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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The 2022 legislative session adjourned on March 10. It was a challenging 60-day session. My email update is a little lengthy, but there are a number of important issues I need to update, particularly ones we have been discussing for the last year, such as emergency powers and police reforms. I hope you will take the time to read through it and contact me with any questions, comments or concerns you may have.

The legislative session was mostly virtual. A small number of legislators were allowed on the House floor as the session progressed and the COVID cases decreased. I spent most of the legislative session in Olympia. I felt it was important to be there and I was able to meet with some of my colleagues, as well as debate and vote on the House floor.

Unfortunately, I feel the remote setting has been detrimental to the legislative process the last two years. With the virtual format, there was less communication and much more partisanship. I pride myself on communicating and working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Face-to-face meetings and in-person interactions are how we get things done in a bipartisan manner. I look forward to a normal session in 2023.

Children and family issues

Being the ranking Republican on the Children, Youth and Families Committee, a large part of my focus in the Legislature has been on children and family issues. Since the Legislature created the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in 2017, I have also been serving on the DCYF Oversight Board and I am currently the co-chair.

I had two pieces of legislation related to the department and the oversight board this session.

  • House Bill 1936 would have streamlined the Oversight Board and added a subcommittee to ensure we are filling these important positions with qualified individuals while still keeping youth involved in the process.
  • House Bill 1945 would have required DCYF to develop and implement a caregiver liaison program for improving communication between the department, caregivers, and primarily foster parents.

My push to improve communication between DCYF, caregivers and foster parents comes from the tragic story of Oakley Carlson. She was a foster child who was returned to her biological parents, and has since disappeared. I have been in communication with the foster parents, and they have also been to an Oversight Board meeting. Communication must improve to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.

I was unable to get either of these bills through the Legislature during the short session, but I am continuing to work on these issues. There are many concerns with the operations and actions of DCYF. It is critical the department be accountable and transparent, and this is a priority for me.

If you want to be involved or follow what is happening with the DCYF Oversight Board, I encourage you to sign up for the newsletter by clicking here.

Behavioral/mental health

This session, I introduced House Bill 2053, which would have created a behavioral health work group to study the root causes of rising behavioral health issues in Washington communities. Mental and behavioral health is impacting many aspects of our communities, and it has been exacerbated by the pandemic shutdowns. While the masks are coming off and we finally getting back to some normalcy, the mental health issues aren't going away.

Again, I knew it would be difficult to introduce a bill after the session started with our short timeframe. I also tried to get it into the budget as a proviso. I plan to work on mental health legislation during the interim to make sure our communities have the necessary resources to provide vital mental health services.

Agriculture and natural resource issues

Successes in Olympia aren't always measured by legislation you pass, especially when you are in the minority, but by the bad bills you prevent from passing. As the assistant ranking Republican on the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee (RDAN), we had three harmful pieces of legislation before us this session.

The governor's House Bill 1838 would have placed mandatory riparian buffers for salmon recovery habitat, with some potentially reaching as wide as 250 feet. If you farm or own land with natural resources, this requirement would have been devastating. Landowners would have had to pay up to 30% of the costs to plant trees to comply with the riparian buffer zones or be fined $10,000 a day for noncompliance. Large pieces of farmland would have been taken out of production, driving farmers out of business, and impacting our state's food supply.

I am involved with a group of legislators working to form a coalition to look at this issue. We want to ensure all stakeholders impacted are at the table. The governor did not bring the agriculture industry and organizations into the drafting of his legislative proposal.

We were also able to stop Department of Natural Resources legislation to conserve one million acres of forest land and reforest an additional one million acres by 2040, while incentivizing small landowners to sustain their forests. There were some good ideas related to conservation in the legislation, but many of the bill details were vague or unclear. I have had discussions with Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz about a more collaborative process on this issue for next session as well.

Finally, we stopped Senate Bill 5613, which would have removed the exemption allowing local government or law enforcement to hunt black bear, cougar, or bobcat with dogs. This would have taken away an important tool for our local entities in rural counties to remove problem cougars in a timely manner.

