Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2011 session of the Legislature is wrapping up Week 5 today, the workload is heavy, hours are long, and the pace of day-to-day business hasn't let up since the gavel fell on opening day, Jan. 10.
I'm pleased to share an update on some of the issues we've dealt with since my last e-newsletter, and I welcome your comments.
At this point in the session, our days have been filled with committee meetings to hear public testimony on the bills that have been assigned to the committees on which I serve. A minimum amount of time has been devoted to floor action for the full House to consider bills. As the session progresses and more bills win committee approval, that scenario will be reversed.
Two of the bills I sponsored this year won House approval earlier this week.
House Bill 1392 would make a minor change in current law to allow irrigation district boards more latitude in determining the duration of leases of district-owned land. The measure would eliminate the requirement for year-to-year leases.
The bill doesn't alter the districts' authority to lease the lands they own, but allowing boards to lease property for more than one year at a time would improve efficiency, value and productivity of their properties.
As their principal function, the districts provide irrigation water facilities and services, including construction, improvement, maintenance and operation of irrigation systems. Districts may also provide drainage, domestic water supply, and electric power facilities.
The House also passed HB 1129, my proposal that would require traffic safety schools to include as part of their curriculum a 30-minute segment on safe driving in proximity to bicyclists and pedestrians.
Developed by the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and approved by the state Department of Licensing, the course has been used in driver-education classes for the past three years. Under HB 1129, the program would be added in traffic safety schools, which many cities and counties offer to motorists who have received infractions for traffic-related offenses as a condition of deferral, sentence or penalty. The Bicycle Alliance would provide the materials to the driver-improvement programs at no charge.
The program is a commonsense way to educate drivers about the responsibilities of sharing the road.
Both bills cleared the House unanimously and will now be considered by the Senate.
Another measure I introduced – HB 1358 – passed the Transportation Committee Jan. 31, and is now in Rules, where it will hopefully be scheduled for a House vote.
The bill would remove the state's prohibition on saddle-mounted truck combinations of more than 75 feet.
A saddle-mount combination is one in which a truck tractor tows one or more truck tractors. The trucks are linked together with only the first vehicle having both its front and rear wheels on the ground. On the other trucks, only the rear wheels touch the ground, the front resting on the truck preceding it. Two vehicles towed in this manner are called a “double saddle-mount combination.” In the case of three vehicles, the arrangement is termed a “triple saddle-mount combination.”
(Such transporter combinations have been described as looking like elephants holding each others' tails with their trunks.)
Changing the overall length limit would have multiple benefits, both in reducing highway traffic and improving the economy.
It's a matter of fewer trucks making fewer trips, and for the trucking industry that means lower costs and more profit. Longer truck combinations mean less traffic, less wear and tear on our highways, and less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And best of all, there would be no negative fiscal impact to the state.
Toward the end of the 2009 legislative session, Republicans received the final operating budget at about 8:30 in the morning. This was a proposal drafted by Democrat budget writers, and most members of our caucus did not have an opportunity to read it. It was a more than 500-page document.
We were told by the majority party that amendments were due that day by 2 p.m., and that the budget would be debated and voted on late that afternoon or early evening. This made it nearly impossible for us to read and understand the budget bill before we had to vote on it.
There is no issue that we will vote on this year that will be more important than the two-year operating budget, and we don't want a repeat of 2009 when we were forced to rush through the process. We felt we needed to act.
Two weeks ago, a House vote was scheduled to adopt deadlines for committee work and floor sessions. During the debate, our caucus proposed a “sunshine amendment” to increase transparency, integrity and accountability in the budget process.
Our amendment would require that once a proposed operating budget is released, it must sit for 72 hours before a vote. To our disappointment, House Democrats rejected the proposal 55-42.
A Republican alternative to provide a 48-hour review period was also turned down by the majority party.
The final rules — adopted along party
lines — provide for only a 24-hour window before a floor vote. Although that's better than nothing, the public has a right to expect that our budget negotiations and deliberations are done in an open, transparent fashion, and I believe we could have done better than just a 24-hour time-out.
House approves $300 million tax break for business
On Feb. 9, the House completed work on legislation that some have called the biggest issue of the session, so far. The two measures — House Bill 1091 and Senate Bill 5135 — would give businesses a tax break and bump up benefits for about 70,000 workers who have suffered through long-term unemployment.
The bipartisan agreement would cut a 36 percent increase in unemployment insurance rates to about 5 percent. For business-owners, this could be the difference between retaining and having to lay off employees.
The increase in jobless benefits would be about $25 a week through the end of November. The money to continue the unemployment benefits comes from $68 million the state is getting from the federal government.
Honoring the National Guard
On Feb. 4, the House approved a resolution honoring the Washington National Guard on its 375th birthday.
As a lieutenant colonel in the Guard, I was proud to co-sponsor House Resolution 4611, which paid tribute to the citizen soldiers who help protect our freedom and the security of our homeland.
America remains strong, safe and free because, for generations, Guardsmen and women have been willing to put the well-being of their community and country ahead of their own personal comfort and safety.
You can hear my floor speech by clicking here.
Please keep in touch!
As the session unfolds, I encourage you to contact me whenever you have questions, comments or an idea to share. Please call, write a letter, or send me an e-mail. You'll find our office contact information below.
You can also keep track of relevant legislative news through my Web site at https://houserepublicans.wa.gov/members/brad-klippert. There you will find information about our district, the legislation that I have sponsored and co-sponsored, news releases, our last newsletter, and much more.
It's my firm goal to provide the people of the 8th District with conscientious and dependable leadership in the Legislature, and I thank you for your good wishes and support.
Have a great Washington day!