Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2020 legislative session began Jan. 13. This is a supplemental budget year, meaning our primary duty during this short 60-day session is to make mid-term corrections and adjustments to the 2019-21 operating, transportation and capital budgets. This update provides a look at some of the issues I'm working on this session.
Fighting against higher taxes and bad legislation
Even after adopting record-breaking tax increases last year, there are those who have returned this session suggesting we need a new state income tax, a tax on vehicle miles traveled, and new standards that would drive up the cost of your gasoline by as much as 50-cents a gallon. The state is in much better financial shape than many of our everyday taxpayers who struggle to get by. I'm fighting for you in Olympia to keep taxes low and government accountable.
I am also fighting against bad, ill-conceived and unnecessary legislation that may have good intentions behind the bill, but would not be in your best interest. Here are a few examples of bills and issues you should keep your eye on:
- Income tax – On Jan. 13, the first day of session, 15 lawmakers filed an amicus brief asking the state Supreme Court to accept review of the constitutionality of Seattle's income tax (adopted in 2017 but never implemented). In an online survey I conducted through this email update, 81.31% of respondents said they oppose local/state/capital gains income taxes in Washington state.
- Road usage charge – The Washington State Transportation Commission testified before the House Transportation Committee last week, recommending a per-mile road usage charge be implemented in Washington state. In the same survey I conducted last summer, 82.24 percent of 26th District respondents oppose the road usage charge. I recently submitted an opinion-editorial to the Key Peninsula News voicing my concerns about this new tax. Watch for the article in its February edition.
- Senate Bill 6516 would create a 32-hour work week, reducing the normal work week by eight hours. There are lots of workers trying to get more hours so they can pay the bills and make a living. This bill would cut into their ability to bring home a full paycheck.
- Senate Bill 6625 would create a guaranteed basic income pilot program with 500 randomly-selected qualified participants to receive a $500 a month cash stipend from the state from Jan. 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.
- House Bill 2529 would ban initiatives and referendums in odd years while still allowing local government to run special elections to raise taxes during all years. Why would it be okay to allow local tax increases to appear on the ballot in odd years while denying Washingtonians their constitutional right of initiative and referendum in those same years?
Comprehensive sex education in kindergarten goes too far
A bill that would require comprehensive sex education in all grade levels, including kindergarten, brought nearly 100 people to the House Education Committee during a public hearing last week. Under House Bill 2184, the curriculum would be taught, beginning in the 2022-23 school year.
I support education to prevent pregnancies and sexual abuse, but not the graphic nature of OSPI's approved curricula for kindergarten students. During the public hearing, I told the committee that if I read aloud what it said, I'd likely be gaveled by the committee chair. If it is inappropriate for me to read it out loud in committee, I don't think it is something we should teach a kindergartner.
2020 session priorities
I have introduced several bills for the 2020 session that address issues of health care, foster care, special education needs and even solutions for what has been labeled as the most pressing issue of the session — homelessness.
Housing supply is not keeping up with demands. That, among other things, has led to a homelessness crisis. Ideally, we should lighten up on the heavy-handed growth management restrictions that have increased construction costs. With the current makeup of the Legislature, it's not going to happen any time soon. I am focused on other options, including shared housing to address the supply problem.
I have introduced House Bill 2639. This measure would create a home sharing support grant program using some money from the state's document recording fee. This program would support home sharing programs that match homeless people with homeowners willing to share space on their property. A public hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, Jan. 28, at 10 a.m. in the House Housing, Community Development and Veterans Committee.
I have also introduced House Bill 2809 that would ensure services are provided to pregnant women who find themselves homeless. A public hearing on this bill has been scheduled for this Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 3:30 p.m. in the House Appropriations Committee.
Helping foster kids
Foster youth have lower graduation rates than homeless youth, in part due to schools not providing transportation as required by federal and state guidelines. In 2018, I passed House Bill 2684 requiring school districts to provide transportation to out-of-district foster kids instead of automatically enrolling them into a new school. I have introduced House Bill 2583 to ensure schools provide transportation for students in out-of-home placements. After a grace period of one week, there's a $500 per-day penalty against schools that fail to provide these students with regular transportation to the school of origin. A public hearing was held last Tuesday on the bill in the House Education Committee.