I did have a bill pass out of the RDAN committee unanimously. House Bill 1993 would have created a pesticide advisory board and ensured there is significant community and stakeholder engagement. Our agriculture industry continually faces increased rules and regulations, so it is critical we have input and feedback from those who use and are impacted by pesticides. However, the bill did not make it out of the House. I look forward to introducing this again next session.

For more on how the session impacted agriculture, listen to my interview with Glenn Vaagen of the Pacific Northwest Ag Network by clicking here.

Aviation issues

As the only professional pilot in the Legislature, I am heavily involved and take the lead on many aviation-related issues. Most of them are tied to the operating or transportation budgets as fiscal impacts are usually involved. That being the case, it was difficult to get significant legislation passed in a supplemental year. My focus will remain on the operation of municipal airports, improving the infrastructure of our airports, and helping to provide significant potential benefits for the aviation and aerospace community through new industry and job creation in Washington state. 

We did have the first meeting of the Aviation Aerospace Advisory Committee established by the proviso I was able to get in the transportation budget last year. The committee is incredible with members from all segments of the aviation and aerospace industries. The best way I can describe it is a brain trust never seen before in the industry. I truly have high hopes for the work this committee will be able to accomplish!

Rep. Dent delivers a speech on the House floor during debate in the 2022 legislative session.

Capital budget

The 2022-23 supplemental capital budget is a bipartisan, collaborative effort and passed the Legislature unanimously. It spends $1.5 billion, including more than $40 million for the 13th District. It includes important projects such as rebuilding the Almira school, the Crab Creek Trestle replacement, money for the helipad in Sprague and the youth homeless center in Ellensburg.

Here is a breakdown of the 13th District projects:

  • Almira School District: $12.99 million;
  • Springwood Ranch in Kittitas County: $10 million;
  • Creston School District: $5 million;
  • Hopesource, homeless youth facility, (Ellensburg): $3.3 million;
  • Palouse to Cascade Trail – Crab Creek Trestle replacement: $2 million;
  • Confluence Health Center, (Moses Lake): $1.2 million;
  • Civil Air Patrol Hangar, (Ephrata): $1.2 million;
  • First Street downtown revitalization, (Cle Elum): $465,000;
  • Taneum Creek property acquisition: $200,000;
  • Roslyn Downtown Association Gazebo: $171,000;
  • Yakima County Interpretive Center: $150,000;
  • Port of Mattawa Event Center; $125,000;
  • Lincoln County Fire District 1 helipad, (Sprague): $103,000; and
  • funds for infrastructure improvements on the CWU campus.

These are in addition to the $10 million in critical community projects for the four-county district, and the more than $80 million in other infrastructure improvements for schools, parks, and environmental projects we secured last session. Capital budget projects are your tax dollars coming home.

Majority party stops emergency powers debate

For the second year in a row, we were unable to pass emergency powers reform. Senate Bill 5909 that passed the Senate was watered-down and did little to solve the imbalance in our state government. When the bill was brought up in the House just after 1 a.m. on March 3, Republicans were prepared to debate the merits of the bill and offer amendments to make it stronger. However, our colleagues across the aisle shut down debate after 20 minutes and killed the bill. You can watch the debate here.

Editorial boards around the state were critical of the proposals and also agreed it was time for some reform.

Prior to session, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins said she was “seeking balance” on emergency powers. Unfortunately, nothing happened and the imbalance in state government remains.

I introduced House Bill 1060 at the start of the 2021 session that would simply require legislative approval to extend a gubernatorial proclamation of a state of emergency. It didn't get a public hearing. House Republicans offered other legislation as well but this was not a priority of the majority party. Learn more about our efforts at this web page.

Addressing police reforms

Republicans and Democrats worked together to fix problems created last year by the majority party's police reforms.

Two bills passed this session address a couple of the issues. House Bill 1735 makes clear the use of force in situations such as transporting a person for treatment or providing mental health assistance; taking a minor into protective custody; and executing or enforcing an order directing an officer to take someone into custody. House Bill 1719 fixes an oversight that seemed to inadvertently prohibit police departments from possessing certain less-lethal weapons.

There is also House Bill 2037, which awaits the governor's signature, that would provide a more clear definition for our law enforcement officers on the physical use of force.

