Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy New Year! As the 2018 legislative session gets under way, I want you to know how honored I am to have the opportunity to serve as your state representative. I also want to thank you for subscribing to my email updates. I hope they will be informative for you throughout session.
In this update, I will be discussing:
- The 2018 legislative session
- The Hirst decision
- The Foster decision
- My legislation
- Seattle's new sugar tax
- My radio appearance on KELA
- The Capitol Buzz
The 2018 legislative session
While this is a short, 60-day session, there is a great deal to get done. I look forward to bringing the priorities of the people who live in the small towns and rural areas of the 2nd District to the forefront, while supporting good legislation and working to stop bad legislation from becoming law.
Although Democrats now control both chambers by the slimmest of margins (50-48 in the House, 25-24 in the Senate), that does not mean our hands are tied as the minority. One of our top priorities this session is securing a long-term Hirst water crisis fix that will bring certainty to rural landowners and allow them to proceed with building on land they have already purchased. As House Republican Reps. Vincent Buys and Jim Walsh wrote in The Seattle Times last week:
“We continue to work toward a permanent, bipartisan solution that would allow counties to rely on the state's designated water resource manager to determine the legal availability of water for the purposes of the Growth Management Act. This solution would remove the double layer of bureaucracy imposed by the state Supreme Court and allow a family to build a home based on a well report, as has historically been the case, instead of expensive and unnecessary hydrology studies.”
Once a good Hirst water fix passes both chambers and is signed into law by the governor, we will join with the majority party in approving the construction bonds needed to pass a capital budget — something that takes 60 votes. I am confident we will get this done, but a Hirst fix must come first. We will not abandon thousands of rural families.
The Foster Decision
Locally, we are not only dealing with the Hirst decision, but with the Foster decision as well. House Republican policy analyst Dana Quam provides a summary:
“In Foster v. Dept. of Ecology, 184 Wn.2d 465 (2015), the city of Yelm filed an application with the Department of Ecology for a new municipal water permit to meet the water needs of its growing population. Because the new appropriation would impair the minimum flows of waterways connected to the Deschutes and Nisqually basins, the Department of Ecology conditioned the approval of Yelm's application on an extensive mitigation plan that would offset the impact of the new water use.”
The state Supreme Court ruled Yelm's mitigation plan was not sufficient, and is now requiring that all water taken out of the ground that reduced the amount of water in a regulated body must be replaced. This is known as a “water-for-water” requirement. There is a Foster fix in the Senate, Senate Bill 5239, that would overturn this requirement. It passed the Republican-controlled Senate four times last year, but did not receive a floor vote in the Democrat-controlled House. It is unclear what will happen this year with Democrats in full control of both chambers.
If it feels like our rural communities are under attack, it is because they are. Much like the Hirst decision, the Foster decision has put significant roadblocks in the way of rural cities and towns managing their own growth. We urgently need fixes for both misguided court decisions.
My legislation addressing a tragic issue
Over the interim, I was sent an article published in The Guardian that affected me deeply. As a lifelong farmer, I know the difficult work required on a daily basis to keep a farm running and lead a rural lifestyle. I know the ups and downs that come with good seasons and bad seasons, and the stress that brings. What I had no idea about, however, was that in the United States, the suicide rate for people who work in farming, food and forestry is the highest of any occupational group — even higher than military veterans.
That is heartbreaking to me, and I believe we can and should be doing more on this issue. I recently introduced a measure, House Bill 2671, that would require the State Office of Rural Health to convene a task force on behavioral health and suicide prevention in the agricultural industry. We are going to bring a lot of people together — the secretary of the Department of Health, the secretary of the Department of Agriculture, the secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, mental health experts, representatives from a variety of agricultural organizations, etc. — to study how we can best provide free resources and better suicide prevention in rural areas.
The bill sets a deadline of Dec. 1, 2018 for the task force to report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the appropriate legislative committees. After the task force completed its work, a pilot program would then be established in two counties to provide free behavioral health and suicide prevention resources for members of the agricultural industry workforce. I am also looking for a way to ensure these resources are available for all rural residents.
I want to thank the authors of the article, Debbie Weingarten and Audra Mulkern, for bringing attention to this incredibly important and urgent issue. I have no doubt their reporting will save lives.
Seattle's new tax on sugar-sweetened beverages
As many of you have heard, the city of Seattle is now taxing a wide variety of sugar-sweetened beverages. And we are not just talking about a tax of a few cents. Frustrated customers have been posting photos on Twitter and Facebook showing just how big of a hit their wallets are taking. As you can see in the photo below, a 35-pack of soda that usually costs $10.99 now costs $18.34 — a 67 percent increase.
Despite the blow-back Seattle has received since this new tax went into effect Jan. 1, House Democrats just reintroduced a statewide sugar tax bill. House Bill 1975 would impose an even greater tax burden than Seattle's, if you can believe it. I found it ironic last week when a co-sponsor of the bill said “we cannot legislate healthier diets” about a different nutrition bill.
While wanting a healthier populace is admirable, when government expands its scope to target foods or lifestyles, and imposes immense tax burdens to enforce a government vision, we are all at risk. Even if you agree with this tax, you cannot have confidence that the next item to be targeted will not be something you enjoy.
On air with KELA's Peter Abbarno
Last week, I had the opportunity to have a nearly 20-minute on-air conversation with KELA's Peter Abbarno about the governor's State of the State address, what to expect during the 2018 session, and a variety of other issues. I really enjoyed our conversation, and invite you to listen to it here:
Every weekday morning, House Republican communications staff compiles the Capitol Buzz, a daily summary of online news clips from across the state, discussing policies and politics affecting Washington state. I believe it is a valuable resource and encourage you to sign up for it here.
As the 2018 session gets underway, please know I always welcome your feedback on issues relating to our work here in the Legislature. You can email or call my office any time. Additionally, if you ever need assistance in navigating a state agency or shining a light on a particular issue, please do not hesitate to call my office. I have privilege of being able to work with my great friend (and the best legislative assistant on campus), Sharon Trask. She and I will make sure we promptly assist you however we can.
It is an honor to serve you. Until next time.