Some positive steps taken, but a long way to go
My first legislative session in Olympia could be likened to a rollercoaster – many ups and downs, with lots of twists and turns. While tough decisions and difficult negotiations drew attention to the many contentious issues before us, there were definitely some positives for me individually and Washington as a whole. However, I feel our priorities are still not in line and we need to address key areas of reform.
Two bills I prime-sponsored, House Bill 1467 and House Bill 1538, made it through the legislative process and were passed into law. HB 1467 provides clarification of what constitutes the definition of a “well.” I introduced this legislation because the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) was considering enforcement on simple actions such as surface soil sampling and evaluation. These types of actions could have been subject to the well permit process, requiring classification as a well. This would have been detrimental to the agricultural community.
The original bill was deemed contentious. However, after working across the aisle and with DOE, an agreement was reached. The bill passed the Legislature unanimously.
The other legislation I prime-sponsored, HB 1538, makes it a crime to transport animals, unless exempted, to a destination other than the address listed on the transportation document. There have been instances of livestock being diverted to feed lots and never arriving at their required destination. This law will assist the state veterinarian in tracking animals imported into the state for disease traceability purposes. The cattle and dairy industries supported the measure and it received strong support in the Legislature.
I was pleased to have these two bills signed into law my first session, especially one that involved negotiating with stakeholder groups, a state agency and lawmakers across the aisle. Bipartisan effort does work.
Strong bipartisanship was also evident in the Legislature's passage of workers' compensation and unemployment insurance reforms.
Workers' compensation reform passed in the special session provides another option for injured workers to resolve their claims. There are many pieces to the legislation and some unknowns with the structured settlement agreements the measure would allow, but it should begin to address the problems with our workers' compensation system. It has the best interests of the workers in mind while protecting our employers from double-digit rate increases. It is also projected to save the system $1.1 billion over the next four years and keep it solvent.
The unemployment insurance (UI) tax relief we adopted provides employers a much-needed payroll tax reduction this year and prevents a sharp tax increase in the near future. The UI legislation also provides a more stable and long-term fix to the system. It will give our employers some certainty they need to retain existing jobs. Additionally, it provides important training benefits for workers who have been displaced.
The key to improving Washington's economy is providing our employers the opportunity to prosper. When they are thriving they hire employees, who then spend more money, and the state collects more revenue, improving our budget outlook. These reforms are positive steps to assisting employers and getting Washington working again.
Unfortunately, there were some disappointments this session, specifically the budget. The spending plan that passed is unsustainable and its priorities are out of line. In this budget, 41 percent of the reductions come from education. Substantial cuts were also made to public safety. More criminals will be on the street and fewer correctional officers will be working in our criminal justice system. The budget also hits our most vulnerable by cutting Medicaid funding, programs that assist our developmentally disabled in finding employment and long-term care facilities.
Washington will still have nearly $4 billion more to spend in the upcoming biennium compared to the last budget cycle. Yet, I don't see the real reforms in this measure that are needed to bring long-term stability to our budget. Instead, the Legislature is cutting priority issues.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first legislative session. I feel honored and privileged to serve the 42nd Legislative District. I am pleased to be back in the district. I hope people do not hesitate to contact me if they have any questions, concerns or ideas regarding state government.
Editor's note: Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, is the assistant ranking Republican on the House Business and Financial Services Committee. He also serves on the Higher Education and Agricultural committees, and the Washington State Building Code Council.