Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The new year is here and that means a new session has begun! The 2017 legislative session began on Monday, Jan. 9 in Olympia. It's scheduled to last 105 days, which would put this year's adjournment on April 23.
This week, lawmakers and statewide officials were sworn in to office. I am honored and humbled to be serving the 42nd District for my fourth term in the state House of Representatives. While the list of things we must accomplish this session is lengthy, I'm optimistic we can put forth collaborative solutions to further our state in the right direction. There are 50 Democrats and 48 Republicans in the state House and a slight Republican majority in the Senate, and with these tight margins, there's an opportunity for balanced, bipartisan solutions to advance.
What's on tap for 2017?
Without a doubt, K-12 education funding is at the top of that list. You've likely heard of McCleary — the 2012 state Supreme Court case that ruled the legislature must fully fund basic public education. The deadline to comply with the ruling is 2018. Lawmakers who serve on the Education Funding Task Force and other leaders have been meeting throughout the interim to work on a plan to satisfy the court. And it's not just about how the schools will be funded and where the money will come from. It's about how much teachers will be paid, whether collective bargaining for school employees will reside with the state or at the local level, and more.
As of today, more than 48 percent of the state operating budget goes toward K-12 education. Additionally, we've implemented full-day kindergarten, reduced class sizes in grades K-3, provided teacher raises and increased funding for material supplies and operating costs. We've come a long way, but there's still more work to do.
K-12 education isn't the only issue on that list. We in Whatcom County know the challenges that lie ahead as a result of the Hirst decision. For those of you who are not familiar with Hirst, in October, the state Supreme Court determined Whatcom County's comprehensive plan fails to provide for protection of water resources according to the Growth Management Act (GMA). This placed the exemption of private wells at risk, despite the county being in compliance with the Department of Ecology's rule that allows permit-exempt wells as long as fewer than 5,000 gallons of water are taken per day.
It's brought to the forefront an issue that could affect 28 other counties in our state, if not more. Several legislators, including Sen. Ericksen and I, are working on a series of bills to address some of the issues Hirst has created, and I will keep you apprised of those legislative remedies throughout the session.
Leading on agriculture and natural resources issues
Once again I was selected by House Republican leadership to serve as the ranking representative on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources. The committee covers everything from agricultural production, marketing and sales, fisheries and wildlife, forest practices and fire protection, water, and managements of some state-owned lands. As a lifetime Whatcom County resident and after growing up on a dairy farm, I know many of these issues are near and dear to our communities. I look forward to ensuring Whatcom County has a voice at the table.
With the Hirst decision hanging over us, we'll likely see a lot of water policy discussions in the committee. We're also likely to see legislation for agency fee increases. I normally don't tend to support these. It makes it harder to do business throughout our state and has a direct impact on the people in our communities.
You can stay up to date on committee action by visiting this page.
A new face to my office
I'm happy to announce my legislative assistant, Amanda, is on maternity leave with her baby boy, Lincoln, who was just born this week. While mom and baby are at home, I have a new assistant filling in, Brett. He is originally from Hoquiam and has a bachelor's degree in economics from Gonzaga University and received his juris doctor from Ave Maria School of Law.
When you call, email or come down for a visit, be sure to give Brett a warm welcome.
As the legislative session continues, I encourage you to stay in touch with your questions, concerns and ideas for making government work more effectively and efficiently. My contact information is below.
Thank you for allowing me to represent you!