Not all the issues were addressed. Senate Bill 5919, which would have restored some of the authority for police officers to engage in vehicular pursuits when there is reasonable suspicion, died. Failing to change this policy will continue to have major consequences for public safety in our communities.

With crime surging, public safety will continue to be a priority for us. We introduced the Safe Washington Plan before session started.

Record spending, no tax relief

I voted against the supplemental operating budget. It would increase spending to about $65 billion in 2021-23, a $6.1 billion increase to current spending levels. State spending is now $12.5 billion or 24% higher than the 2019-21 levels. As you can see by the chart below, spending has more than doubled in the last decade. That is simply not sustainable.

We should have provided meaningful tax relief to hardworking families this year, but our proposals to reduce property taxes, the state sales tax, and B&O taxes for businesses impacted by pandemic shutdowns were ignored.

Going into session, there was a historic $15 billion budget surplus and inflation is at its highest level in more than 40 years. Combine that with the two years of lockdowns and mandates causing financial stress, this was a missed opportunity to allow Washington taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money.

Republicans offered their own budget framework, “SAFE Washington,” to demonstrate that the state can provide meaningful tax relief for working families while still addressing critical needs.

Transportation budget

I voted in favor of the supplemental transportation budget, as it addresses the day-to-day operations of our state transportation agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and the Washington State Patrol, and funds projects previously approved.

I was also able to get a $150,000 budget proviso into the supplemental transportation spending plan that extends the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC), which is tasked with identifying and exploring the feasibility of another Sea-Tac-like airport. The commission's timeline has been pushed back due to the pandemic.

Move Ahead Washington

While I supported the transportation budget, I could not support the majority's massive “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package. Click here for the tax and fee bill. Click here for the spending bill. Republicans were not included in the negotiating process or drafting of the plan.

This partisan Move Ahead transportation package spends about $17 billion over 16 years. It raises fees and taxes by about $2.3 billion on Washington citizens, which is unnecessary. It doesn't adequately address maintenance and preservation needs, spends millions of dollars on public transit, bicycle and pedestrian paths, electrification of ferries, and expansion of electric charging stations across Washington, and is Puget Sound centric, with little benefit to the folks in Eastern Washington.

It would transfer $57 million a year from the state's Public Works Assistance Account (PWAA). Our local governments rely on this account for water and sewer infrastructure projects for their communities and to improve economic development and opportunities. This transfer of funds is unnecessary and the wrong approach.

Finally, in the majority party's revenue package, taxes were increased on aviation fuel from the current 11 cents to 18 cents a gallon beginning on July 1, 2022. In the past, the increases were phased in over several years. This implements the increase all at once. It is projected the new tax will generate about $1.6 million a year. I offered an amendment to remove the new tax on aviation fuel and replace it with the language from my House Bill 1290, that would divert funding for aviation from existing tax revenue.

The amendment failed, so the fuel tax increase remained in place. The money generated over 16 years for aviation under the transportation package would be about $25.6 million, compared to $70.4 million from my amendment – using existing tax dollars.

Second Amendment rights

I heard from many of you during the session about legislation threatening our Second Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the majority was able to pass four very concerning bills, including:

  • Senate Bill 5078 bans the sale of ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.
  • House Bill 1705 would restrict the manufacture and sale of untraceable firearms, or ghost guns, and unfinished frames and receivers. Click here to watch my floor speech on this legislation.
  • House Bill 1630 would ban open-carry firearms and other weapons from local government meetings, election sites and off-campus school board meetings.
  • House Bill 1901 would include the ability to revoke an individual's firearm rights under certain conditions when there is a civil protection or restraining order in effect.

I do not support any of this legislation. It will end up penalizing law-abiding, responsible gun owners, while criminals will ignore gun laws. I will continue to vote against any legislation that may infringe upon your Second Amendment rights.

See you in the 13th District

While the session is over, please remember I am your state representative year-round. Do not hesitate to contact me with any concerns, questions or issues you may have regarding the legislation session or related to state government. I look forward to meeting with folks face-to-face this interim. The favorite part of my job is traveling the district and hearing from you. Contact my office if you want to schedule a meeting, tour or speaking engagement.

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