Home | About Tom | News & Media | Email Updates | The Ledger | Contact
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2023 legislative session adjourned on April 23. It was a whirlwind, 15-week session. When the 105-day session concluded there were some positive results, but also some concerning issues that passed and we have some unfinished business – a Blake fix. There is more on that below.
My email update is a little lengthy, but there are a number of important issues I need to update you on – particularly public safety issues. I also want to provide you an overview of the budgets passed by the Legislature and the bills I was able to get to the governor's desk. I hope you will take the time to read through it and contact me with any questions, comments or concerns you may have.
Special session to address Blake decision
The governor has called a special session for May 16, with the goal of passing a solution for the State v. Blake decision.
How we got here: In February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in “State v. Blake” that the state's felony drug possession law was unconstitutional. Under that ruling, all criminal penalties for drug possession were removed, and convictions were vacated and dismissed by an order from the court.
That same year the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5476, which re-criminalized drug possession as a misdemeanor rather than as a felony. However, that law expires on July 1, 2023. That is why it was critical we have a Blake fix this session. Not to mention the skyrocketing overdose deaths and an increase in drug-related crimes.
At the end of session, three of the four caucuses had reached an agreement on a solution. However, the majority party in the House, did not support it and brought up their own version to the House floor for a vote. It failed by a vote of 43-55. It is extremely rare for a bill to fail on the House floor. Bills are only brought up for a vote if there are enough votes for it to pass. So, we adjourned without a Blake fix.
House Republicans are committed to resolving this important issue. Click here to read House Republicans' recent letter to the governor outlining our concerns and our solutions.
We are communicating with our colleagues in the Senate, as well as House Democrats to arrive at a Blake fix so we can go into the special session with a solution, vote on it, and adjourn. It is vital to the public safety of our streets, neighborhoods and cities.
Law enforcement pursuits
The other very important public safety issue we needed to address this session was police pursuits.
How we got here: In 2021, the Legislature enacted a new law requiring officers to need “probable cause” to arrest someone before initiating a vehicular pursuit rather than “reasonable suspicion.” Since this law has passed there have been numerous stories of suspected criminals fleeing crime scenes before law enforcement could question them. Some of these situations have had tragic endings.
At the beginning of session, I was a co-sponsor of House Bill 1363, which would have restored the reasonable suspicion standard. It was a strong, bipartisan bill with 19 other Republican co-sponsors and 20 Democrat co-sponsors. It was never brought up for a vote in the House, despite the bipartisan support.
The bill we ended up passing was a watered-down Senate Bill 5352. However, I voted “yes” as my local law enforcement was asking for any step forward, no matter how small.
The new law will allow police pursuits under the reasonable suspicion standard of those suspected of committing a violent crime, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offense, vehicle assault, driving under the influence, and trying to escape arrest. Police still cannot pursue a vehicle suspected of being stolen.
I expect we will be revisiting this issue next session as this still falls short of where we need to be.
Four bills to the governor's desk
With the 2023 session being the first full in-person one in Olympia since 2020 due to the pandemic, there was noticeably a much better effort to work together. It was great to able to sit in the same room, face-to-face, and interact with our colleagues rather than conduct the session virtually. Much more bipartisan work was accomplished. I was able to work on my bills with legislators across the aisle. I got four bills to the governor's desk. He signed three bills into law, but he vetoed one.
- House Bill 1032 will mitigate the risk of wildfires through electric utility planning and identification of best management practices of each electric utility's circumstances. Click here to read my news release on the bill signing.
- House Bill 1243 will provide another tool for communities to manage municipal airports. Click here to read my news release.
- House Bill 1019 creates the Pesticide Advisory Board to advise the Washington State Department of Agriculture on pesticide-related actions.
- House Bill 1590 would have changed the membership and qualifications of the oversight board for children, youth and families. It would have streamlined the process and ensures qualified individuals are serving in these positions. The governor vetoed this bill. Click here to read his veto message.
Other priority legislation
I was also a co-sponsor of House Bill 1498, known as the “Aviation Assurance Funding” bill. This legislation is the culmination of seven years of work. This is a critical piece of legislation in attacking wildfires in Washington. It would allow local fire departments who use aviation suppression efforts on the initial attack of brush, timber and grass fires to be reimbursed by the state for those expenses.
If local fire districts know they can immediately begin using air support to attack a fire and not worry about cost, they can provider quicker, more efficient response to wildfires and prevent destruction of timber and range land, protect our air quality, and prevent state mobilization and potentially save the state millions of dollars.
