Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On Saturday, Feb. 8, I along with local elected leaders and emergency management officials held a meeting at Nooksack High School to provide information and assistance for those impacted by the recent flooding. It has been a difficult month for those who faced extensive flooding and resulting damage. Our emergency management team and local leaders are to be commended for their rapid response and how they handled the dangerous situation.
The governor has issued an emergency proclamation for 25 counties, including Whatcom, due to the severe flooding and winter weather we have had in Washington state. The proclamation allows the state to apply for federal funds to help with damage and repairs.
It is not too late to report any damages. Please contact the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office Division of Emergency Management at (360) 788-5311 by Feb. 19 if you have any damages to report.
Town hall meeting
I'd like to invite you to a town hall meeting I am hosting on Saturday, Feb. 22, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The event will be held at Meridian High School, in the school cafeteria located at 194 W. Laurel Rd., (Bellingham, WA 98226).
I will provide an update on the 2020 legislative session and take questions from you. I am your voice in Olympia and look forward to hearing your questions and concerns. I hope to see you this Saturday!
Please feel free to reach out to me at 360-786-7980 or email me at Luanne.VanWerven@leg.wa.gov if you are unable to attend the meeting.
Hailey's Law 2.0
My House Bill 2483, to help keep drunk drivers from accessing their cars shortly after they have been cited for DUI, unanimously passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday night.
The Public Safety Committee on Feb. 6 was a very emotional hearing. Click here to watch Hailey Huntley and I testify for the legislation.
In 2011, “Hailey's Law” was passed, which placed a mandatory seizure and 12-hour impound on any vehicle driven by a person arrested for DUI. The idea was to ensure a driver would be sober before being able to access the vehicle.
However, the law was appealed following a DUI stop in January 2018. The lawyer for the defendant said the seizure of the car was unconstitutional because it did not meet lawful requirements and could have been released to one of his sober passengers, and the state Supreme Court unanimously agreed and overturned Hailey's Law.
I have introduced Hailey's Law 2.0 to address the court ruling. I am hopeful the Senate will keep the bill moving so we can get it to the governor's desk for his signature. Lives are at stake.
I want to commend Hailey for telling her story in committee. I can't imagine how difficult that was for her. It took great courage, and she is passionate that what happened to her should not happen to others.
Business and Occupation (B&O) tax signed into law
Unfortunately, the first bill signed into law this session was Senate Bill 6492. It was a B&O tax increase fast-tracked through the legislative process by the majority party – passing both chambers and signed by the governor in 10 days. The measure attempts to clean up the mess created by legislation passed at the end of the 2019 legislative session.
The bill from last year created the Washington College Grant – or the “free” college legislation – through a new B&O tax surcharge on businesses providing certain services. Since it was poorly written and difficult to administer a new bill was introduced this year.
According to the Department of Revenue, the legislation will expand the tax increase to an estimated 4,000 new businesses. In total, an estimated 14,000 businesses that employ 886,000 people will see an increase. This new change alone will collect around $234 million in additional taxes over a two-year period. This at a time when state revenues are at record levels. There is no reason to be passing new tax increases.
Penalties reduced for intentionally infecting others with HIV
I am outraged about legislation House Democrats recently passed that would reduce the punishment for those who intentionally infect another with the HIV virus. House Bill 1551 would reduce the crime of intentional transmission of HIV from the felony crime of assault in the first degree down to a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor. This is unconscionable. There needs to be a higher penalty in the extreme cases where someone knows the dangers of transmitting HIV and intends to transmit HIV.
I also have concerns that the legislation would allow a minor as young as 14 years of age to receive treatment to avoid HIV infection without a parent or guardian's consent. How would a young person go through something so critical and scary without the support or notification of those closest to them?
Sunshine committee recommendations
Legislators often serve on sub-committees other than their official legislative committees. I serve on the Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee, or the Sunshine Committee. One of our responsibilities is to review the many statutory exemptions of the public records system and provide recommendations as to whether the exemptions should be continued, modified, or terminated.
Based on committee recommendations, I introduced House Bill 2484, which recently passed the House 97-1. It would protect private information of child victims from disclosure and help prevent young victims from potentially suffering more harm. There have been several recent cases where the victims were sought out by their perpetrators. Byron Manering, of Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Bellingham, testified in favor of the bill during the public hearing in the State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee. Andria Fountain of the Bellingham Police Department also testified in support of the bill. The bill now awaits a public hearing in the Senate.
Addressing the cost of textbooks
I continue to work on bringing down the costs of college textbooks. My House Bill 1702 is headed to the Senate after unanimously passing the House. This legislation would require community and technical colleges to inform students at the time of registration whether “low cost” materials are available. “Low cost” is defined as $50 or less. Additionally, House Bill 1701 would do the same for our four-year universities. I am hopeful of its passage too.
I have been working with students from around the state. The cost of tuition and textbooks has increased by more than 200 percent over the last twenty years. That is significantly more than the cost of living. This would also add transparency to the cost of textbooks.
If you plan to be in Olympia during the session, I encourage you to contact my office in advance to schedule a time to meet. It is always great to see the friendly faces from Whatcom County during the session.
Thank you for the privilege of serving you!
Luanne Van Werven