtonian State Ferries), $646 million for Washington State Patrol, and $418 million for the Department of Licensing. It reflects a lot of policies and projects supported by House Republicans but also includes some things we would not do if we were leading the process. While this budget proposal is not perfect, there are more positives than negatives.
House Bill 1147, the $8.34 billion proposal out of the House Capital Budget Committee, would make significant investments statewide in housing, behavioral health, K-12 schools, and infrastructure, including more than $43 million for local projects in the 16th District such as:
- $12 million for the WSP: 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.
- $515,000 for the Community Learning Center (Kennewick).
For a list of our local projects, click on this link and select the 16th Legislative District in the drop down window and then hit the “view report” button. While this proposal still needs final approval, I'm hopeful these projects are funded when the House and Senate reconcile the final budget.
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, and I will do everything I can to represent the entire 16th District. Please continue reaching out to me to share your thoughts, questions, ideas, and opinions. My door is always open.
It is my honor to serve,