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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We have officially passed the halfway point of the 2015 legislative session. Much of our time since my last update has been spent debating and voting on bills on the House floor. We have passed more than 300 bills so far this session and in the coming days and weeks we will begin hearing and voting on Senate bills. This is all leading up to passing an operating budget for the 2015-17 biennium, which I believe we can – and should – do within the 105 days allotted for this legislative session.
We are facing a lot of difficult decisions in the Legislature this year, so I hope you will take the time to join me for a town hall meeting on March 14 to discuss the issues we are debating in Olympia. Details can be found below.
If you are not able to attend the town hall, you can contact my office directly. I welcome your comments, concerns, and questions. I believe your voice matters most in the legislative process, and I look forward to your continued input on the issues.
Please read on for updates on important reform bills I have been working on as well as my thoughts on a proposal that would place big, new unfunded mandates on businesses in Washington state. I will also share my views on education funding, provide an update on a new bridge idea being floated for Clark County, and reveal the results of the transportation survey I sent out in my last update.
I hope to see you at my upcoming town hall!
Please join me at an in-district town hall with Rep. Paul Harris and Sen. Don Benton.
When: Saturday, March 14, 9:30-11 a.m.
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton – Columbia Room, 12712 SE 2nd Circle, Vancouver
I am looking forward to coming home and spending this time updating you on the 2015 legislative session, discussing issues important to you and answering your questions!
My first bill passed the House and is now on its way to the Senate!
This week I was proud to have my first bill pass in the House. House Bill 1819 would require individuals who make an appointment to examine a campaign or candidates account books to present photo identification. I fully support the disclosure process, but we should also make sure the people coming to inspect the records are who they say they are and we know who we are allowing into our homes. There is a lot of sensitive financial information, including bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and passwords in these books. I believe we should be mindful of that, especially in light of recent instances of identity theft and hacking issues. A lot of the public disclosure rules for campaigns were written long before the Internet was even available, so I believe it's important we modernize these statutes to reflect current technology threats.
I look forward to working with the Senate on advancing my bill and getting it signed into law by the governor!
You can watch my floor speech here.
Two transportation reforms I co-sponsored passed unanimously this week
I was pleased to see two important transportation reform bills pass the House with unanimous support this week. House Bill 1850 exempts certain bridge replacement projects done by WSDOT occurring within their existing footprint from obtaining a substantial development permit, a conditional use permit, a variance, a letter of exemption, or other review conducted by a local government to implement the Shoreline Management Act.
House Bill 1851 authorizes cities, towns, and counties to use an expedited contracting process to repair or replace bridges deemed structurally deficient. It also directs the Department of Ecology to amend rules adopted under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to create a categorical exemption for the repair and replacement of structurally deficient bridges.
These two reforms will greatly improve our state's infrastructure by cutting through some of the red tape that often adds additional costs and delays to the completion of our transportation maintenance projects. This is important for Clark County where we have three bridges rated as structurally deficient. I will continue working to see that we consider more reforms like these before we consider increasing the gas tax.
Alternative bridge proposal being discussed
You may have read an article in The Columbian this weekend regarding an alternative idea to the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC). The discussions regarding this new idea are in the very early stages, and there are many details to consider. This concept was brought to 18th District legislators, Rep. Liz Pike and Sen. Ann Rivers, by a Clark County resident and retired engineer. I am pleased to see this conversation resume between my colleagues in the Legislature and the residents of Clark County.
Some argue we need to revisit the CRC as the only viable alternative. I disagree with this line of thinking. We shouldn't accept the only idea offered, rather we should seek the best idea. With that in mind, I welcome your feedback on this idea and ask for your thoughts on solving this important transportation issue for our region.
Another unfunded mandate on Washington businesses passed by House majority party
While I was excited to pass my first bill, I was also very disappointed the majority party in the House handed down a new unfunded mandate on businesses in Washington state. House Bill 1355 increases the minimum wage to $12 over the next four years. As a small business owner, I know firsthand the impact these mandates have on the economy.
