Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I want to thank everyone who attended the town halls on Saturday, Feb. 22. We had a good turnout and it is always a rewarding experience to discuss face-to-face legislation and issues impacting our citizens, state and legislative district. If you were unable to attend any of the town halls and have any questions about pending legislation or issues before the Legislature, please do not hesitate to contact me. The good news is we are heading into the final week of the legislative session.
Paid signature gatherers legislation
There has been considerable controversy surrounding House Bill 2552 – which would require registration of paid signature gatherers and signature-gathering businesses. Tim Eyman was very critical of myself and a number of other House Republicans who voted for the bill. I was a little surprised, neither Mr. Eyman, nor anyone representing his organization, showed up to testify against the measure. There was testimony in the committee in support of the bill from business owners and retailers who must regularly contend with complaints by customers who feel harassed by the conduct of some paid signature-gatherers. However, the only public testimony against the bill came from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who stated “The bill distinguishes between paid and unpaid signature gatherers. And treats them differently, resulting in undue burden on those being paid.”
This was not an easy vote – concerning private property rights and the 1st Amendment/freedom of speech. I strongly believe in the initiative process and have no intention of doing anything to diminish that constitutional right of the people. I also believe property owners have a right to know who, besides their own employees, is working on their property; and be able to control what happens on their private property.
I think this bill struck the right balance. Gathering contact information of people who are getting paid to get signatures, so we know who they are, (as we do paid lobbyists), while also ensuring valid signatures are still counted.
Mr. Eyman has done good work in the past to protect taxpayers. I do not want to prevent him from hiring signature-gatherers or deny him or others the right to gather signatures on ballot measures they choose to introduce.
Unless something extraordinary happens in the Senate, HB 2552 is dead for the session. I know many legislators have called Tim Eyman and offered to work with him and others who oppose this legislation to craft a solution that will protect our constitutional right of initiative and referendum while also recognizing the rights of property owners. I look forward to working with him or anyone else who wants to protect you, your personal property rights and your constitutional rights.
Both House Democrats and the Senate have released operating budget plans. Late last week the Senate supplemental operating budget, Senate Bill 6002, passed with a strong, bipartisan vote of 41-8. Instead of passing the Senate budget plan, House Democrats elected to bring their own budget proposal up for a vote. It passed on almost a party-line vote with all Republicans and one Democrat voting “no.”
I opposed the House Democrat budget because it proposes tax increases now, and leaves little in reserves to protect against unforeseen circumstances and could set us up for much larger tax increases in the future. It also links certain education investments to very risky tax increase proposals that voters have rejected in the past.
The Senate plan is much more education friendly – freezing higher education tuition rates for the 2014-15 school years. It makes higher education more accessible and more affordable for students. It has more dollars for K-12 technology enhancements, is more conservative with future employee costs and leaves a little more in reserves.
Negotiations will work out the differences – which are not as large as we have seen in previous years. There is nothing that should prevent us from adjourning the 60-day regular session on time.
Separate from the budget, the House Democrats put forward a $200 million tax increase in House Bill 2796, a separate piece of legislation they hope to tie to the budget if they can find enough support. I oppose this tax proposal and do not expect it to garner enough support to be part of a final budget.
I opposed the House supplemental transportation budget. We previously put a spending cap on the 520 Bridge, yet this budget gives a pass to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for more than $400 million in cost overruns that were preventable. We need to hold ourselves and our agencies accountable. This sets a scary precedent and future spending caps will mean next to nothing. The Senate has passed a transportation budget as well. I am waiting to see what the final negotiated budget will look like.
The capital budget is the spending plan that provides funding for our infrastructure (bricks and mortar projects). The supplemental capital plan passed the House 92-4. I supported the plan because it provides money for:
- prison capacity needs;
- grants to help communities address stormwater and water quality issues;
- bonds and other funds for higher education projects, and additional funds for K-12 related projects;
- projects that address and treat mental illness; and
- there are no state appropriations for new state land acquisitions.
Beef Day and legislative shootout
While free time for legislators during session is hard to come by, there are a few times during the 60-day session we do get to pause and take part in some great activities. The entire Capitol Campus enjoyed the annual “Beef Day” Thursday, Feb. 27. The Washington Cattlemen's Association generously provide a delicious beef tri-tip lunch to hundreds of hungry staff, members and visitors. We also had the “Legislative Shootout” a couple weeks ago. Legislators and staff, from the House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, came together for a friendly shooting competition. I was only able to make a brief appearance this year with my work schedule, but the event is fun and a great learning experience for all those involved.
I will provide a more detailed update on the budgets and other issues after the session. I look forward to seeing all of you back in district.
Have a great Washington day!