Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned on April 23, but with unfinished business. It took a one-day special session to complete our work. While it was only one bill, it had critical ramifications for Washington state’s drug policy law.
The Blake fix
The session adjourned without addressing one of the most important public safety issues facing the Legislature – a fix to the “State v. Blake” decision. The governor called a special session because a solution was needed before July 1, 2023.
Background: In February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in the “State v. Blake” case Washington’s felony drug possession law was unconstitutional. Under the court ruling, all criminal penalties for drug possession were removed, and convictions were vacated and dismissed.
To address the court ruling, that same year the Legislature voted to penalize drug possession charges with a misdemeanor. However, that law was set to expire July 1, 2023, thus the urgency for the Legislature to come up with a “Blake fix” this session.
At the end of session, there was agreement between three of the four caucuses – Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats, along with House Republicans – on the original Senate Bill 5536. Unfortunately, House Democrats brought up their own plan. It did not have the support of the other three caucuses, as it seemed more of the status quo would have perpetuated more problems and lacked accountability. Their plan failed by a vote of 43-55 – a rare occurrence on the House floor. So, we adjourned without a Blake fix.
However, after session, the four caucuses engaged in substantive, bipartisan conversations. An agreement was reached and we passed a new version of Senate Bill 5536 in a one day special session on Tuesday, May 16. I supported the measure. There is some accountability and compassion in the new law for those suffering from addiction. The penalties are stronger than the current criminal penalties of a misdemeanor. It also gives law enforcement some of the tools they need to help people in crisis and protect the community, while allowing our criminal justice system some flexibility.
Law enforcement pursuits: We also had to address the law enforcement pursuit issue. In 2021, the Legislature passed a law that required officers to need “probable cause” to arrest someone before initiating a pursuit rather than “reasonable suspicion.” The unrealistic bar was set so high for law enforcement, suspected criminals were soon fleeing crime scenes before law enforcement could act or question them.
At the beginning of session, there was strong, bipartisan legislation, House Bill 1363, to restore the reasonable suspicion standard. It was co-sponsored by 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. Unfortunately, the bill was never brought up before the full House of Representatives for a vote.
What ended up passing was Senate Bill 5352. The measure would 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.
While there is more work to be done, I did vote “yes.” This does move the needle a little bit to help our law enforcement officers.
There was a lot of bipartisanship in our first full in-person session since 2020, but when it came to the 2023-25 operating budget that was not the case. In the House, the majority party drafted the budget without Republicans at the negotiating table. It passed on a party-line vote in the House. As you can see by the chart below it increases spending to $69.8 billion, a $5.6 billion increase, or 9% over current spending levels. Our state budget has more than doubled in the last decade.
I voted “no” for a number of other reasons, including:
- A lack of transparency. Since House Republicans were left out of the budget negotiating process, we did not see the final 1,404-page operating budget bill until the day before we voted on it (the last day of session).
- 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 was a missed opportunity.
- It also leaves a small ending fund balance and reserves are less than the state treasurer’s recommended target of 10%.
The capital budget was a bipartisan effort with both sides of the aisle, and both chambers working together. It passed the Legislature unanimously.
It includes strong investments in K-12 school construction, mental and behavioral health facilities and affordable housing. We worked to address needs and funded projects that could benefit local economies.
Some of the 15th District projects include:
- $5,050,000 million for the Pasco process water re-use facility;
- $3.1 million for the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District;
- $1 million for Sentinel Gap Community Park in Mattawa;
- $850,000 for the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management area water supply;
- $840,000 for the Pasco Clubhouse safety modernization;
- $525,000 for the Yakima County Stadium;
- $500,000 for the Kiwanis Spray Park, lighting and walking trails;
- $412,000 for Othello’s Regional Water Plan;
- $361,000 for the Port of Mattawa Event Center Phase 3 upgrade project;
- $350,000 for the Kiwanis Park Futsal Court and restroom;
- $300,000 for the Zillah Park renovation;
- $155,000 for the downtown Pasco North Plaza;
- $25,000 for the Yakima Trolley Museum;
- millions of dollars for the infrastructure and repair work for the community and technical colleges; and
- millions of dollars for the Military Department and Yakima Training Center in our region.
The 2023-25 transportation budget is a $13.5 billion biennial spending plan 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 governor has signed three bills related to firearms into law. I did not support any of them. I believe there are constitutional issues at play. A lawsuit has already been filed against one of the new laws.
- 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.
Following your state government
Even though the Legislature has adjourned, you can follow what is happening in your state government all year. Below are some websites that will keep you informed.
- 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 do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating state government. I represent you year round.
It is an honor to serve the great people of the 15th District.