I voted no on this bill for a number of reasons. Even without this new mandate, Washington already has the highest minimum wage in the nation. Moreover, each year a cost of living adjustment is applied to that wage. Even with the highest minimum wage in the nation, Washington ranks 16th in income inequality. My point here is that if increasing the minimum wage had a positive effect on income inequality – we should rank first.
A 2011 report to the Legislature showed our state's teen unemployment rate at over 30 percent. That is 8 percent higher than the national average. If a low-skilled worker or teenager is struggling to find work now at $9.47 per hour, it will be even more difficult if the minimum wage goes to $12 per hour.
This bill does not contain any provisions for a phase-in for small employers, or credit for employer-paid health insurance, tips, commissions, or bonuses. What will result is those small mom-and-pop businesses will either lay off employees, forego hiring additional employees, or simply close up altogether. Additionally, labor unions were exempted from having to follow these wage mandates and were given the ability to negotiate for less-than minimum wage through collective bargaining. If this is really a good idea, shouldn't it apply to all businesses?
Finally, House Republicans offered 13 amendments to HB 1355 to address serious concerns and make the bill workable. Each of these amendments were defeated and most were not even given an open debate in the people's House. This is very disappointing, and goes against the spirit of the democratic legislative process. I am hopeful we can have a serious discussion about wages in our state, and how to grow our economy, instead of being completely shut out as we were on this bill.
Please watch my latest video update in which I discuss this and other bills I believe stand in the way of job growth in our state.
Fund Education First
The budget-writing process is just beginning to pick up steam as we get closer to the end of the 105-day legislative session. Our state constitution is clear – full funding of basic education is our paramount duty. After nearly three decades of one-party rule continually prioritizing special interests over students, we must take this constitutional mandate seriously and address these issues – especially in light of the Supreme Court's McCleary decision. I believe the best way to fully fund education is to fund it first. This is why I was proud to co-sponsor House Bill 1001 which would create a standalone K-12 education budget. With the creation of a separate budget for K-12 education (much like we do with transportation and capital projects) we would have had the opportunity to move Washington's students to the front of the line. Much to my dismay, the majority party didn't even give the bill a hearing.
The McCleary decision, however, didn't just instruct the Legislature to fully fund education. The decision also instructed the Legislature to reform our education system. We must take this opportunity to improve the public school system and consider what the definition of “basic education” is. We should look to expand voter-approved charter schools. Currently, only eight charter schools are permitted to open each year. I believe parents should have more options when making decisions about their children's education and we should seriously consider allowing education dollars to follow each student so they can find the best school to meet their needs.
I hope the House majority allows us to have a healthy debate on this important issue. There are well-meaning people on both sides, but I firmly believe we should be giving kids our first dollar – not our last dime. It's time to fund education first!
The results are in!
In my last email update, I asked you to share your opinions with me on a couple of important issues relating to transportation and the governor's carbon tax proposal. Your responses help me continue to make decisions that reflect the needs and values of the 17th District. Here are the results of that survey:
The idea of an 11.7 cents-per-gallon gas-tax increase is being floated around Olympia. Are you in favor of this gas tax increase to pay for new transportation projects?
23% | Yes
68% | No
9% | Maybe, but only if the 17th District received its fair share of projects and significant reforms are made to DOT.
The governor is proposing a carbon tax on big energy users across Washington state, including those in Clark County like Wafer Tech and Georgia Pacific, to pay for transportation and education. Knowing this will most likely raise the price of certain goods and services as well as energy prices, would you support the governor's plan?
25% | Yes
69% | No
6% | Undecided, need more information
With notable project failures like “Bertha,” the stuck SR 99 tunnel boring machine, and the 520 Bridge pontoon failures, do you trust WSDOT to effectively and efficiently invest tax dollars?
25% | Yes
68% | No
9% | Undecided
Thank you again for taking my survey. If it is ultimately determined – after all reforms are completely implemented and given time to bear results – that a gas tax increase is the only answer, I will work to see that a referendum clause is included and that it goes to a vote of the people.
Yours in service,
418 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7994 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000