Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 legislative session started on Jan. 11 and is scheduled to last 60 days. This compressed schedule has proven to be fast-paced and intense. We are working tirelessly to deliver results for Whatcom County.
Last Friday was the policy committee cutoff, meaning House bills without a price tag that have not passed out of their respective House committees are “dead” and will not advance. Tuesday is the fiscal committee cutoff for bills in committees such as Appropriations, Finance and Capital Budget. There are a few exceptions to the cutoffs for budget-related legislation.
The latest on Alcoa
We received some great news recently as Alcoa has delayed idling the Intalco plant until the end of June. We are thankful, but we are still working on a solution to keep the plant open permanently.
Senators Doug Ericksen and Kevin Ranker, along with Reps. Vincent Buys, Jeff Morris, Kristine Lytton and I sent a bipartisan letter to the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) inquiring about a collaborative solution to keep Intalco operating.
The collaborative effort would include funding for BPA's existing environmental programs, some relief to BPA ratepayers in Washington and an adjustment to Intalco's agreement with BPA. We are still working on the details. However, the focus remains to prevent the curtailment of the plant and save 583 Whatcom County jobs. The importance of these jobs in our region is critical.
My legislation that would provide community and technical college students with the costs of required course materials during registration received a public hearing in the House Higher Education Committee last week. In our area, my proposal would apply to Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College.
I introduced House Bill 2796 as part of a package of bills House Republicans are pushing to help reduce costs and add transparency to some of the expenses associated with higher education.
The bill did not make it out of committee before last week's policy committee cutoff deadline. While it is disappointing, I will work on this important policy during the interim and bring it forward again next year.
I have heard from many students about the cost of textbooks and materials. Students need financial relief. By providing the costs in advance, this transparency measure would have encouraged students to look at online alternatives to expensive textbooks. It would have been a good start to making college more affordable to students.
Locker room/bathroom ruling
Since a state agency's ruling in December allowing individuals who identify as male to use women's restrooms and locker rooms, and vice versa, my office has received hundreds of emails and phone calls overwhelmingly opposed to the rule. Many have expressed concerns about privacy and potential abuses of the rule.
I have introduced House Bill 2935 that would repeal the rule, and the agency would not be able to initiate any rule-making that involves gender segregated facilities. In the future, this unelected board should not be making public policy decisions that have not been thoroughly vetted in the Legislature. My legislation is a companion bill to Sen. Doug Ericksen's Senate Bill 6443.
The chair of the House Judiciary Committee would not allow any bill to be heard on this issue. However, we will continue the effort to repeal the rule.
Two-thirds vote for tax increases
In November, 58 percent of the voters in the 42nd District voted in favor of Initiative 1366. In fact, voters across the state have voted for a two-thirds vote requirement to increase taxes SIX times. Unfortunately, a judge from King County has once again called the initiative unconstitutional. In an effort to implement what the voters want, House Republicans recently tried a procedural move during floor action to bring up a bill that would send a constitutional amendment to voters requiring a two-thirds vote to raise taxes. Unfortunately, House Democrats defeated our attempt on a party line vote of 48-49.
House Page Program
Each year, students from around the state apply to participate in the legislative page program. Students spend a week attending page school, learning the inner workings of state government and assisting legislators on the House floor.
Our page slots have been filled this year, but if your son or daughter is interested in paging next year, please do not hesitate to contact my office. It is great to see the future leaders of Whatcom County working in Olympia.
For more information click: House page program.
Town hall meeting
Please join your 42nd District legislators on Friday, Feb. 19 for a town hall meeting. It will take place at the Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center in the Rotary Building from 1 to 3 p.m. The address is 1775 Front St., Lynden, WA 98264.
Sen. Ericksen, Rep. Buys and I look forward to you giving you an update on the legislative session as well as addressing your questions, concerns and comments. I highly encourage you to come.
If you have any questions before the event, please let me know. You can contact my Olympia office at (360) 786-7980 or email me at email@example.com.
Luanne Van Werven