Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The first month of the 2017 session is nearly in the books. We have until April 23 before regular session adjourns. Like I said in my last update, we have a lot of work to do. But the deadline to get it done is feasible, and I remain optimistic we can get it done so long as divisive politicking in the budget process is kept at a minimum.
The Washington State House of Representatives adopted rules for the 2017 session this week – a ritual we do every year. This time, Republicans offered an amendment to rules that would have made clear, like our state Constitution, that K-12 education and students are our government's top priority. The 'Fund Education First' amendment would have required lawmakers to pass a separate K-12 budget before any other appropriation in the state operating budget, rather than make our kids compete for funds up for grabs to other state agencies and programs.
Unfortunately, our amendment failed on a party-line vote, with Democrats voting 'no.' The outcome was disappointing, but we must move forward to fulfilling our constitutional McCleary obligation. Part of resolving McCleary is ending the state's overreliance on local property tax levies to fund basic education. A bill was offered before the House on Monday that would have extended the upcoming “levy cliff,” which refers to budget shortfalls school districts could face if the levy lid (currently set at 28 percent for most school districts) decreases to 24 percent, which it would do at the end of 2017. The bill passed and now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Some districts have argued the extension was needed in order to plan budgets for the next school year. While I understand districts need certainty to plan ahead, I don't think voting on this bill, during the third week of a 15-week session, sends the right message to our students and teachers. Extending the levy cliff isn't a stand-alone, long-term solution to McCleary. We've kicked the can down the road far too long – the time for a comprehensive solution from the two chambers' majorities is now. Senate Republicans released a plan today, and House Democrats released their plan earlier this session. Neither of those have materialized into a bill as of this morning.
Washington State Dairy Ambassadors in Olympia
This week, lawmakers welcomed our 2016-17 Washington State Dairy Ambassadors to the Capitol for the annual Dairy Day in Olympia. Growing up on a dairy farm, I've always thought of dairy farms as an important element of our state's agriculture industry. Thank you to these young women who are dedicating their time to educate others about the responsible practices farms employ that lead to better air and water quality, and the nutritional benefits dairy products offer.
Pictured at left is Jana Plagerman, Washington State Alternate Dairy Ambassador, and at right is Jill DeJager, Whatcom County Dairy Ambassador,
Progress on Hirst
A number of bills have been introduced this session to help reach a solution that will be fair to counties, land developers, and current and prospective land owners. Several bills have been introduced in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee that address certain elements of the Hirst decision. I've signed on to all four of these, and am the prime sponsor of House Bills 1459 and 1460. No one solution has been proposed.
House Bill 1348 — would prioritize our state water code by specifying that instream and base flows are junior to other beneficial uses, regardless of priority date. Our state constitution already makes this water-use prioritization pretty clear. This bill would simply rectify discrepancies between our constitution and pertinent case law that has placed instream flow rights above the constitutionally protected beneficial public uses of water (i.e., irrigation, mining, commercial and industrial purposes).
House Bill 1349 — For 20 years, the state has made millions of dollars of critical investments in protecting fish habitat throughout the state. As a result of these investments, minor impacts permit-exempt-well groundwater withdrawals have on instream flows would be diminished.
House Bill 1459 — My bill would require the Department of Ecology in reviewing permit-exempt water uses and water right applications, as well as certain elements of the Growth Management Act comprehensive plans, to take the full hydrologic cycle into account. Changes in land use, such as tree removal, that may result in groundwater recharge should be considered and accounted for when reviewing applications.
House Bill 1460 — In general, this bill addresses the legality of available water as it relates to the relinquishment process and transfer of water rights.
Other bills I've sponsored
Here are a few other bills I'm working on as the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee:
House Bill 1132 — This bill would modify the dispute resolution process between seed buyers and seed dealers by replacing arbitration with mediation as the prerequisite for seed buyers to take legal action against dealers. The bill received a hearing Wednesday and is scheduled to be voted out of committee Feb. 1.
House Bill 1435 — As a member of the State Building Code Council (SBCC), it's important to me that we provide more flexibility to our plumbing codes so we can minimize the costs of construction and maintenance. This bill helps accomplish that by allowing the International Plumbing Code to be used as an alternative building code.
House Bill 1436 — Similar to House Bill 1435, this bill looks to improve and modernize our building codes by allowing the international standards as an alternative to the existing codes. It would also add a member of the general public to the SBCC, which is a much-needed voice in these discussions.
House Bill 1503 — This bill would prevent local health jurisdictions from requiring rural homeowners to pay a professional inspector to survey their septic systems. Frankly, the unfunded mandate Hirst establishes makes no sense for someone who lives on 20 acres of land, no where near water, to have to pay for a professional inspector when their county already allows for self-inspection. The bill will be given a hearing on Jan. 30 in the House Environment Committee. More details can be found here.
Bright, young talent wanted in the Legislature
Know a 14-16 year-old who wants to see government in action? Each week, a new group of students descend on Olympia for an opportunity to work directly with lawmakers. Applications and more information can be found here, but positions are filling up fast! Get yours in soon, and come spend a week with me and your 42nd District legislative team in Olympia.