Serving Franklin County, WA

Keep an eye on Legislature

My first session was way back in 1993, and as a freshman state representative, I was very humbled and excited about being elected to serve the people of the 9th District in the House. Now, almost 30 years later, I’m still humbled and excited to serve you and other 9th District residents, even if I’m now considered to be a Senate veteran.

This year’s legislative session started Monday and is scheduled (by our state constitution) to last 60 days, finishing on March 10. This will be what we call a “short session” instead of the longer 105-day sessions that the Legislature holds during odd-numbered years. Over approximately nine weeks, the Legislature will work to pass supplemental operating, capital and transportation budgets, which are basically tweaks or additions to the existing two-year budgets passed by lawmakers last year.

As usual, hundreds of bills will be introduced in the Senate and House during this session. Most won’t make it through the gauntlet of committee and floor session deadlines in both chambers, but dozens will survive and become law.

As always, I will support bills that I think are good for our district while opposing those that I consider to be bad for our district.

A matter of weeks ago, it looked like public access to the 2022 legislative session would be somewhat less restricted than the total lockout endured in 2021. Last week, that plan went out the window when majority Democrats on the Senate’s Facilities and Operations Committee voted 4-3 to again prohibit the public from watching Senate floor action from the gallery.

Again, Senate committee meetings will be held remotely instead of in person, which will – again – keep citizens from fully participating in their state government.

As we noticed last year, it’s much harder for people to testify remotely from a computer than in person. Some committee chairmen tried hard to accommodate those wishing to testify on bills, but other chairs seemed to not care, or worse, seemed to go out of their way to make it more difficult for folks to testify.

Finally, after initially being told that senators could have a few citizens in their offices for meetings, we learned this week that no in-person meetings are being allowed this session.

Like many of my Republican colleagues, I’m really disappointed that citizens will once again be prevented from having full access to their Legislature. To me, this flies in the face of “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

We’ve got precautions in the Senate for this session, that are probably stronger and more restrictive than a Seattle Kraken hockey game or a Gonzaga basketball game. Something is really wrong when it’s fairly easy for someone, in this COVID era, to sit inside an arena with thousands of others to watch hockey or basketball but they can’t meet with legislators in person or testify in person before a legislative committee.

This session, I will be on the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Committee. It’s a new assignment for me, and I look forward to serving on this panel and working on issues like rural broadband, protecting the lower Snake River dams from breaching and keeping energy costs low for consumers and agriculture.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue serving on two other Senate committees: Ways and Means, and Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs. This will be the 18th straight session that I’ve been on the Ways and Means Committee, which handles budget and tax issues, since I joined the Senate in 2005.

As always, I believe I have a responsibility to keep close watch over bills or budget proposals that are bad for taxpayers. When such proposals pop up in this committee, I speak up and express my opposition and concerns.

I also will continue to be the Ways and Means Committee’s ranking Republican on the capital budget, which helps fund construction projects for state government buildings, state parks and colleges and universities. This role, which I began last year, allows me to work in producing a list of worthwhile projects to include in the state capital budget, including those that impact local school districts and higher education institutions like WSU.

This is the third straight session for me on the Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee.

As its name implies, this panel deals with business, labor and tribal issues in Washington. I plan to continue advocating for regulatory reform and other issues that will benefit Washington’s job creators and working families.

We need to focus on shrinking and simplifying our state’s vast and complex regulatory system. Washington’s regulatory code has over 196,000 separate regulations, which is more than all but five states. That should tell you there is serious need for reform – and this committee is the place to start tackling it.

You might recall that I’m concerned that 4-H has seen a drop in the number of kids enrolled in its programs, and that many of its personnel have had to stop volunteering or working as outreach personnel due to COVID-19 mandates.

Last week, I pre-filed a proposal to address these problems.

Senate Bill 5643 would help provide funding to reduce or eliminate the 4-H enrollment fee. Under this bill, any health and safety requirements implemented by a county commission would preempt any other health and safety requirements for county employees and volunteers, including 4-H volunteers.

I expect this bill will be referred to a Senate committee and I hope it will be scheduled for a public hearing.

The state could subsidize 4-H membership fees, usually at least $25, to attract more kids and retain those who already belong to 4-H. There are more than 11,000 kids belonging to 4-H clubs in our state. If the Legislature provided $225,000 in funding to subsidize the enrollment fee, this could help lower the fee to only $5.

When you think about how large the state operating budget is and how many items are funded in it, providing $225,000 to help 4-H seems pretty reasonable. Considering that the state provides money to entire schools, including staff, get free breakfast or lunch, it seems fair to me to provide a little state funding for 4-H.

During a legislative session, hundreds of bills are introduced. A decent percentage of them are good, sensible measures. But then there are several proposals that just make me shake my head in disbelief. And there are some bills that are unnecessary.

For my “worst bills list” this week, I offer House Bill 1692, which received some news coverage in the past week. It would lessen penalties for drive-by murderers. My “unneeded bills list” is topped by Senate Bill 5615, which would designate pickleball as the official state sport. Senate Bill 5615 is scheduled to receive a public hearing next Wednesday in the Senate State Government and Elections Committee and then be passed by the committee next Friday.

Now, I’m aware that pickleball is growing in popularity. But when you consider that we have fans of bowling, horseshoes, trap shooting or several other sports that could qualify for “official state sport” status, it doesn’t make sense for us to create an official state sport.

And frankly, this is one designation we don’t need to create in the first place. So, let’s drop this idea.

I’d like for you to help me find other bills that could go on either of these dubious lists. If you see a bill that is unneeded or is a just terrible idea, please contact my office and let me know.


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