Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned the 60-day legislative session Thursday.
This email update will cover my legislation that passed, troubling legislation that made it through the Legislature, the budget and how your tax money is returning to you in projects for Whatcom County.
Hailey's Law 2.0 and low-cost course materials pass Legislature
Two of my prime-sponsored bills await the governor's signature to be signed into law.
House Bill 2483 – Hailey's Law 2.0: My measure to keep drunk drivers off the road passed the Legislature unanimously. The bill prevents them from accessing their cars shortly after they have been cited for DUI. The legislation is named after Hailey Huntley who was hit by a drunk driver on the Mount Baker Highway just hours after the drunk driver had been cited for DUI. A constitutional issue caused the original Hailey's Law to be thrown out in 2019. My bill addresses the court ruling and reinstates a new version of Hailey's Law, or Hailey's Law 2.0. Hailey came to Olympia to testify. This bill means a lot to her and our state. For more background on the issue, click here to read my news release after the House Public Safety Committee unanimously passed the bill.
House Bill 1702 – Low-cost materials for community and technical colleges: Local students at Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College strongly supported this bill. It passed the Legislature unanimously. My bill would require community and technical colleges to let students know at the time of registration whether “low cost” materials are available. “Low cost” is defined as $50 or less. Students would also be notified when free online textbooks are used in college courses. I am pleased our students and families will benefit from this.
Ignoring the voice of the people
There have been a number of bills and issues before us this session that ignore the will of the people of Washington state. Here is a brief breakdown of some of those issues.
Comprehensive sex education bill (Senate Bill 5395): I am disappointed the comprehensive sex education bill has passed the Legislature. I have received more than 12,000 emails against this legislation, and approximately 100 emails supporting it. There were more than 600 people at the public hearing in the House to speak against it. My office also received many phone calls.
Unfortunately, despite the massive public outcry, starting in the 2022-23 school year, K-6 students will have to take an approved sex education class. I find the only approved curriculum by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to be graphic and offensive. This is just too much, too soon for our young students. We need to let kids be kids.
It is interesting to note that during floor debate TVW issued a warning on the screen stating: “Mature subject matter – Viewer discretion advised.” We apparently had to warn TV viewers when we were talking about the curriculum on television, but it is OK to share with our grade-schoolers? I spoke in KING 5's news story on this issue after it passed the House: Bill mandating sex education in Washington schools passes House.
Taxes: From the survey I conducted at the end of last session, to hearing from people after they recently received their property tax statements – folks have tax fatigue. I don't blame them. After the massive new and increased taxes passed by the majority party last year, the first bill passed this session was a Business and Occupation (B&O) tax increase, Senate Bill 6492, fast-tracked through the legislative process by the majority party – passing both chambers and signed by Gov. Inslee in 10 days. This legislation was to clean up the “free college” mess they created at the end of the 2019 legislative session. This new law taxes an estimated 4,000 new businesses (14,000 in total that employ 886,000 people) to bring in additional tax collections since the bill they passed last year doesn't bring in enough.
I could not support the supplemental operating budget. This budget will have increased state spending nearly 75% since 2013. That is simply unsustainable and not fiscally responsible.
House Republicans fought hard for tax relief, especially because of the surge in new tax collections. It is your money. We offered two budget alternatives – one to provide tax relief for Washington families, the other would have provided property tax cuts. Instead the majority party elected to pass their own budget and spend most of the additional tax collections coming in to the state.
The spending plan did include $19 million to help make up the Medicaid reimbursement rate gap for skilled facilities. This was actually a disappointment. The original House budget included $30 million and facilities were asking for $60 million. I hosted a skilled nursing facility roundtable right before session and have been working with nurses to address the crisis of our facilities closing. Your Whatcom County representatives sent a letter to the budget writers highlighting the need for these funds. We will continue our work to close the Medicaid reimbursement gap.
We accomplished great things in the capital budget for Whatcom County. In the 2020 supplemental capital budget, we were able to secure funding for the:
- Star Park Shelter in Ferndale;
- Boys and Girls Daycare in Bellingham;
- Ramstead Regional Park in Everson;
- State Route 542 bike and pedestrian trail in Kendall; and
- Opportunity Council Early Learning Central Kitchen in Bellingham.
Salmon and orcas
In the operating budget, we were able to get $775,000 for a pilot project to be launched at the Bellingham waterfront to increase salmon hatchery production on Puget Sound. This budget item is basically my House Bill 2741 and the companion Senate Bill 6509. Our goal is to model a hatchery plan like the successful one in Alaska so we can enhance the salmon population for Southern resident orcas, as well as our recreation, commercial and tribal fisheries. We have a great opportunity to restore our fisheries with a self-sustaining fish hatchery plan.
$30 car tabs
Throughout this session, our office heard from many angry constituents who voted for $30 car tabs (I-976) only to see it put on hold by a lawsuit that originated in King County. However, the court just upheld the $30 car tabs initiative. We have asked for more information on what the next steps of the Department of Licensing and Department of Revenue will be.
With the session ending, I am excited to be 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. Also, I am available to speak to groups and provide legislative updates. You can also contact me if you need assistance dealing with a state agency or issue.
It is an honor to represent you, the great people of Whatcom County.
Luanne Van Werven