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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2023 legislative session ended on Sunday, April 23. Just before we adjourned, I announced I was stepping down as House Republican Leader. I sent an email to my legislative colleagues with the subject line “It is time,” and announced my decision on TVW's The Impact. You can read that email and watch that video here.
It has been an honor to serve as House Republican Leader. I appreciate the trust my caucus had in me. Together, I feel like we accomplished a lot—including this year. And I know our caucus will accomplish even more under the new leadership of Rep. Drew Stokesbary of the 31st District.
I look forward to continuing to serve as a state representative for the 2nd District, working with you on the issues most important to our communities.
Partisanship and bipartisanship
After my last email update, I received a comment from a thoughtful constituent who said he “would appreciate a less-partisan recap of the issues.” I appreciate that feedback. That same week, a member of The Olympian editorial board requested to meet with me to discuss a number of bipartisan accomplishments she had heard about. You can read the editorial here:
- Editorial: As legislative session come to a close, bipartisanship is one of this year's winners | The Olympian
Being Leader is a very partisan job by nature. Stepping down has put me back in a less partisan place, which is something I am happy about.
Don't get me wrong. If there is a bad bill or policy, I am going to call it out and explain candidly why I oppose it. You will find some of these bad bills below. But if there's an opportunity for bipartisan collaboration, I am going to pursue it.
In the minority party, it is our responsibility to put forward real solutions that offer options and contrast with the majority party. I am proud of our caucus record and what we've accomplished, particularly in the areas of agriculture, salmon recovery, housing, and the transportation and capital budgets.
After the legislative session, I spent some time with Shauna Sowersby of McClatchy to reflect on my time as House Republican Leader. I appreciate the story that she wrote:
- Former House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox reflects on his time in leadership as he steps down | The Olympian
Bad bills that passed
In my last email update, I provided updates on bills that I opposed and voted against—including measures that erode parental rights (Senate Bill 5599) and abolish advisory votes (Senate Bill 5082). However, I opposed several other measures this legislative session, including:
- House Bill 1143, which will establish significant new requirements to legally purchase or transfer a firearm, including a new permit requirement with fingerprinting, in addition to a background check. You can watch House Republican floor debate highlights, including my speech, here.
- House Bill 1169, which will eliminate criminals having to pay a penalty to fund services for victims of crimes and shift these costs to taxpayers.
- House Bill 1181, which will add a climate change element to the Growth Management Act and require policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled.
- House Bill 1240, which will prohibit the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, or offer for sale of any so-called assault weapon, subject to various exceptions for licensed firearm manufacturers and dealers, and for individuals who inherit an assault weapon. You can watch House Republican floor debate highlights here.
The news is not all bad though. House Republicans were able to help stop many bad bills from moving forward this year. However, these measures will be back next year, so the work continues. You can learn more here:
State budgets and taxes
The majority party unveiled their 2023-25 operating budget on day 104 of the 105-day legislative session. Most state lawmakers, stakeholders and the public had one day to review the 1,405-page bill. Everyone agrees this process lacks transparency and fairness for those who have an interest in this important state spending plan, yet Democrats basically do it every year.
I voted against the legislation because it continues a trend of massive state spending increases—spending has more than doubled in the last decade—and contains no meaningful tax relief for Washingtonians. The plan also leaves a small ending fund balance. It is just not what House Republicans would do if we were writing the budget. Unfortunately, House Democrats excluded House Republicans from the negotiations.
This is too bad because House Republicans played important roles in the development of the 2023-25 transportation and capital budgets, which received strong bipartisan support. I voted for both of these state budgets.
- Transportation budget | House Bill 1125 | Transportation projects map by legislative district
- Capital budget | Senate Bill 5200 | Project list report by legislative district
In closing, there is some good news. The majority party dropped its proposals to raise property taxes (Senate Bill 5770) and increase real estate excise taxes (House Bill 1628). However, supporters of these ideas will undoubtedly push for them again next year.
Unfinished business: The Blake fix
The biggest story to close the 2023 legislative session was the failure to address our state's drug crisis and expiring drug possession laws. If state lawmakers don't act by July 1, hard drugs like fentanyl, meth and heroin will become legal and it will be up to cities and counties to pass their own measures.
A potential solution, Senate Bill 5366, passed the Senate on March 3 with bipartisan support. However, House Democrats made significant changes to the measure and waited until April 11 to pass their amended version. In an attempt to work out differences, a conference committee was formed. That committee produced a partisan report that came to the House floor for a vote on the last day. It failed on a 43-55 vote, with 15 House Democrats joining all House Republicans in opposition.
On TVW that morning, I warned that the bill may not have enough votes to pass. And I reached out to Speaker Laurie Jinkins before that to let her know there was House Republican support for the initial, bipartisan version that passed out of the Senate in March. I spent the days after session adjourned explaining what happened to reporters, editorial boards, state lawmakers, and anyone who asked about it.
Special session set to begin May 16
With this unfinished business, Gov. Inslee has called for a special session to begin May 16. While our House Republican negotiators and floor speeches should have made it clear where we stand on this issue, we sent the governor and Democratic legislative leaders a letter on April 30 clearly outlining why we opposed the final version of Senate Bill 5536. Reps. Gina Mosbrucker and Peter Abbarno also explained our policy positions in this opinion piece:
This line is important: “The Legislature must create a meaningful state policy that helps people break the cycle of drug addiction. But it must be done right. The wrong state policy would be worse than no state policy.”
Here are a few stories on the issue:
- WA lawmakers to return to Olympia for special session to address drug possession law | The News Tribune
- Inside the stunning fall of WA's drug-possession legislation — and what comes next | The Seattle Times
In my next email update, I hope to have good information to share. In the meantime, please don't hesitate to contact my office if you have ideas to pass along or need assistance with state government.
It is an honor to serve you.
122A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7912 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000