Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Another legislative year has passed and it truly was an honor serving all of you here in the 39th Legislative District! But, I'll be honest, it was a rough year. Democrats were able to pass bill after bill, raising your taxes repeatedly, despite a record tax surplus last year.
Since the final gavel closed the 2019 session back in April, I've been back in District, hard at work for you. I've spent the spring and summer traveling around meeting with stakeholders, attending a multitude of meetings and events, taking tours, and listening and learning about the issues that matter most to you.
In this email update, I will highlight some of the work I've been doing during the last several months and give you a glimpse into my priorities as we start to gear up for the 2020 session.
Traveling the 39th District
Interim, also known as the period between legislative sessions, has given me the opportunity to spend time out and about in our beautiful region of Washington state, from Monroe in the south to Sedro Woolley in the north. This helps me get a good handle on how the decisions that are made in Olympia are impacting you, your family, and your business – for better or for worse.
One of the issues we heard throughout the 2019 session, and will continue during the 2020 session, involves the need to improve our fish culverts throughout the state. These culverts improve the safe passage of our salmon beneath our roadways and bridges. I had the opportunity to join Gov. Inslee on a tour of the Edgecomb Creek culverts on 172nd Ave in Arlington. We all want our salmon to do well and updating the culverts is a start. However, I'm disappointed that so much of the funds needed to improve these culverts had to be taken from our transportation project money, which was intended to help maintain our roads and relieve traffic congestion. I shared these frustrations with the governor. With a surplus of tax revenue, this was unnecessary.
As a member on the House Public Safety Committee, I had the opportunity to tour the Monroe Correctional Facility where there have been several untimely inmate deaths associated with a lack of proper medical treatment. While the investigations continue, I'll continue to work with prison officials to ensure proper treatment of these inmates while they serve their time.
Also, during my visit, I learned a lot about the programs that are offered to the inmates who qualify, and the positive influence these programs are having on their disposition and outlook on life. Of the current inmate population at Monroe, 96 percent have release dates. It's in our best interest to try and help these individuals improve over who they were when they were first incarcerated. We want them to be better, so they no longer continue down the destructive path of criminal behavior once they are released back into society.
Two of these programs include the gardening and service dog training programs. The healthy food grown by inmates supply food to our local food banks. The dogs trained at the prison are sent to help those in our community who are deaf or blind, and who need help navigating. Both of these programs are what I refer to as a “win-win” situation. Inmates who qualify have the opportunity to improve themselves during incarceration, while also helping to improve the lives of those in our society who need it most.
I look forward to the continued work to enhance these types of programs statewide.
Other interim legislative and committee work
There has been some other big news around the Legislature in the past month or so. House Democrats elected Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma to serve as the next House speaker. She is the Speaker-designate until session begins in January, when her confirmation becomes official. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her. We had a proactive discussion about the best ways we can work together in 2020. We also engaged in discussion around the two bills I will be reintroducing in January:
- Second amendment rights, and ensuring they're not infringed upon, will always be one of my top priorities. In 2019, I introduced my first bipartisan bill that would establish an exemption from background check requirements for firearm sales or transfers between concealed pistol license (CPL) holders. My bill would amend current statute to allow Washington state residents who hold a CPL to sell or trade firearms amongst each other without an additional background check.
- One of the main issues I hear about from you is: when is something going to be done to reduce our property taxes. In 2019, I introduced a bill to cap state property taxes. This is a simple, common-sense solution with a major impact on homeowners. It would slow the rate of property tax increases by placing a cap on the tax rate when a home's value is assessed. State property taxes would never go up as long as you live in the home.
During the interim, we're selected to serve on several statutory committees. These bipartisan committees help to create legislation and state policy for future legislative sessions. I serve on the following:
- Joint Legislative Executive Committee on Planning for Aging and Disability. This committee recommends and continues to identify key strategic actions to prepare for the aging population in Washington, including state budget and policy options.
- Joint Legislative Task Force on Community and Technical College Counselors. This committee examines issues related to staffing ratios and standards of counselors in the community and technical college system.
- Pacific Northwest Economic Region Delegate Council. This council facilitates the involvement of other government officials in the development and implementation of specific collaborative initiatives; works with policy-making committees in the development and implementation of specific initiatives; and approves general organizational polices.
A glimpse into the 2020 session
This past September lawmakers from across the state convened at the Capitol in Olympia for Committee Assembly Days. This is the starting point to reconvene in our standing committees and begin the framework for the issues we'll be hearing during the 2020 session.
I serve on the following committees and here's a few issues that will likely come up:
- House Appropriations Committee. We will be working on the state supplemental operating budget.
- House College and Workforce Development Committee. We will be working on issues surrounding college tuition rates and looking into potential student loan forgiveness programs in qualified fields where the demand for more workers is high.
- House Public Safety Committee. We will be working on issues surrounding current DUI laws; sentencing guidelines; and narcotic enforcement coupled with addiction problems.
Stay in touch!
I am your state representative year-round. Please reach out to my office to set up an appointment, to arrange a speaking opportunity, or to ask any questions you may have. My Legislative Assistant, Jaime, is happy to assist you.
It's an honor to serve you.
Robert J. Sutherland