Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We're now more than halfway through the 2017 legislative session. Three major legislative deadlines are behind us — policy and fiscal committee cutoffs, and house of origin cutoff. That means bills that did not pass out of the chamber they originated in are considered “dead” for the remainder of session. However, bills considered “necessary to implement the budget” survive legislative deadlines.
For a list of bills that survived the first round of cutoffs, click here.
'Our hydrogeologist is better than your hydrogeologist' — an update on legislation to fix Hirst
If you've been reading my most recent email updates, you're no stranger to the Hirst decision and the stifling impacts it's had on development in Whatcom County and throughout the state. I had the privilege of joining Dillon Honcoop on the KGMI Morning Show earlier this week to discuss progress on enacting a legislative “fix” to the Hirst decision. Listen here.
The bill gaining the most traction so far has been Senate Bill 5239, which passed the Senate 28-21. The legislation would essentially roll us back to pre-Hirst days, putting the onus back on the Department of Ecology to determine impairment. Recently, a Whatcom County property owner hired a hydrogeologist so they could move forward with building their home. The analysis came back clean, and was passed along to the health department for final approval. The department hired their own hydrogeologist, and ultimately rejected the permit. We feared something like this would happen. Now the property owner is stuck in the middle as a competition ensues between the two hydrogeologists.
Senate Bill 5239 has been referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, of which I'm the lead Republican. I'm looking forward to working on the bill, making some enhancements and hopefully getting it to the governor's desk with bipartisan support.
Bottom line: we have to enact a resolution this year to give counties and property owners some relief. Next week, I and several other Republican lawmakers are scheduled to meet with the governor to discuss legislative proposals to address Hirst. I'm hopeful with his office's participation, we can continue making progress this session.
Hirst isn't just about wells. The decision has also affected on-site septic system inspections. Thankfully, legislation I've co-sponsored that would allow homeowners to continue to do self-inspections passed the House with near-unanimous support this week. It now advances to the Senate for further consideration.
Hundred of millions of gallons of stormwater and raw sewage gushes into Puget Sound
On Feb. 9, hundreds of millions of gallons of stormwater and raw sewage were dumped into Puget Sound following mechanical failures at King County's West Point Treatment Plant. The damage has been characterized as 'catastrophic,' and The Seattle Times reported the destruction caused by the malfunction reached Hurricane Katrina-scale proportions. I wish I could say this was the first time the plant has had problems, but back in 2009, 10 million gallons of wastewater fouled the Sound after a similar equipment failure at West Point's facility. At the time, it was the worst sewage spill the region had seen in decades.
Earlier this week, Reps. Drew MacEwen, David Taylor and I offered our thoughts on the spill in an op-ed that ran in the The Seattle Times. You can read it here.
Aside from the very real, and potential impacts the spill could have on aquatic ecosystems and the vitality of Puget Sound, I find the lack of outrage from some over this disaster concerning.
Folks in rural counties like ours have been heavily scrutinized by politicians, the state Supreme Court and anti-sprawl groups for the minimal (and some would argue, insignificant) impacts domestic wells and septic systems have on water quality. Yet these same groups haven't uttered a word about February's sewage spill. The lack of consistency is baffling.
For the sake of the region, I hope King County gets its sewage management in order before another mishap harms the Sound.
Levy cliff extension on its way to the governor's desk
Yesterday, the House passed a bill that would extend the “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. Without an extension, the levy lid would have dropped to 24 percent at the end of 2017.
Sound familiar? That's because in January, the House passed a different measure that also extended the levy cliff, but that measure was never considered by the Senate. At the time, I voted against the bill — voting to kick the can down the road when we still had 12 weeks of the session left didn't seem like the responsible call to make for our students and schools.
The new bill we voted on yesterday , Senate Bill 5023, is different. In addition to extending current levy policy, it would:
- establish transparency and enable detailed accounting by requiring levy dollars be deposited into a subfund; and
- helps ensure levy dollars are spent as intended by requiring school districts to submit reports to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction detailing how levy dollars will be allocated before being able to put the levy on the ballot.
The bill passed with bipartisan support and now awaits the governor's signature.
Visitors from Whatcom County
Rep. Luanne Van Werven and I introduced Western Washington University (WWU) President Sabah Randhawa to our colleagues in Olympia in February. President Randhawa has been a pleasure to work with and I've been encouraged by our conversations about issues affecting WWU students and faculty. Go Viks!
Future Farmers of America (FFA) students from Ferndale High School met with me in February about agriculture issues in Whatcom County and throughout the state. In order to fulfill some of the FFA requirements, the students presented arguments for and against using antibiotics for livestock as well as concerns about antibiotic resistance in humans.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about bills or issues before the Legislature, please don't hesitate to contact me directly.
Thank you for allowing me to represent you!