I hope this update finds you well and that you are finding time to enjoy our beautiful summer weather with loved ones. In this update, I want to share some highlights from the 2023 session and more on what's to come in 2024.
We covered a lot of ground this past session, including everything from public works projects and education to drug laws and policy regarding violent sex predators.
On the victory front, the big story locally was the defeat of the governor's plan to delay major road projects across the state. Construction of the Belfair Bypass would have been kicked into the 2030s. But the transportation budget we passed keeps the project on track, with construction soon to begin. On top of that, we also scored victories with funding for Oakland Bay restoration, design work for a new Mason County Jail, and a better funding formula for rural domestic violence centers like Shelton's Turning Pointe.
Public safety was a top issue on both sides of the aisle. Republicans worked with moderate members of the majority to try to undo the disastrous laws on police pursuits and drugs passed two years ago. Unfortunately, we faced fierce partisan resistance that ultimately forced us into a special session. While the resulting legislation goes only partway.
In other areas, we saw our majority colleagues continue down the wrong track – more restrictions on Second Amendment rights, costly new land-use mandates, and elimination of Washington's unique tax advisory votes. Our COVID crisis may be over, but our colleagues were no more willing to consider reining in the governor's emergency powers than they were a year ago. And while this year's $70 billion budget avoids new taxes, tax proposals for next year are already on the table.
Public safety was one of my main concerns heading into this session. I am proud of some of what we accomplished this session on that front, but deeply concerned about the areas where we came up short.
This past session, the Legislature passed a bill that would partially restore the ability of law enforcement officers to engage in vehicle pursuits in limited circumstances.
I voted against the bill. Here's why.
The few crumbs the majority party allowed in Senate Bill 5352 allowed in this bill fall far short of what our police have asked for and do not give them the tools they need to keep our communities and themselves safe. While the bill did restore the ability of police to pursue when they have reasonable suspicion rather than the high bar of probable cause, it only allows that in very limited circumstances when they have suspicion of a violent crime, sex crime, domestic violence or DUI. It changes nothing when it comes to pursuing car thieves and those suspected of other crimes that have been steadily on the rise since the majority party forced this statewide reform experiment on us two years ago.
We must restore a system of proactive policing where our officers can actually stop crime. This system includes a credible deterrent that not only helps those who want it down a restorative path, but also holds those who refuse to take that path accountable. This bill did not come close. I hope we can improve this law in 2024.
The fentanyl crisis has taken hold across this country but is substantially worse in our state. Sadly, like me, I know many of you already have first-hand knowledge of this. Our weak drug laws over the past two years in Washington state definitely helped fuel the crisis here, while inadequate security at our nation's borders has allowed the pipeline of synthetic fentanyl into the U.S. and Washington to flourish.
The prevalence of this evil has cost tens of thousands of U.S. lives, and Washington state is seeing the worst of it, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I am proud to have cosponsored a bipartisan bill that helps fight the fentanyl crisis this past session that was signed into law by Gov. Inslee in May and took effect earlier this month. House Bill 1209 bans the private use of pill presses in Washington state. These devices are used to press unregulated synthetic fentanyl powder into pills that perfectly mimic a legitimate prescription down the federal imprint number – and even one of those pills can be deadly.
The bill is named the Tyler Lee Yates Act in memory of a close family friend.
Tyler was the son of a firefighter with whom I came up the ranks with. He was a good kid struggling to get relief from chronic pain he suffered after a motorcycle crash, and like many in similar situations – he turned to the black market. In January 2022, he was at a local casino and bought what he believed to be a legitimate Percocet. It was not, and Tyler died right there in the casino parking lot after taking that pill.
This new law is one small step in what we need to be doing at the local, state, and federal levels to combat this threat, but we have much more to do, which will remain a priority for me.
New Drug Law
WATCH: Rep. Dan Griffey discusses the drug possession law on TVW The Impact here.
Earlier this month, Washington's new drug possession law took effect. Senate Bill 5536 was passed in a one-day special session on May 16. It ends the two-year experiment that required officers to refer people caught possessing personal amounts of any drug to treatment on the first two offenses rather than arrest them. That law effectively ended the ability of law enforcement to hold people accountable for possessing drugs and helped fuel the scenes we see on our streets daily now and our dramatic increase in overdose deaths.
I absolutely believe treatment has an important role to play in how we respond to the devastating drug crisis we are dealing with in Washington. But that treatment must be paired with an accountability component.
Under the new law, drug possession will be a gross misdemeanor, but there is also a treatment component. While I voted yes on this bill, I remain seriously concerned about its viability, given our severe shortage of drug treatment capacity in Washington.
Ensuring we properly invest in adequate treatment will remain high on my priority list in 2024 and beyond.
This year's Legislature passed a $70 billion operating budget for 2023-25, which by Olympia standards was a model of restraint. Growth is about even with inflation, and it contains no new taxes.
While growth has slowed, the budget continues the massive run-up state spending over the past decade, doubling from $33.8 billion in 2013-15. It provides no tax relief. And it fails to adequately address high-priority public concerns, like law enforcement funding, addressing the mental health crisis we all see, cleaning up homeless camps, increasing special education funding and addressing student learning loss during COVID shutdowns.
