Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 legislative session is underway as we convened on Monday, Jan. 11. This year is a 60-day or “short” session. There are a lot of different issues lawmakers will be facing in a short amount of time.
I am working on legislation related to our overzealous state agencies and their tendency to impose rules and regulations on citizens as answers to perceived problems. Their actions have become far too punitive and are having significant negative impacts on citizens, communities and local governments. It is important we hold them accountable.
Below is a preview of other issues we will be working on or discussing this session.
McCleary – education funding
It is difficult to predict what may happen with McCleary this session. The court continues to move the goalposts and may do so again. We made historic progress over the last few years – smaller K-3 class sizes, teacher raises and investing an additional $2.9 billion in K-12 education last year. The issue is now more about state versus local funding. A bipartisan group is making progress and continues to work on a plan they can bring before the Legislature.
In September, the state Supreme Court ruled our state's public charter schools unconstitutional. Legislation has already been introduced to address the state Supreme Court ruling in November, that called our state's charter schools unconstitutional. There is bipartisan support for a solution, but the governor has not indicated he is in support of legislation or supporting the public charter schools for that matter. Voters established charter schools by passing Initiative 1240 in 2012.
We are concerned that increasing health care costs are pushing us into a deficit in 2017 even with a major revenue increase. However, the short, 60-day legislative session is a supplemental budget year for lawmakers. We shouldn't see new, major policies and spending. The supplemental operating budget is for addressing caseload forecasts and emergency appropriations such as covering wildfire costs and providing funds for future wildfire suppression efforts. The governor did propose tax increases in his supplemental budget, which is disappointing. However, they are taxes we have all seen before and have not received support from the public or the Legislature in the past.
It is possible we will finally get some movement on the impeachment of State Auditor Troy Kelley. There is bipartisan support for his impeachment. Keep in mind, the impeachment request is not based on a presumption of guilt, but the fact he hasn't worked for seven months.
Department of Corrections' early release of prisoners
Last month we became aware that the Department of Corrections had released as many as 3,200 prisoners early since 2002 because a software coding error miscalculated sentences. Two deaths have already been tied to the early release. The department knew about the glitch in 2012, but lawmakers were just informed last month. A fix to the computer system is expected soon, but we need to hold state agencies accountable for these types of situations. The investigation continues as we hope to get some answers as to how this could possibly happen over such a long period of time.
Human Rights Commission's transgender ruling
Last month the Washington State Human Rights Commission ruled that bathroom, shower and locker room use in public buildings be based on gender “identity” not gender “anatomy.” That means if a man “identifies” as a woman, he is allowed to use the women's restroom or locker room.
I am very concerned about potential abuses of the system and to our most vulnerable citizens – children, the disabled and seniors. Judging by the amount of communications I have received in my office on this issue, so are you! The rights of everyone need to be considered, including the right to privacy, and the Human Rights Commission failed to do this.
This is a great example of what happens with our overreaching commissions and agencies and their rule-making authority without any input or oversight from the Legislature. Putting 99 percent of our citizens at risk to cater to about 1 percent makes no sense.
There is legislation being worked on that would repeal or amend the rule. However, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee has said she will not allow any bill to be heard on the issue. We will keep you updated.
Commerce and Gaming Committee
The Commerce and Gaming Committee is by far one of the more interesting committees in the House of Representatives. We are hearing bills related to:
- the wine industry; and
- fantasy sports.
Concerns have been brought to the committee about marijuana production facilities around the state. We are rolling up our sleeves and working with local governments to find possible solutions in a positive manner.
Our wine industry continues to thrive and we are looking at bills that will build on its growing success.
And, regardless of your position on fantasy sports the debate has provided some interesting insight. There is concern about some of the outside companies running these websites, but at the same time we want to be careful about the casual fantasy sports player participating for entertainment purposes.
I am excited about my House Bill 2552, that would establish the statewide Tourism Marketing Act. It would create an account for statewide tourism promotion, but it is strictly voluntary for businesses to participate. The tourism industry is vital to the 12th District, but at the same time we do not want to impose additional mandates on employers. It is a new and innovative approach, and a much better option than the bad bill introduced last year.
These are just a few of the issues before us this session. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about these issues or anything else before the Legislature this session.