The siting of an new airport in Washington state has received a lot of attention. In 2019 we passed legislation to recommend possible locations for a new airport in Washington state. I was on that commission, but we did not have enough time to do a thorough review of what we were trying to accomplish. COVID played a role, but we also did not have enough resources and there was not enough outreach.
I co-sponsored House Bill 1791 that would replace the commission with an appointed work group to provide a comprehensive look at new and existing airport sites in Washington. We are still awaiting the governor's signature on this bill.
I did not support the operating budget. It increases spending by 9%, up to $69.8 billion, a $5.6 billion increase. As you can see by the chart below, the increase in spending over the last decade is substantial and I fear unsustainable.
Other reasons I voted “no” include:
- A lack of transparency. House Republicans were left out of the budget negotiating process and we did not see the final 1,404-page operating budget bill until the day before we voted on it.
- No tax relief. Despite state budget coffers raking in record revenues over the last few years, no monies have been returned to our state's taxpayers. This is a missed opportunity.
- It also leaves a small ending fund balance and reserves are less than the state treasurer's recommended target of 10%.
Capital and transportation budgets
Democrats and Republicans worked together this year on the capital and transportation budgets. I voted in favor of the bipartisan spending plans. Working collaboratively with Sen. Judy Warnick and Rep. Alex Ybarra, the three of us were able to land nearly $170 million in our three-county legislative district. Projects include:
- $1.03 million for the Ellensburg Rodeo Grandstands
- $573,000 for FISH Food Bank Expansion Ellensburg
- $258,000 for Larson Playfield Irrigation Conversion in Moses Lake
- $85,000 for the Manastash Grange Revitalization and Expansion in Ellensburg
- $1.16 million for Yakima's MLK Jr. Park & Swimming Pool
- $77,000 for the Rosalyn Old City Hall Community Center
- $518,000 for the Ellensburg Pond to Pines Infrastructure
The capital budget is taxpayer dollars coming back to our districts to fund community projects, including valuable historic preservation, school construction, and other infrastructure needs.
The 2023-25 transportation budget is a $13.5 billion biennial budget that funds infrastructure projects across the state, including maintenance and preservation, and prioritizes projects already underway for completion under the Connecting Washington package. It also prioritizes public safety by making investments toward our state trooper force in recruitment and retention efforts.
The majority party passed three anti-gun bills that have already been signed into law by the governor. I voted against all of them.
- House Bill 1240 bans the sale, production or transfer of most semi-auto firearms, also known as “assault weapons.” This legislation goes against a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the upcoming federal district court ruling on the California “assault weapons ban,” which most believe will be overturned. This law is already facing a court challenge.
- House Bill 1143 impairs your right to buy, sell or keep arms. The measure imposes various training and testing requirements on law-abiding gun owners and retailers before they can exercise their constitutional rights.
- Senate Bill 5078 holds gun manufacturers legally responsible for how individuals misuse their products.
These bills infringe upon Washingtonians Second Amendment rights. As a lawmaker it is my duty to uphold both the state and U.S. constitutions.
I have heard from some of you who are concerned about the increase in gun violence. I am also concerned, but amending the constitution is a heavy lift and an effort I would not support. We need to get to the root causes of violence.
Behavioral and mental health issues are at an all-time high and Washington state has not done a good job of addressing mental health and is not keeping up with the demand.
- How WA's plan to transform its mental health system has faltered | The Seattle Times (April 9, 2023)
What about the violence our youth are exposed to through video games, movies and television? I fear our young people have become conditioned or accepting that violence is normal. Do they have violent tendencies surrounding them in their homes that could be a contributing factor?
We also need to ensure those who have committed violent crimes are doing the proper time and not returning to our streets. Those who are struggling with substance abuse may eventually turn to violence to support their habit. That is why we want to see a solution to State v. Blake. We need strong penalties to keep them off the streets, but we also want to provide a way for them to get clean.
The gun laws passed this session will impact law-abiding citizens more than criminals. Criminals committing gun violence are already breaking gun laws. They have no intention of following any other gun laws put in place.
Following your state government
Even though the Legislature has adjourned, there is a lot happening in our state government. I hope you will stay engaged. Below are some websites you will find to be informative. The Capitol Buzz and Ledger are updated daily.
- The Ledger | A legislative news aggregator.
- Capitol Buzz – Daily news clips | Daily news clips.
- The Current | An online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans.
Please remember I work for you year-round. Do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating state government, want to schedule a meeting or would like me to tour a facility or speak to your association or organization.
I look forward to seeing you in the 13th District this interim. It is an honor and privilege to represent the great people of our region!
437 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7932 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000