While this budget contains no new taxes, it might be hard to tell. Big tax hikes approved by majority Democrats in previous sessions kicked in this year. These include the state's new income tax on capital gains and a cap-and-trade program that already has boosted Washington gas prices 35 to 50 cents a gallon.
A new payroll tax for three months worth of long-term care launched this month. Proposals set for consideration next year include a wealth tax, an increase in the real estate excise tax – that will lead to less affordable housing – an expansion of the state income tax, and a plan that would allow growth in property taxes to triple.
Alarming rise in gas prices
I know we all feel the pain at the pump these days. Last month, Washington state earned the unwanted designation of having the highest average gas price in the nation. We have seen a very slight improvement since then, with Washington drivers now paying nearly $1.50 more a gallon at an average of $4.93 compared to the current national average of $3.73 a gallon, according to AAA Washington. This rapid rise in fuel costs was not only predictable but avoidable.
We are paying higher prices than other states because of state taxes and climate policies pushed by Gov. Inslee and adopted by the majority party in the Legislature.
For instance, in our state, gasoline is taxed at a rate of 49.40 cents per gallon. That is the third-highest gas tax rate in the country and accounts for more than 11% of what you pay every time you fill up your tank.
Additionally, the Climate Commitment Act, Washington's cap-and-trade program from Gov. Inslee and the majority party passed by the Legislature in 2021 and implemented in January of this year. Affordable Fuel Washington reports gas prices in Washington state have spiked an additional 44 cents for gasoline and 54 cents for diesel fuel since the state launched the tax on CO2 emissions at the beginning of this year.
Check the latest average gas prices in Washington state here.
There are steps the Department of Ecology (DOE) can take right now to lower the price at the pump. I recently signed onto a letter penned by Republican Sen. Chris Gildon to the DOE strongly urging them to take these steps to provide immediate relief to Washington drivers. I also expect more work to be done in the months ahead on potential legislation to address other issues that have allowed such an alarming rise in gas prices in Washington state.
In addition to the bill I cosponsored on pill presses, I also had two bills I sponsored signed into law this session.
HB 1766 – Creating the state Hope Card program, giving survivors of domestic violence, stalking and other abuse a convenient way to provide proof they have obtained a restraining order. The Hope Card is a laminated wallet-sized card that contains all pertinent information. This eliminates the need for victims to keep court documents handy at all times. It is also a useful tool for law enforcement as the courts can update the card's information online.
The issue of domestic violence has recently become a personal one for one of my loved ones and has opened my eyes to where we can improve our efforts to help survivors in Washington state. This will be a top priority for me in 2024.
HB 1369 – Allowing Fish and Wildlife officers to take off-duty work as private security officers, for sporting events, concerts and other purposes. This gives them the same flexibility as Washington State Patrol officers, who go through the same law enforcement training and are already permitted to work off-duty assignments. This gives us more active-duty officers to respond to emergencies when needed.
Belfair Bypass stays on track, projects launched across the 35th District
Final budgets adopted by Washington lawmakers keep the Belfair Bypass on schedule and finance $36 million in public works projects across Mason, Thurston and Kitsap counties.
Lawmakers rejected a proposal from Gov. Jay Inslee to delay major road projects statewide, pushing construction of the Belfair Bypass into the 2030s. The new transportation budget (HB 1125) allows the $79 million project to begin this year and adds $12 million to stave off inflation and supply-chain disruptions.
Meanwhile, 35th District lawmakers worked together on the capital budget (SB 5200) to fund critical local projects. This year's list includes:
- $3 million for repairs to water tank storage at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton;
- $2.131 million for small district public school construction districtwide;
- $1.85 million for Angleside reservoir capacity upgrades in Shelton;
- $1.2 million for young adult transitional housing in Shelton;
- $1.03 million for Mason County jail design work in Shelton;
- $1.6 million for Mason Public Utility District water projects in Matlock and Union;
- $618,000 for Camp Thunderbird wastewater treatment facility in Olympia;
- $571,000 for replacement of the water system at Millersylvania State Park,
- $515,000 for Port of Allyn public pier repair in Allyn;
- $412,000 for Kitsap Humane Society Veterinary Lifesaving Center in Silverdale;
- $350,000 for Sandhill Park;
- $350,000 for Yelm Highway Community Park;
- $250,000 for regional water and sewer upgrades in Rochester;
- $250,000 for security and access improvements in Shelton;
- $215,000 for Shelton daycare and building project;
- $198,000 for Swede Hall renovation in Rochester;
- $103,000 for emergency shelter capital improvements in Shelton; and
- $70,000 for library improvements in Shelton.
That is all I have for this update. I will have more to share with you next month, including the latest on our efforts against the placement of sexually violent predators in unsecure group homes in our communities and others across the state.
In the months ahead, I will also be working on my plans for the 2024 session and it is vital that I get your input for that work. I encourage you to reach out with any issues, concerns, or suggestions you may have. Remember, I am here to work for you.
In the meantime, I hope you and your loved ones enjoy a wonderful and safe rest of the summer!