Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Things are moving very quickly both inside and outside the Legislature as we head into the final 30 days of session. Before I get to policy matters, however, I first want to thank those of you who joined me and Rep. Barkis for our virtual town hall meeting on Monday. We had great participation and fielded a lot of really good questions. If you didn't get the chance to join us, please know you can always contact me at JT.Wilcox@leg.wa.gov or (360) 786-7912.
House and Senate Republicans continue to get results this session
On March 4, House and Senate Republicans announced a plan to immediately move all counties to Phase 3. Our Open Safe, Open Now plan proposed a number of common-sense solutions to safely get Washingtonians back to work, school and a more normal life. At the time our plan was announced, the governor had not even identified what he believed Phase 3 should look like for families, businesses or local governments.
Open Safe, Open Now generated a lot of buzz in the media, which led the governor to release a statement criticizing it as “not a serious proposal.” However, just a week later, he finally announced his own plan to move the state to Phase 3, which included many of the things we proposed.
Without House and Senate Republicans leading on this issue, I don't believe our state would be in Phase 3 right now. I feel the same way regarding the governor's announcement yesterday that he would allow all Washington schools to adopt the CDC's three-foot distancing guideline. Last week, Sen. John Braun and I called on him to do just that. In a joint statement, we wrote: “For many months, Republicans have trusted that schools can resume in-person instruction safely. Now that the governor has also reached that conclusion, through his emergency proclamation, let's not allow the difference between six feet and three feet to keep students from finally walking back into classrooms.”
I'm glad the governor chose to embrace our recommendation. Making this new guideline immediately available to all schools will make a big difference in the lives of the children who can now return to in-person instruction.
Latest revenue forecast ends any case for new taxes this session
Last week, lawmakers received good news when the ERFC released its latest state revenue forecast. While families and businesses have suffered greatly due to the pandemic, state tax collections have continued to grow. Tax revenue for the 2021-23 biennium is now projected to be $56.6 billion, an increase of 8.2% over the current biennium. Furthermore, our state is projected to have a $3 billion budget surplus by the middle of this year.
These latest revenue numbers ended any case that could have been made for new taxes this session, especially an income tax on capital gains. Even before this positive forecast came out, House Republicans proved we could fund all of our state's needs and priorities without asking for more from you and your family. Our case has now been strengthened even further. Even so, majority Democrats are still moving forward with their push for a new income tax on capital gains. It's been an item on their wish list for a long time, but as The Seattle Times pointed out last week: “The Office of Financial Management assessment that projections are “back to pre-pandemic levels” is a strong reason to pause a new tax that could hobble the long-term economy.“
Instead of imposing a massive new tax that could risk derailing our economic recovery, we should be passing policies to keep our state an attractive place to raise a family, start a business or retire. Our lack of an income tax—any form of an income tax—is one of our greatest competitive advantages. People from all over the world come here for that reason alone. Eliminating that advantage would be a terrible mistake.
House Republicans release package of bills to address state Supreme Court's Blake decision
In a 5-4 vote last month, the state Supreme Court deemed Washington's felony drug possession law unconstitutional. As a result, police departments around the state have stopped making arrests for simple drug possession. In a recent article, Crosscut laid out other potential ramifications: “Inmates held on multiple charges may need resentencing; those rearrested for parole violations may have their records cleared; fees and fines may need refunding; immigrants facing deportation for drug felonies may be allowed to stay — the list goes on.“
On Tuesday, House Republicans released a package of bills to address the Court's decision.
- House Bill 1558 would promote recovery and improve public safety by providing behavioral health system responses to individuals with substance use disorder and providing training to law enforcement personnel.
- House Bill 1559 would provide a behavioral health response to juveniles consuming controlled substances.
- House Bill 1560 would consider the mental state element of a person's intention to knowingly commit a crime (mens rea) involving offenses related to possession of substances.
- House Bill 1561 would expand offenses and penalties for manufacture, sale, distribution, and other conduct involving controlled substances and counterfeit substances.
- House Bill 1562 would allow local governments to enact laws and ordinances relating to possession of controlled substances and counterfeit substances.
These bills are designed not only to keep our communities safe, but to help those who are struggling with substance abuse. I'm proud of our members for working so hard to comprehensively address this issue.
Legislature should adopt emergency powers reform before session adjourns
One question I've received over and over this session is: “What can be done to stop the governor from ruling unilaterally now and in the future during emergencies?”
It's a very good question on a very serious issue. It is imperative that we have a balanced, constitutionally sound government that ensures the voices of Washingtonians are heard through their elected state lawmakers. House Republicans have introduced bills that would implement emergency powers reform, but the majority has not expressed a willingness to partner with us to move them forward.
Even so, we're not going to give up on this. The well-being of our state demands collaboration in order to restore the proper balance of state government, and that's what we'll keep pushing for.
Contacting me and staying involved in the legislative process
Please continue reaching out to me with your comments, questions and concerns. My email address is JT.Wilcox@leg.wa.gov, and my office number is (360) 786-7912.
I also encourage you to stay involved in the legislative process by following House Republicans on Twitter and Facebook, visiting The Ledger, and utilizing the resources listed in this document. Finally, please bookmark my legislative website, where you can find my latest press releases, video updates, interviews, and more.
It is an honor to serve you.