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It's hard to believe another legislative session has come and gone. A lot has happened in the last two months, including the lifting of most of the state's COVID restrictions. However, the governor has retained all his emergency powers. More on that later.
I entered the 2022 session with great hopes for some real change. I joined with my fellow House Republicans in offering dozens of real solutions to our state's biggest problems. Our solutions and priorities are still focused on helping Washingtonians where they need it the most:
- Lowering taxes and making life more affordable
- Protecting our communities and families
- Holding state government and the governor accountable
- Empowering parents to help their children succeed
Although this session did include some exciting and good things, it also had several disappointments and missed opportunities. We could have done so much more if the majority party would have been more willing to work with us. That being said, I'm still your representative and I'm still working for you and fighting for good policy. I won't stop working for a better Washington.
Let's start with some positive news. Although not all the legislation I introduced made it to the governor's desk, House Bill 1655 did. It passed both chambers and is awaiting the governor's signature. This bill will allow all drivers to use safety rest areas starting in June of this year. Having enough open rest areas has been an ongoing issue for truck drivers throughout the country. However, state government made things worse in Washington when they ordered the closing of many state-owned and operated safety rest areas in the fall of 2021, due to the pandemic.
Truckers are required by law to rest, so not having a safe place to do that is unacceptable. HB 1655 is going to help correct this ongoing problem, which will save lives. Our truck drivers need all the help they can get. We need to make sure they can deliver the important goods we need, but we need them to be able to do it safely.
House Bill 2077 was passed out of committee unanimously but never made it to the floor for a vote. The bill would've required the Washington State Department of Transportation, in consultation with human trafficking victim advocates, to develop content for informational posters to place in safety rest areas. The good news is most of this policy was included in the supplemental transportation budget. $50,000 will go toward posting easy-to-memorize human trafficking assistance phone number signs at rest areas.
It's devastating that anyone should ever be a victim of human trafficking. People are being held against their will and being forced to do reprehensible things. We need to do whatever we can to help remove human trafficking victims from these circumstances. These signs are just one step in the process. But if they help even one person escape this terrible fate, then it will be worth it.
Unfortunately, another bill that would've provided grant money for more truck parking at rest areas did not advance. House Bill 1657 would've helped reduce emissions and safety risks caused by inadequate commercial truck parking. We need to support our drivers, and this legislation would've done that by increasing the state's truck parking supply through tax incentives. It was well-received in committee and garnered nationwide media attention, but it did not make it to the House floor.
Too Much Spending in the Operating Budget
State government entered this session with a record budget surplus thanks to increased tax revenue. The logical thing to do would've been to give at least some of that money back to the people it came from. Unfortunately, the majority party decided to spend almost every penny of the extra $14+ billion surplus. You read that right; that's nearly $15 billon!
I voted against the supplemental operating budget for two main reasons. First, it's simply not responsible to spend that much money without putting any in reserve or paying down debt. And second, with so much extra money, now was the perfect time to give something back to Washingtonians through meaningful tax relief, as Republicans offered in our budget proposal. Yet there is none. When will Democrats give taxpayers a break? Apparently never.
This budget will increase spending by $6.1 billion to about $65 billion in 2021-23. This chart demonstrates how much state spending has increased since the 2011-13 budget, compared to 2023-2025. This kind of spending is unsustainable.
Failed to Balance Police Reform
Last year's police reform bills proved to be a major problem for law enforcement officers and made our communities less safe. We came into this session hoping to fix that. Unfortunately, only minor adjustments were made. Although they will help a little, one of the biggest issues – police pursuit – is still unresolved.
House Bill 1054, which only allows pursuit in a few, narrow instances such as for a violent crime created confusion and removed one of officers' most important tools: the ability to pursue criminals. Under this law, officers cannot pursue someone who has knowingly committed a crime unless the officers witnessed it.
So even if someone else witnesses a horrendous crime and reports it to law enforcement, they are not allowed to pursue the individual in question because they didn't personally witness the offense. This is bad for officers and terrible for public safety. Majority party Democrats did not fix this problem.
Transportation Spending Package Hurts Washingtonians
I talked about the Democrats' new transportation spending package – Move Ahead Washington – in my last update. This 16-year $17 billion package is terrible for Washington, and the cost of fuel is going to go up even without an increase in the gas tax. We are already dealing with record high gas prices and things are going to get worse with this package.
Additionally, this plan calls for dozens of new taxes and fees that will further eat away at hard working families' already limited incomes. While this bill will do good things, the way Democrats chose to go about funding it is misguided and poorly conceived. In contrast, Republicans offered our Reprioritizing Existing Appropriations for Longevity (REAL) Act in November, which I had a hand in as part of the transportation committee.
The REAL Act consists of several bills that would have, among other things, shifted specified transportation programs to be paid for by the general fund starting in 2025. It would have directed state sales tax paid on motor vehicles to the preservation and maintenance of the existing transportation system. And it called for permanently transferring sales tax paid on transportation projects to the transportation budget.
It prioritizes, and would have resolved, our biggest transportation issues without any new taxes or fees. But Democrats never considered it. Now, all Washingtonians are going to feel it in their pocketbooks, including those who can afford it the least.
Still No Emergency Powers Reform
Last, but certainly not least, we leave Olympia this session under the same one-person rule we've had for more than two years. The governor is still operating under a state of emergency that no longer exists and his powers are still unchecked. Republicans have offered numerous options to correct this oversight, by having a vote to weigh in on mandates within two weeks. But the majority party continues to do nothing about it.
Senate Democrats passed Senate Bill 5909, which on the surface claimed to be emergency powers reform. But the reality is, it did nothing to change or limit the governor's ability to rule the state under his sole discretion during a state of an emergency. Now, unless a special session is called, we are stuck in this state of emergency for as long as the governor sees fit.
Thank You and Please Stay in Touch
Even though session is over, I'm still working for you throughout this interim and will continue to fight for good policy. We'll keep trying to change things for a better Washington. I'm also here to listen. I look forward to meeting with you in-person and further discussing these and other issues you face. Please feel free to reach out to me anytime with your questions, comments, ideas, and concerns. My contact information is below. I want to hear from you as I work to improve state government in Washington. Thank you for your continued support and trust in me.
It truly is an honor to serve you!
403 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7966 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000