Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's hard to believe we are already approaching the end of 2019. The Legislature will be entering the 2020 legislative session in just three months, on Jan. 13, 2020.
Because it has been a while since my last email update, I wanted to take the opportunity to recap interim activities and hear your thoughts. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions/comments/concerns you may have. You'll find my contact information at the end of this newsletter.
Appointments to task force, committees
During late spring, I was honored to be appointed to several important groups that focus on issues of interest to our district.
National nuclear group
In May, I was appointed, along with Rep. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick, to serve on the National Conference of State Legislature's (NCSL) Nuclear Legislative Working Group.
Nuclear energy and ongoing cleanup at the Hanford nuclear reservation is a vital issue to our district, Southeast Washington and the entire state. This group provides an opportunity for us to meet with other state lawmakers from across the nation to discuss nuclear energy and waste management policy, as well as meet with federal officials from the U.S. Department of Energy.
We meet twice a year and the first meeting was June 4-5 in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which is also the location of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant where radioactive waste is safely stored in a salt mine 2,150 feet underground. Rep. Boehnke and I toured the mine (see photo above), which may accept Hanford site waste as early as next year. We also toured URENCO, the only uranium enrichment facility in North America. This NCSL page provides more information about our discussions while attending the meeting. The next meeting is scheduled Nov. 18-20 in Nashville. Read more about my appointment here.
In addition to being selected to serve on a legislative remote-testimony task force (which I will discuss in more detail in a moment), I was appointed to several statutory committees: Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program Committee, Joint Higher Education Committee, Joint Task Force on Community and Technical College Counselors, and the Capitol Furnishings Preservation Committee. These bipartisan committees help inform legislation and state policy for future legislative sessions.
Opening opportunities for remote testimony
Having driven the five hours from Walla Walla to Olympia for legislative duties, I know it's not a financially feasible option for many people to make that trek for 90 seconds of committee testimony on a bill. Some of the challenges include mountain passes during winter, fuel cost, child care, overnight accommodations and food, disability challenges for some folks, and time off work.
Since 2015, individuals have been able to remotely testify and provide video input on bills during Senate committee hearings. It's been very successful and the Senate is now looking to expand that ability. Yet, the House has lagged behind with no remote testimony option. That's something I wanted to change going into the 2019 session.
I teamed up with Rep. Jared Mead, D-Mill Creek, and introduced House Resolution 4621 to explore remote-testimony options in the House. After the resolution gained strong bipartisan support and passed the House, I was appointed to a task force to secure remote-testimony locations, develop policies and procedures for the program and choose which committees will accept remote testimony during a pilot period.
Our task force met four times this summer and recommended four remote testimony sites across the state: Tri-Cities, Spokane, Ellensburg and Bellingham. The recommendations were forwarded to the House Executive Rules Committee on Oct. 1, which is expected to make a decision in time to implement the program for the 2020 session.
School share basket program would ensure no child is left hungry
I recently took a tour of the Kennewick School District's “Breakfast after the Bell” program to see this new law in action. The program was passed by the Legislature last year allowing students to eat breakfast at their desks, so they are not hungry as they begin their classes.
The federal rules for free and reduced meals require kids to select three food items, whether they want them or not. Often, kids may only eat two items and the other packaged food item gets thrown away, wasting perfectly good food.
Kennewick Schools and other school districts have come up with a way to prevent that waste and feed kids by using a share container for unwanted food items. Unwanted packaged foods that would have been tossed are put into a basket to share with other hungry students. I think that's a great idea. However, I discovered some counties do not allow for sharing. I am working with stakeholders to make sure these share programs are an option for all school districts. This would help to reduce food waste, while working to ensure kids don't go hungry at school.
Job-shadowing in schools provides firsthand look into the classrooms
Between now and January, I am visiting schools in the 16th Legislative District. My goal is to job-shadow teachers, administrators, food service professionals, para-educators and other school employees to learn more about their experiences and challenges in and out of the classroom. As a member of the House Education Committee, I feel real life experience can't be fully substituted for committee work sessions in Olympia.
I have invited all 17 school districts, from Prosser to Dayton, to participate, with 10 school districts already agreeing to my visits. I look forward to using this experience to be an effective advocate for our students, teachers, and families in Olympia.
I work for you throughout the year!
It's been an amazing first year as your state representative. I've toured one of our Snake River dams, multiple farms to see their operations, an irrigation district, Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project, the Hanford Site, school districts, port districts, nonprofit community service organizations and met with many local leaders and everyday folks about issues important to our region.
I work for you throughout the year, not just when the Legislature is in session. Please feel free to contact my office if you have a concern or idea for improving state government. My legislative assistant, Conor Agnew, will be happy to schedule a meeting at a location convenient to you. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve!