Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are already more than one-third of the way through the 60-day legislative session. The first few weeks of session have seen the majority party trying to fix problems with flawed public policies they have passed in recent sessions – including the long-term care insurance tax and program, and police reforms. There have also been some public hearings related to emergency powers reform. Read my email update for the latest on these policy issues and more.
Long-term care insurance tax and program
Last week, the governor signed House Bill 1732 into law which delays the insurance tax and program for 18 months. It is now scheduled to begin July 2023 with benefits delayed until July 2026. He also signed House Bill 1733 which will create four new voluntary exemptions from the program.
The bills were fast-tracked through the Legislature, with the governor declaring them “fixed” at his press conference. They are far from fixed, as they disregard the insolvency of the program. You can read what our State Actuary had to say about that here.
Republicans have said it was unfair and flawed public policy. Nearly 63% of voters agreed, so we offered our own solutions. We attempted to bring two other options to the House floor for a vote, but were turned down by the majority party. House Bill 1594 would have been a full repeal, while House Bill 1913 was a repeal and replace measure with a voluntary component to it.
Emergency powers reform
Washington has been in a “state of emergency” (SOE) for more than 700 days. House Republicans have pushed for emergency powers reform since the pandemic began in 2020. This web page highlights what we have done and continue to do.
It remains to be seen if the majority party will work with us to pass something this session. There have been public hearings on two bills in the last few days.
On Friday, there was a public hearing on Senate Bill 5909, which would allow the Speaker of the House, the House minority leader, and the majority and minority leaders of the Senate to end a SOE if the Legislature is not in session and it has been more than 90 days since the governor's declaration. It would also allow legislative leaders to end the governor's prohibitive orders if the Legislature is not in session. It doesn't go as far as I would like, but it is a start.
In the House on Monday, more than 5,400 people signed in for the public hearing on House Bill 1772. Most of those signing in were in favor of the bill. The House bill, which has bipartisan support, would limit the governor's SOE powers to 60 days, unless extended by the Legislature. It would also limit the governor's executive orders prohibiting certain actions during a state of emergency to 30 days, unless extended by the Legislature.
We need to restore the checks and balances in our state government. Our state government was not meant to let one man remain in power this long – Republican or Democrat.
A representative from the Maine Policy Institute testified at the Senate hearing that Washington ranks as one of the worst states in the country when it comes to emergency executive powers.
Vermont, Washington, Ohio and Hawaii are among the worst-ranking states because they bestow on their governors the sole authority to determine when and where an emergency exists, and when an emergency ceases to exist. Click here for more information.
Strengthening communities by prioritizing public safety
The police reform bills passed last session by the majority party make our communities less safe. These reforms are driving good law enforcement officers out of the profession at a time when we need them most. In fact, 2020 marked the 11th consecutive year that Washington ranked 51st out of the 50 states and District of Columbia in terms of the number of police officers per thousand people.
Republicans have introduced a comprehensive package of legislation we believe addresses many of the concerns we have heard from law enforcement and our communities during the interim. The Safe Washington Plan is focused on preventing crime, supporting law enforcement, putting victims first, and addressing the State v. Blake decision.
Some of the legislation that is part of our Safe Washington Plan includes.
- House Bill 1737, along with its companion Senate Bill 5569, would roll back the harmful provisions in last year's legislation and provide balance to policing. Neither bill had a public hearing.
- House Bill 1788, would allow law enforcement to engage in vehicle pursuits when there is reasonable suspicion someone has committed, or is committing, a criminal offense. The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 9-4.
- House Bill 1656 would amend the definition of theft and help struggling retailers. The measure received a public hearing but did not make it out of committee before the policy committee cutoff deadline.
- House Bill 1787 would provide funding for the recruitment, retention, and support of law enforcement. It did not have a public hearing.
- House Bill 1873 would address the growing problem of catalytic converter theft. It, too, did not have a public hearing.
There are some bad police officers out there, and they need to be held accountable for their actions. However, a vast majority of our law enforcement are good public servants and deserve our support. They put their life on the line, while keeping our streets, neighborhoods, and families safe.
Election reform legislation
The first major deadline of the session was Thursday, Feb. 3 (yesterday). It is the policy committee cutoff. Policy bills that have not made it out of their respective committees by that date may be “dead” for the year.
Disappointingly, the majority party has not shown any interest in holding public hearings on my election integrity bills. It can be difficult to get new bills through the Legislature during a short session. However, at the very least, a public hearing would allow us to consider options to ensure our election system is secure and fair.
The election integrity bills I prime sponsored this session include:
- House Bill 1796 would require verification of citizenship for voter registration.
- House Bill 1797 relates to the timely processing of updated voter registration information.
- House Bill 1828 would require quick response codes on ballots.
- House Bill 1998 would permit only the return and count of ballots that contain an official watermark.
Making sure voters have confidence in the election system is not a partisan issue.
Why not property tax relief?
Despite the pandemic, Washington is looking at a four-year budget surplus of about $8.8 billion, with another $2.2 billion in various reserves, and $1.2 billion in unspent emergency stimulus funds – this despite record spending, and our state operating budget almost doubling in the last decade.
With the increase in taxpayer revenues, this is the perfect opportunity to give back to the taxpayers in the form of meaningful property tax relief. My House Bill 1371 would use a phased approach to eliminate the state property taxes over a four-to-five-year time period.
Our state property taxes are too high. It is contributing to our state's homelessness situation, as well as our affordable housing crisis, we are seeing in all parts of Washington state. I continually hear from seniors and those on a fixed income looking for some property tax relief.
Unfortunately, the majority has not shown much interest in tax relief, particularly property taxes. I introduced very similar legislation in 2019 and 2020, and not one of my bills has been scheduled for a public hearing. My legislation is a simple, common-sense solution with a major impact on homeowners across the state.
To check out some of our other tax relief proposals, click here.
Follow the Legislature
I have received thousands of emails, messages and phone calls from you on a variety of issues during the interim. I urge you to stay engaged. We will be debating and voting on important issues affecting our communities and state. Please continue to contact me with any questions, concerns or comments you have. I appreciate your input and feedback.
Here are some websites and links that will help you stay engaged this legislative session.
- The Ledger – a legislative news aggregator
- Capitol Buzz – Daily news clips
- How you can be involved in the legislative process
- How to comment on a bill
- Committee Sign-In – Remote Testimony
It is an honor to represent the 39th District!
Robert J. Sutherland
WA State Representative, District 39