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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We are now in week six of the legislative session. Monday was the policy committee cutoff – which means all policy bills that do not have any fiscal impacts or relate to the budget process are likely “dead” for the session. The fiscal committee cutoff is Monday, Feb. 22.

It has been a very busy couple of weeks. All counties are now in Phase 2, House Republicans released an operating budget proposal, and there has been another data breach within our state government. Below are details on all those issues, as well as an update on my legislation still moving through the legislative process.

All counties are in Phase 2

On Thursday, Feb. 11, the governor moved all regions in his “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” plan to Phase 2 – except the South Central Region (Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla and Columbia counties) I immediately heard from numerous people in Kittitas County – elected officials, businesses, and constituents – who were extremely frustrated, disappointed and angry. They have worked hard to follow the guidelines and their COVID numbers were low. Unfortunately, the governor's regional approach is inequitable. I, along with my seatmates, have expressed our dismay and concern.

Read our op-ed: Governor's plan leaves rural Washington behind.

After the announcement the South Central Region was not moving to Phase 2, we quickly penned a letter to the governor. You can read that here.

Now that we have everyone in the second phase, we must concentrate on getting to the next phase. Unfortunately, we don't have a Phase 3. The governor was asked at his press conference on Tuesday on how regions can get to Phase 3.

“We have not identified that,” Inslee said. “We just put the finishing touches on Phase 2.”

With that said, House Republican leadership has requested the governor to “clearly define Phase 3 in the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan” so we can get our communities, businesses and schools to the next step.

Real solutions budget proposal

On Tuesday, House Republicans unveiled our operating budget proposal which is designed to help those who need it the most, including working families, students, small businesses and our most vulnerable citizens. It funds critical services with no cuts and NO new taxes. Here are some of the highlights:

To review the actual budget, click here. For a PowerPoint presentation, click here.

Data breach

Since the pandemic hit, my office has helped hundreds of constituents deal with the Employment Security Department (ESD). Recently, the Washington State Auditor announced a security breach may have exposed sensitive, personal information of citizens, specifically those who made unemployment claims with ESD last year.

If you have filed a claim with ESD, contacted them for any reason in the last 11 months, or have reason to believe your personal information may have been compromised, below are links that may be helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact my office or the State Auditor's Office if you have any questions or concerns.

Office of the Washington State Auditor

This is obviously another frustrating and disappointing situation. Our state government and agencies need to be held accountable.

Suzi Levine, the former director, lost hundreds of millions of your tax dollars in a Nigerian scam last spring. She also failed thousands of citizens in Washington as they waited weeks and in some cases months for their unemployment benefits. Disappointingly, she has taken a job with the Biden Administration and will not be held accountable for her failures.

Bad rural health bill

I need to make you aware of a very concerning piece of legislation still alive this session. The bill would eliminate health departments from how they exist today and reform them into “regionalized” health districts with a minimum of 250,000 citizens represented.

House Bill 1152 could pose a serious problem for rural, less populated counties. My understanding is that the regions may be divided like the governor's “Roadmap to Recovery” plan. If that is the case, the “local” health district for the South Central region would encompass six counties. That doesn't seem very “local.”

The bill would also change how health districts are made up and how local health officers are hired and fired. The “local” decision-making would be taken away, as the hiring and firing process would be done from Olympia through the Secretary of Health, who is appointed by the governor.

We are working hard to stop this legislation. Our local health districts are an important part of our communities and regions, and are best operated under local control. This bill would take that away.

Prime-sponsored bills

Here is an update on my legislation that is still moving.

House Bill 1198, Community Airport Coordinating Commission: This bill passed the House unanimously. It is now in the Senate. The bill moves the deadlines of the commission to allow additional time to study the feasibility of constructing a new commercial airport or modifying an existing airport to reduce the pressure on Sea-Tac. Due to the pandemic, we have not been able to meet the timelines.

House Bill 1355, Noxious weeds: My noxious weed legislation is important so farmers can maintain their ability to export crops. For example, noxious weeds getting into hay could prevent them from being able to ship overseas. The bill also updates noxious weed boards in a number of ways. It passed both the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource and Appropriations committees. It now awaits a vote by the full House.

House Bill 1030, Community Airport Revitalization Board: This bill would put into statute the Community Airport Revitalization Board (CARB) loan program. The loan program is only temporary and has been run through the state capital budget the past two years, because that is where the original $5 million came from for the program. This bill unanimously passed the Capital Budget Committee today (Friday).

House Bill 1290, Aircraft fuel tax distribution: This legislation is similar to a bill I ran last year that would change current distribution of the aircraft fuel retail tax, and reallocate some of the total tax revenue to the state aeronautics account.

The difference with this year's bill is that we are asking for half of a percent now and an additional half percent in two years – instead of a full 1% to be reallocated. This will be a work in progress and will probably not know the result until the session adjourns.

My bill is not moving, but the companion bill, Senate Bill 5329 is advancing in the Senate. That is good news.

Rep. Dent gives a speech via Zoom to an empty House chamber during floor debate.

Stay engaged

I urge you stay engaged. Hearing from you has helped get our message out on a number of issues – particularly getting our region opened to Phase 2. Click here for information on how to stay involved and testify remotely.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about legislative issues before us this year, please do not hesitate to contact me.

It is an honor to serve the great folks of the 13th Legislative District!

Sincerely,


Tom Dent

State Representative Tom Dent, 13th Legislative District
RepresentativeTomDent.com
437 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
tom.dent@leg.wa.gov
(509) 941-2346 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000