Dear Friends and Neighbors,
While I was hoping we would be able to finish our work on time this year, budget negotiators were unable to reach an agreement on the 2017-19 operating budget before the end of the 105-day regular session. As a result, we were called into a 30-day special session by the governor on April 24.
Two years ago, we required three special sessions and 176 total days — the longest session in state history — to come to an agreement on the budget. While I certainly hope we don't see a repeat of that this year, I believe it's important for us to take our time to develop a fiscally responsible budget that provides equitable funding for our schools and doesn't raise taxes. Anything short of that will be a disappointment.
Governor partially vetoes House Bill 1017
When I introduced House Bill 1017 earlier this year, I expected some bumps along the way in the push to get it through both chambers and signed into law. While 27 legislators on both sides of the aisle signed on as co-sponsors, there was also some fierce opposition to the idea of allowing schools to be built outside of the designated urban growth areas established by the state's Growth Management Act (GMA).
To most of us, it doesn't seem unreasonable for the state to allow school districts to work with local authorities to build schools in rural communities. Especially when many of these school districts have struggled to find land within urban growth areas suitable for new school construction. However, environmental groups in Washington state are extremely powerful, and wield their influence with ease. As a result, many policies that would help students and families in rural communities are either voted down or watered down.
Although House Bill 1017 received strong, bipartisan support in both chambers — 31-17 in the Senate and 81-15 in the House — Gov. Inslee used his veto power to eliminate the section of the bill that would've implemented a statewide solution. Instead, the bill will now only affect school districts in Pierce County.
Word is the governor is drafting his own school siting bill, but the bottom line is we had a comprehensive bill ready for his signature. A solution several years in the making that legislators worked hard for and school districts wanted was dismissed with a stroke of his pen. I'll keep an open mind when reviewing the governor's new proposal, but I was incredibly disappointed by his decision.
An update on Sen. Warnick's 'Hirst fix' bill
Last year, the state Supreme Court issued a decision on land use and water rights that has had major repercussions for rural landowners around the state. In the Hirst decision, the court ruled Whatcom County's comprehensive plan for growth in unincorporated areas failed to provide for the protection of water resources in compliance with the GMA. Their decision put the status of exempt private wells into question in every county in the state, jeopardizing development in many rural communities. It's been estimated the economic losses to rural landowners could easily run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Fortunately, 13th District Sen. Judy Warnick has put forward a piece of legislation to address this problem. Senate Bill 5239 would put the responsibility back on the Department of Ecology, not property owners, to determine water availability.
While the bill was approved 28-21 in the Senate during the regular session, it “died” in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. However, it was revived when the 30-day special session began, due to the fact all bills return to their chamber of origin. Last week, the bill passed the Senate 28-18, and was again referred to same committee where it previously died. I'm hoping for a different outcome this time. Rep. Shea, who sponsored a similar water bill, and I will be working diligently to garner support in the House. I hope to have something positive to report in my next email update.
Please continue to contact me with your comments, questions and concerns. I value and appreciate your feedback.
It is an honor to serve you in the state House.