The good and bad of the 2020 legislative session
As the saying goes, the Legislature has adjourned, and not a moment too soon. When the final gavels came down to end our session March 12, it was a relief for those of us who come from the vast region beyond the King County line.
This year, like last, we saw what happens when a liberal urban faction controls the House, the Senate and the governor's office, and exhibits little interest in listening to the rest of the state. We wound up with an irresponsible budget that boosts spending by nearly $1 billion over last year, gives no thought to tax relief, and creates new obligations that set us up for serious problems next time the economy goes into a downturn. Other legislation this year was equally troubling. Our colleagues weren't shy about passing new state mandates reflecting urban attitudes on sex education, immigration enforcement, gun rights, and other hot-button topics.
Yet we can count several victories for the people of Southeast Washington.
Low-carbon fuel standards are blocked. This proposal, favored by the governor and environmental activists, aims to force quicker adoption of electric cars by dramatically increasing the price of gasoline and diesel fuel. Official estimates indicate the price of gas would rise as much as 57 cents a gallon, and there is reason to believe the actual cost would be higher. Very little of this program has to do with cleaner fuels – most of it is a retread of the carbon-tax initiatives voters have already rejected twice. Impact on climate would be negligible. Republicans teamed with moderate Democrats to keep this damaging measure from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. Also defeated was a proposal from the governor that would have allowed the Department of Ecology broad regulatory powers without a vote of the Legislature.
Income-tax battle deferred. We didn't see a serious effort to push an income tax this year. But next year we can expect pressure for an income tax on capital gains, a “starter” tax aimed at the wealthy that would almost certainly be expanded to the entire populace in the next recession.
Projects for our area. This year's capital budget contains funding for several important projects in the 16th District. They include $200,000 for Walla Walla's Community Hub Public Safety Initiative, $350,000 for downtown Pasco revitalization, $50,000 for levee repair in Starbuck and $100,000 for levee repair in Waitsburg.
Due to the passage of I-976, the governor placed a hold on important projects, including Phase 7 of Highway 12. We worked hard, in collaboration with local governments, to ensure this project was protected in the transportation budget. An emergency clause in the budget makes certain these funds are available for immediate use.
We also managed to pass several pieces of legislation. Rep. Rude sent three measures to the governor's desk. HB 2259 expands background-check requirements for staff who have unsupervised access to students in public schools, HB 2419 launches a study of the Death With Dignity Act to determine what barriers exist for access to the voter-approved law, and HB 2762 ensures communications are protected for peer to peer counseling programs for Department of Corrections staff. Sen. Walsh passed SB 6495, expanding eligibility for state housing programs for the homeless. Rep. Jenkin, meanwhile, served in House leadership as deputy minority whip, giving him a key role in every debate on the House floor.
One of the biggest wins for our area didn't take the form of legislation. The use of remote testimony at public hearings continues to expand, creating new opportunities for Eastern Washington to participate in the legislative process.
Next year our delegation will look very different. This was the final session for Sen. Walsh, who will not be seeking re-election this fall. As we look to 2021 and the years beyond, we will continue to seek solutions that benefit the entire state and recognize the needs of Eastern Washington. In the meantime, if you have a concern about state government, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to serve you.
As we return to district, please know we are available to meet with you, answer your questions, and hear your ideas. You can find our contact information on our websites:
It is an honor to represent you and the citizens of the 16th District. Thank you for allowing us to serve you!
Editor's note: Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, and Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, serve the 16th Legislative District.
This op-ed was published in the Prosser Record-Bulletin and Dayton Chronicle.