Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you had the opportunity to get to spend some quality time with your significant other on Valentine's Day. Today is the 38th day of the 60-day legislative session. Yesterday was the last day for House bills to be voted on by the full House of Representatives and sent over to the Senate for their consideration. The same is happening in the Senate as they are passing their bills to us in the House. Legislators have been getting some significant time on the House floor as we worked until around midnight last Thursday and Friday, worked Saturday and were here late on Monday.
We have passed about 250 bills out of the House, and interestingly, very few if any promote job growth and stimulate the economy. I have heard from many in the 12th Legislative District that times are still tough and businesses continue to struggle. The Legislature's lack of action on this issue impacts our state economy, consumer confidence and future business investment.
The House Republican Caucus has a number of bills we believe could help stimulate the economy, promote job growth and give our employers some certainty. To improve our state's economic recovery, we also need to protect our competitive advantages and work to improve on competitive disadvantages so employers consider locating in Washington. Our regulatory environment makes it difficult to compete with other states and keep jobs. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently released its annual 50-state review of regulations and employment laws. The report states with an improved regulatory climate 18,000 jobs could be added in Washington. Unfortunately, our state ranked “poor” for labor and employment laws and regulations – the lowest rating in the report.
Factors contributing to Washington's poor showing include:
- Numerous labor and employment mandates that exceed federal standards;
- Daily overtime rate on public construction contracts;
- Very high wage ceiling for income subject to unemployment insurance taxes;
- State's minimum wage is in excess of the federal minimum wage;
- Relatively high number of restrictions on employer inquiries into applicant and employee history; and
- No right-to-work protections.
If you want to read the report click: The Impact of State Employment Policies on Job Growth.
Fund Education First
Recently we introduced our Fund Education First proposal. House Bill 2533 is very simple. It would require the Legislature to pass a separate K-12 education budget before any other state appropriations. We believe there are many good programs and services within the K-12 education system, but the bill would prioritize and fund only those that fall inside the definition of basic education. If we fund education first, prior to any other state programs or services, we will ensure that we are meeting our duty and expectations of the state Supreme Court decision, McCleary v. State of Washington. The court stated we are not complying with our constitutional duty to make ample provision for the education of its children;
Fund Education First legislation sends a strong message of financial commitment to our students, teachers and schools.
Here are some major differences between the K-12 education budget proposal and what the governor is proposing:
- The governor recommends cutting K-12 education by $630.1 million and then asking voters to buy back some of these cuts through a three-year, 0.5 percent increase in the state sales tax rate. House Republicans would dedicate $13.66 billion to K-12 education, representing a $45.9 million reduction for the last half of this two-year budget cycle, and would not raise taxes.
- The governor wants to shorten the school year by four days to save $99 million, and cut levy equalization by $152 million. House Republicans would fully fund both of these areas.
- The governor seeks to make an apportionment shift that would defer a $340 million payment to schools into the future. House Republicans do not support this creative accounting.
It should be noted that eight major education groups support the measure.
While we are pushing our education funding package and trying to get the majority party to focus on the budget and jobs and the economy, we are also trying to stop what we feel is bad legislation. Here are a few bills still moving through the legislative process that I am very concerned about the policy and/or ramifications they may have if passed into law:
- Mandating insurance coverage for abortion. House Bill 2330 would require private insurance companies who provide coverage for maternity care to also cover abortion services. Passed the House 52-46 on Feb. 13.
- Changing transportation goals. House Bill 2370 would add “health” in the state's transportation system policy goals. This would drive up costs for our transportation system and projects. Passed House 53-43 on Feb. 10.
- Increasing union influence on transportation. House Bill 2553 would prevent transportation authorities from excluding a nonvoting labor member from executive sessions that do not involve labor contract negotiations. Passed House 54-42 on Feb. 10.
- Tax increase on oil/gas. House Bill 2660 would provide a variety of new fees and fee increases to fund transportation, including the $1.50 tax on each barrel of oil. House Bill died, but Senate version, SB 6455, did pass 31-18.
- Prohibiting short-haul truckers from being independent contractors. House Bill 2395 would require drayage (short-haul) truck drivers to be reclassified as employees. Passed House 52-43 on Feb. 11. Win for the Ag IndustryWe were able to kill a very bad bill for our agriculture industry: House Bill 2413 would place duplicative restrictions on pesticide use for our farmers. The livelihood of our farmers and the economic impact on the industry would have been devastating. We did not pass the bill off the House floor before the end of today's cutoff, so unless something extraordinary happens it is dead.
I appreciate your input and feedback and the budget and the many other issues before the Legislature. Please feel free to contact me anytime with your questions and comments.