ACCOUNTABILITY OF FOSTER YOUTH SERVICES
I'm concerned there's little accountability with your tax dollars that are supposed to be used to help foster kids transition into independence. The state provided $248,797 to an independent living contractor in Kitsap County to help foster youth, yet there are no reports of actual services provided. I have introduced House Bill 2580 to require the Department of Children, Youth and Families to submit a report to the Legislature by November 2020 that gives a detailed description of the services delivered by independent living providers and those served. A public hearing was held Friday in the Human Services and Early Learning Committee.
Supporting those with special education needs
We simply are not adequately funding special education for more than 150,000 kids living with learning disabilities. In 1995, the Legislature put a lid on the number of disabled kids the state will fund in any given district. Today, it means Washington will only pay to support special education students who make up to 13.5 percent of a district's total population — even though most school districts report having more enrolled. Many of these kids with special needs are being left behind because of this restriction.
To fix this problem, I have introduced House Bill 2581, which would remove the 13.5 percent funding cap. Let's make sure every special education student is fully funded. The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
Here are several health care bills I have introduced this session to protect consumers and help providers:
- House Bill 2531 – Protecting patients from unsafe dental practices: Dentists tell me there has been an influx of patients they are seeing who need corrective care after using online “telemedicine” orthodontic services in which they receive aligners, but never see a dentist or orthodontist to determine a correct fit or other underlying problems. Many of these services are out of state, so there is no adequate recourse if complications arise. This bill would require patients to have at least one in-person examination by a licensed dentist before receiving telemedicine services. It would also prohibit these providers from requiring patients to sign an agreement that limits the ability to file a complaint. (Read The New York Times article on this issue.) A public hearing was held Friday on this bill in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.
- House Bill 2582 – Concerning taxation of independent health care providers: This would provide a business and occupation (B&O) tax exemption for amounts received from providing Medicaid services by health care providers not affiliated with a hospital. It would also act as an incentive for health care providers not affiliated with a hospital to continue offering services for Medicaid patients by allowing them to deduct amounts that would have been received from the provision of donated health care services. I originally drafted this as an amendment last session to House Bill 2158, which significantly increased B&O taxes during the 2019 legislative session. The amendment, however, was not added. House Bill 2582 has been referred to the House Finance Committee.
- House Bill 2584 – Establishing rates for behavioral health services: We gave funding in the budget to increase provider rates so that Medicaid patients could access behavioral health services. Unfortunately, the Managed Care Organizations kept the additional funds and did not pass that on to providers. This measure would provide yearly reviews to ensure Medicaid patients get the services they need. I serve on the Children's Mental Health Workgroup and this legislation was one of its priorities. A hearing on the bill was held Thursday in the House Appropriations Committee.
- House Bill 2704 – Sexual assault counseling services in schools: This measure would create a competitive grant program for Community Sexual Assault Programs to provide group counseling in schools for youth survivors of sexual assault. I believe this could provide tremendous help and healing for sexual assault victims, reduce teen pregnancies, and increase self-esteem. A public hearing is scheduled for today at 3:30 p.m. in the House Appropriations Committee.
I encourage you to stay informed and involved
Here are several ways to keep on top of what is happening during the 60-day session:
- Bookmark my legislative website, where you can find my latest press releases, op-eds, video updates, radio interviews and more.
- Visit The Ledger, a new legislative news aggregator that features the top stories from around the state.
- Watch TVW's “Legislative Review,” which airs nightly and gives viewers a 15-minute overview of what happened that day at the Capitol.
Your input is important and helps me serve you more efficiently. I read every email from constituents and have an open door policy, regardless of political affiliation or views. Please call or email me any time with your questions, comments or concerns. If you're planning to come to Olympia, please drop by my office for a visit and I will make time to meet with you. I want to hear your views. You may also call my office if you would like an appointment. My contact information is below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!