Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature has adjourned the 60-day legislative session on time. The gavel banged down at 10:11 p.m. on Thursday night.
It was a short session, but it was a whirlwind. It started by passing a Hirst fix and a capital budget in the second week and the session seemed to take off from there. There were many late nights and plenty of controversial bills. This update will give an overview of some of the legislation we have been working on the last few weeks, including our supplemental budgets.
Rep. Van Werven talks with Rep. Dan Kristiansen who stepped down from his leadership role at the end of session.
Troubling social policies pass Legislature
The last few weeks of the legislative session have been frustrating. The Democratic majority passed several bills that deny religious freedoms and the sanctity of human life. Here is an overview of some of the bills that have passed:
About a month ago, I shared with you the details of Senate Bill 6219, referred to as the “abortion mandate. The bill had just passed the Senate and now it has passed the House on a party-line vote, 50-48, and is heading to the governor's desk for his signature. The law will require all insurance plans in Washington state to pay for abortion services. Republicans offered amendments to prohibit health insurance plans from covering abortions for gender selection and for babies who have Downs syndrome. These amendments were rejected. Another amendment was offered for citizens' right of conscience and religious protection. This too was rejected.
Also passing this session was Senate Bill 5722. The legislation bans faith-based psychologists from practicing conversion therapy according to the tenets of their faith when it comes to helping teens struggling with homosexuality or gender dysphoria. This bill violates the fundamental rights of free speech and religious freedom as outlined in our state and U.S. Constitutions.
Finally, Senate Bill 6037 will allow paid commercial surrogacy. This measure creates a market-mentality about the cherished act of a mother giving birth to a child. Republicans offered 14 amendments, including three I offered, to shield women from exploitation, but they were all rejected on party-line votes. The bill also passed on a party-line vote.
While these bills passed, I can assure you I will continue the fight for our religious freedoms and against bad social policy.
I opposed the supplemental operating budget this year. Republicans were shut out of the process until the very end. House and Senate Democrats put the final plan together without Republican input. Most of the surplus tax revenue is used to grow government, as spending is up 16 percent from the last biennium. It also diverts $700 million from the budget stabilization account, sometimes referred to as the rainy day fund. The state treasurer was “extremely concerned” with this maneuver.
There was good news with the operating budget as it included no new taxes. We were able to beat back proposals that would have implemented a capital gains income tax, carbon tax, and the sugar and sweetener tax modeled after the city of Seattle's policy – but on a larger scale. We stopped a wireless device tax, and proposals to raise B&O taxes.
Property tax relief? Not yet
The result of the majority party's diverting of funds from the rainy day account was a small, one-time property tax cut of $.30/$1,000 of assessed value in 2019, which equates to $90 on a $300,000 house. Including the concerns of our state treasurer, there are a number of reasons I did not support the tax break. The property tax break does not occur until 2019. Whatcom County needs property tax relief now, not next year. Rep. Vincent Buys and I introduced House Bill 2434 that would have provided tax relief this year using existing revenue and without raising taxes. There were three other bills introduced by Republicans to provide property tax relief this year – none were given public hearings. Most property owners should already see a property tax reduction in 2019 from the McCleary education funding plan. However, we could have easily provided relief this year.
We accomplished great things in the capital budget for Whatcom County. In the supplemental capital budget, we were able to get $1.2 million for the East Blaine utility extension project. This will go toward water, sewer and electrical infrastructure to assist with the construction of mixed-use housing in the East Blaine area. There was also $772,500 in the budget for Unity Care NW North Whatcom County Health Center. When completed, the facility will double the capacity to serve 9,500 north Whatcom County residents with medical, behavioral health, dental and pharmacy services.
Keep in mind, we secured funding for the following projects in the capital budget passed at the beginning of session:
- Whatcom Community College Learning Commons;
- Lynden's Pepin Creek realignment project;
- Ferndale Pioneer Park ADA walkway; and
- the Ag Center at the NWWA Fairgrounds.
Ferndale's Pioneer Park
We also passed a supplemental transportation budget during the last couple of days of session. I was successful in adding an amendment to the budget to pave the way for a bicycle and pedestrian trail in Kendall to connect neighborhoods with the Kendall Elementary School, library, churches and regional resource center.
Obviously, the session had many highs and lows. I wanted to wrap up this update with a reminder that we passed one of the most important pieces of legislation in years. The Hirst fix is not perfect, but it addresses many of the concerns we had in Whatcom County. It provides some certainty pertaining to our state's water law. It grandfathers in existing wells and removes the burden the court put on the counties to find their own legal water.
Fish and wildlife data legislation
My House Bill 2307 passed the Legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature. The bill requires the release of sensitive fish and wildlife data to be subject to a confidentiality agreement. This legislation will help protect important information related to wildlife locations, land management, catch data, scientific research and private property.
I am looking forward to being back in Whatcom County. Please feel free to contact me during the interim. I am interested in ideas you may have for legislation, projects your organization or agency may be working on, and I am available to speak to groups and provide legislative updates.
It is an honor to represent the great people of Whatcom County.
Luanne Van Werven