Dear Friends and Neighbors,
A lot has happened since my last email update earlier this month. The biggest news, aside from the Legislature adjourning on time for the first time since 2014, was the announcement from House Republican Leader Rep. Dan Kristiansen that he would not be seeking reelection this fall. The news came as a shock to many of us.
Dan, quite simply, represents the best of the Legislature. For the past 15 years, he has served with honor and integrity, garnering an enormous amount of respect from legislators on both sides of the aisle. He has always put people before politics, and has never cared about being in the spotlight. Instead, he's cared about elevating the people around him and helping them succeed.
As the leader of our caucus, Dan motivated and inspired each of us, and brought us closer together. I'm grateful for his leadership and friendship over the years, and wish him and his family well.
Shortly after Dan's announcement, our caucus held an election to determine new leadership positions. I had the tremendous honor of being elected leader.
I could not be more excited about the opportunity to lead this caucus and build on our successes. Over the past couple of weeks, I've sat down with a number of media outlets to convey what my priorities are as leader, and what our priorities are as a caucus. Two of those interviews are below.
I truly believe our caucus has the biggest tent when it comes to ideology and points of view at the Capitol. Among our 48 members are small business owners, retired teachers, lawyers, farmers, ranchers, servicemen, police officers, firefighters, former local officials, business consultants, foster parents, and more.
Each member is intently focused on enacting policies that will benefit everyone in the state. We want young people to have access to an excellent education. We want to raise graduation rates and lower college costs. We want an economy that works for all families in every part of the state. We want to ensure our transportation system is safe, affordable and effective. We want to improve our mental health system and solve the opioid crisis.
With a 50-48 House and a 25-24 Senate, there should be no reason why we can't work together as a Legislature on these issues and many others. As leader, it is my job to ensure we always have a seat at the table and that our voices are heard on the issues that matter to all Washingtonians.
2018 supplemental budget passes without tax increases
Following the passage of a Hirst solution and the 2017-19 capital budget earlier this year, our top agenda item became passing the 2018 supplemental operating budget.
Supplemental budgets are meant to make small adjustments to the previous two-year spending plan. However, the budget we passed this year spends an additional $1.2 billion in the 2017-19 biennium, and another $600 million in the 2019-21 biennium. That represents a nearly 16 percent increase in spending since the 2015-17 operating budget was enacted.
Our lack of fiscal responsibility continues to be a source of frustration. Instead of spending nearly every cent of the extra revenue we're projected to bring in over the next four years, I believe we would have been better off putting much that money in the state's rainy day fund. Not doing so could very well have negative repercussions down the line when our economy isn't as strong.
One positive about the budget is it does not include a carbon tax or a capital gains income tax. While these proposals will surely come up again next year, the majority party simply didn't have the votes to implement them this year.
Suicide prevention bill signed into law
Earlier this month, the bill I sponsored to help lower the suicide rate among workers in the agricultural industry was signed into law by the governor.
Without the excellent reporting of The Guardian's Debbie Weingarten, I and so many others would have remained in the dark about this public health crisis. I had no idea so many of my fellow colleagues in the agricultural industry were struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. I drafted House Bill 2671 so they would know they're not alone and don't have to fight this battle by themselves.
Under my bill, the State Office of Rural Health will be required to convene a task force on behavioral health and suicide prevention in the industry. The 16-member task force, comprised of mental health experts, staff from key state agencies, and representatives from a number of commissions, associations and other entities, will then issue a report by Dec. 1 on the following:
- Data related to the behavioral health status of people in the agricultural industry;
- Factors affecting the behavioral health and suicide rates of people in the agricultural industry;
- Components for inclusion in a behavioral health and suicide prevention pilot program; and
- Opportunities to improve the behavioral health status of agricultural workers and their families, and reduce the risk of suicide.
Based on the recommendations of the task force, the state Department of Health will then establish a pilot program that will provide free counseling and suicide prevention resources, which will be available online or by phone in both English and Spanish.
Although the 2018 session has adjourned, please know I am here to serve you year-round. Feel free to contact me any time, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.
It is an honor to serve you.