Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After yet another special session, the fourth in the last two years, the Legislature adjourned last Tuesday. Though there were some hiccups along the way, we accomplished much of what we set out to do. We passed supplemental operating, capital and transportation budgets that make small adjustments to the two-year budgets we passed last session, as well as additional investments.
The Legislature also overrode the vetoes of 27 bills made by the governor, who had vetoed them out of frustration at the lack of a timely budget deal. I was correct in predicting the only result of the vetoes would be to slow the process down. That's exactly what happened, but I'm thankful we were able to act and save some good legislation.
Supplemental operating budget
Thanks to the hard work done by budget negotiators, a strong supplemental operating budget proposal was ultimately agreed on by both chambers. The budget doesn't raise taxes or raid the state's rainy day fund. Instead, it does what supplemental budgets should do. It makes small adjustments to the 2015-17 budget, invests in some key areas, and pays for emergencies.
Here are the highlights:
- $191 million increase in spending, or half-a-percent;
- $40 million directed for mental-health programs and the state's two mental hospitals;
- $29 million for overtime of home health-care providers;
- As much as $18 million appropriated for state need-grant college funding;
- $8 million to help backfill costs to keep tuition reduced at state colleges and universities;
- $7 million to recruit and retain K-12 staff and support for beginning teachers;
- $190 million in budget reserves to pay for wildfire suppression.
Two of my bills signed into law
House Bill 2413, which passed the House 98-0 and the Senate 45-1, will remove excessive penalties for past due aircraft registrations. Currently, late payers could face a $400 penalty on a $65 combined annual aircraft registration and excise tax fee. That's excessive. When my bill goes into effect in June, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will be required to levy a single $100 penalty on individuals whose aircraft registrations are 60 days or more past due. This small change to current law is a much more reasonable approach and will be helpful to many in the aviation community. In addition to changing the penalty structure, my bill also redirects penalty revenue from the general fund to the aeronautics account.
House Bill 2925 will give more autonomy to our ranchers. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will now be required to allow citizens access to public lands for the purposes of saving livestock as long as they do not interfere with fire responders. Ranchers like myself know that good animal husbandry requires looking after the health and safety of our animals at all times, so it simply makes sense for DNR to afford citizens the opportunity to rescue their animals. Additionally, my bill creates civil liability immunity for the state if a livestock owner accesses public lands to retrieve livestock during a fire response and is injured or killed. This bill passed the House 97-1 and the Senate 47-0 before being signed into law by the governor.
Town halls this interim
This interim, I am planning on hosting 11 town halls – four in Lincoln County, five in Grant County, and two more in Kittitas County. I am currently working on securing the venues for these town halls, and will have much more for you in my next email update.
Please continue to get in touch with me with any comments, questions or concerns. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is (509) 766-6682 at my district office in Moses Lake.
It is an honor to serve as your state representative.