Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you are enjoying the beautiful late spring weather. I wanted to take a few minutes to provide a brief wrap-up now that the Legislature has adjourned its regular 105-day session (April 23) and a one-day special session (May 16) to enact a new drug possession law.
Public safety issues dominate 2023 session and special session
In 2021, the Legislature made significant changes that relaxed statewide public safety laws. As a result, crime and drug abuse have exploded over the last two years. I opposed those changes and worked this year to restore public safety. Unfortunately, there was much resistance toward strengthening our laws to hold criminals accountable.
One-day special session provides new drug policy bill
In February 2021, the state Supreme Court ruled under “Blake v. State” that Washington’s drug possession law was unconstitutional because it did not require the state to prove a defendant knew they possessed the illegal substance. During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5476, which re-criminalized drug possession, but reduced the crime to a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Law enforcement was required to offer drug treatment at least two separate times before they could make an arrest and charge someone. This law was set up as a temporary stop-gap measure with a July 1, 2023 expiration date.
Since that law went into effect, there’s been an enormous increase in overdose deaths, especially involving fentanyl, across Washington state. Plus, there was no way to track whether people received the treatment they needed. It became obvious this policy was severely flawed.
During this year’s 105-day session, there were attempts to reach agreement and pass a so-called “Blake fix” bill, including a failed attempt on the House floor in the final hours of the session on April 23. However, because lawmakers left Olympia without a Blake fix, it meant that when the stop-gap law expired, our state would have no laws against the possession of deadly drugs such as heroin or fentanyl. Gov. Inslee called a special session and we reconvened May 16 with a new bipartisan agreement we were able to get across the finish line in a single day.
Among other provisions, Senate Bill 5536 creates a modified gross misdemeanor for drug possession with 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000 for the first two offenses. The penalty increases to 364 days for subsequent offenses. The bill gives prosecutors and judges more flexibility to use a “carrot and stick” approach to get addicts into treatment but retains jail time if they don’t accept the help they need. We also included $63 million for programs to alleviate illegal drug use and provide treatment. The legislation also enables cities and counties to set rules around drug paraphernalia.
I would have preferred stronger legislation, but I’m glad we were able to pass this legislation before the July 1 expiration. We still have much work to do to tackle our state’s drug problem, especially the deadly use of fentanyl.
Learn more about this issue here.
New police pursuit bill still falls short of protecting the public
On police pursuit, the Legislature took only a small step toward patching a big hole in the law. Legislation two years ago banned most police pursuits by requiring the extremely high standard of “probable cause” rather than “reasonable suspicion” to engage in a vehicular pursuit. This led to criminals leaving the scene of a crime and officers couldn’t stop them.
I co-sponsored House Bill 1363, to restore the reasonable suspicion standard. This also would have restored the ability of police to pursue what they reasonably suspected was a stolen vehicle.
Unfortunately, the final measure that came to the House floor was a heavily watered-down Senate Bill 5352, an inadequate bill that limited situations under which law enforcement could pursue a vehicle.
Under the new law, police can only engage in a vehicular pursuit if they have reasonable suspicion that a suspect committed a violent crime, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offense, or vehicle assault, was driving under the influence, or trying to escape arrest. However, police cannot stop the vehicle if they believe it was stolen or that the criminal engaged in other illegal activities outside of this list. I believe this policy is flawed and does not go far enough to allow police to do their jobs. I listened to the concerns of our local law enforcement officers and voted against the bill. I will continue to stand with our men and women of law enforcement to provide the support they need to get criminals off the streets.
Long-term care payroll tax takes effect July 1
In 2019, the Legislature passed House Bill 1087 to create a new state-operated long-term care insurance program known as the WA Cares Fund, to be funded through a payroll tax. That new tax and the program take effect July 1.
Most Washington workers, including part-time and temporary workers, will begin to pay $0.58 per $100 of their earnings for the program. For example, if you make $75,000 a year, this new tax will cost you $36.25 monthly or $435 a year. For those eligible, the program will provide a lifetime maximum benefit of $36,500 for long-term care costs.
This program has been problematic since its inception. The Office of State Actuary warns future benefits might have to be reduced or future payroll taxes may have to be increased to ensure solvency. Others who pay into the system may never receive benefits. Efforts to repeal and replace the plan were rejected by the majority party, clearing the way for the payroll tax to begin in July.
Click here to read more about this tax.
Two very troubling pieces of legislation passed the Legislature this year that you should know about.
If a child runs away from parents to seek gender-affirming care or an abortion, Senate Bill 5599 exempts shelters, host homes and others from parental notification. In these cases, parents may never be told where their runaway child is or even whether their child is safe. Policies already exist in state law and through the foster care system that allow parental rights to be terminated, especially in cases of abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, this bill circumvented that entire process.
Senate Bill 5082 eliminates tax advisory votes on the ballot that were approved by voters in 2007 under Initiative 960. This had allowed voters to say on the ballot in a non-binding vote whether a tax increase passed by the Legislature should be repealed or maintained Sadly, this is another way to shut out the voice of the voters. I believe the public should have transparency, especially when it comes to tax increases. I opposed the measure, but unfortunately, it passed the Legislature.
ICYMI: 2023 session recap
In case you missed it, please check out my last email update from May 8 in which I provide a 2023 session recap. Click here to read it.
Some of the highlights include:
- New state operating budget contains record spending of nearly $70 billion. Despite our efforts, the majority party did not provide tax relief. The good news is that it does not include any broad-based tax increases.
- Bipartisan transportation and capital budgets bring millions of dollars home to the 26th District.
- Governor signs my interstate dental compact bill to help reduce our state’s dental workforce shortage and provide financial stability for military families.
I work for you throughout the year
Although lawmakers are no longer in session in Olympia, I am here to serve and represent you throughout the year. Please contact my office if you have any questions or ideas about legislation and state government. Also, if you’re getting the run-around in dealing with state agencies, often my office may be able to help. You’ll find my contact information below.
It is an honor and a pleasure to proudly serve you and our neighbors across the 26th Legislative District!