There are about two weeks left of the 2017 legislative session. With such a short time before we're schedule to adjourn, lawmakers are busy in both chambers getting legislation over the finish line.
One large item remains: a new, two-year state operating budget that prioritizes education funding and essential services. Majorities in the House and Senate have passed budget proposals and negotiations are underway on a final compromise.
Tale of the two budgets
House Democrats passed their 2017-19 budget proposal on a 50-48 party-line vote March 31 While I support many of the state programs and services they have included in their plan, I have a number of concerns that prevented me from voting for the bill — chief among those being the $8 billion in tax increases their plan calls for. You can see a list of their proposed tax increases here.
They call their budget a “families first” proposal, yet the tax increases they've proposed would hurt families most. Their 20 percent B&O tax increase would harm and, in some cases, jeopardize day care services, hospitals and grocery distribution, not to mention stifle entrepreneurship in Washington. Here's a comprehensive list of the types of businesses and services it would impact. And their proposed capital gains tax — which is really just the first step to an income tax — would further hinder economic growth. Washington voters have rejected an income tax nine times, and our own state Department of Commerce boasts our lack of an income tax when appealing to businesses seeking to relocate to Washington.
At a time when state revenues (tax collections) are at record levels, I don't think the answer is to impose even more taxes on families.
House Democrats voted their tax package out of the House Finance Committee this week. It's still unclear whether they'll bring it to the House floor for the full chamber's consideration. Without voting on their proposed taxes, their spending plan is nothing more than a list of empty promises.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (SMCC) proposed their own budget. Their budget makes a number of critical investments, and prioritizes our K-12 education system. Under their proposal, education funding will have doubled in the last decade, and investments in our schools will be more than 50 percent of the operating budget — the highest it's ever been since 1983. Beyond historic investments in K-12, their proposal does not include major tax increases, it emphasizes public safety and the most vulnerable, and it protects our rainy-day fund. While this budget is far from perfect, their proposal is a great example of what prioritized spending looks like.
With every proposal introduced in Olympia, there are going to be investments people like, and cuts people don't like. Neither proposal on the table right now is going to be the final budget that will pass. Negotiations are ongoing and I'll keep you apprised as progress is made.
Bill to aid nonprofit senior centers receives House ok, awaits Senate action
Belfair Faith in Action, a nonprofit organization that's been raising money for the past seven years to build a HUB center to serve Mason County seniors, reached out to me before session looking for a means to qualify for a property tax exemption. Most senior centers operated by the state and local governments are currently exempt from property taxes. Nonprofit organizations, including senior centers, may also qualify for these exemptions so long as certain criteria are met pertaining to nonexempt activities, such as retail sales or fundraisers.
Prior to construction, Belfair Faith in Action was told they would receive a property tax exemption so long as the center kept to the organization's mission. The facility they built, which also hosts a local farmers' market, was denied an exemption because the facility held too many retail activities.
In response, I sponsored House Bill 1526, which would expand the eligibility of property tax exemptions to multipurpose senior centers by eliminating some of the requirements they have to fulfill. Senior centers provide a multitude of benefits to seniors that help prolong their independence, encourage civic engagement and provide an increased sense of community. We should be doing all we can to leverage the advantages and positive outcomes these centers offer.
The bill passed the House unanimously and is awaiting passage in the Senate.
Other bills advance
Several bills I've sponsored and co-sponsored continue to progress this session:
House Bill 1155 would eliminate the statute of limitations on certain felony sex offenses, including rape, child molestation and sexual exploitation of a minor. The bill passed the House earlier this session and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.
House Bill 1248 would help reduce recidivism by providing inmates with marketable skills to enter the workforce upon release. It's important we turn released inmates into productive members of society to reduce the likelihood of them reoffending and further burdening our communities. The bill received overwhelming support in the House and the Senate, and now awaits the governor's signature.
House Bill 1250 would improve family safety by allowing retail marijuana outlets to provide lockable drug boxes at no charge to customers and qualifying patients. The bill passed both chambers and will be heading to the governor's desk.
House Bill 1402 would prevent elder isolation by allowing incapacitated persons to freely communicate with whomever they choose and would prohibit guardians from restricting those rights in most cases. The bill was brought to former Rep. Linda Kochmar and me last session by Kerri Kasem, the daughter of former radio personality Casey Kasem.
In 2014, Casey's second wife pulled him out of an assisted living facility in California against medical advice and brought him to a home near Gig Harbor, Washington, where he eventually passed away as a result of bedsores and infections. The Kasem family had attempted to intervene on multiple occasions prior to his death to no avail.
Since sponsoring that legislation last year, more families that have been in tragic situations like the Kasem's have come forward. House Bill 1402 would reduce elder isolation and provide legal avenues for families to pursue should they be faced with similar circumstances.
That bill, too, passed the House unanimously and is awaiting approval from the Senate.
For a full list of the bills I've sponsored and where they are in the process, visit my website and click on “Sponsored Bills.”
As we round out the last two weeks of the regular session, I encourage you to continue contacting me with your questions, ideas and comments. It's an honor representing you.