Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Welcome to Week Nine, Day 59, of the scheduled 105 days of the 2021 legislative session. To date, 563 bills have been introduced in the House and 491 in the Senate, for a total of 1,054. Our work continues virtually as the Capitol remains closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns from the Speaker of the House.
For the past two weeks, we have been on the “virtual” floor of the House, debating and passing bills that have passed their respective committees in the chamber where they originated. Yesterday, March 9, was the house-of-origin floor cutoff. Bills that did not pass out of the chamber where they were introduced are now considered “dead” for the session. Legislation necessary to implement the budget is exempt from the deadline.
As of today, 216 bills have passed the House and have been sent to the Senate. That's in comparison to 351 House bills that passed the House upon cutoff in 2019. As of today, we are once again holding committee hearings in the House — this time on Senate bills.
Join me for a virtual town hall meeting
I'm pleased to share with you that I will be conducting a virtual 26th District town hall meeting, Tuesday, March 16, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. to discuss issues related to the 2021 legislative session. While I have conducted many telephone town halls in the past to connect with citizens across the 26th District, this will be my first virtual town hall using the computer platform, “Zoom.”
I invite you to participate by pre-registering for the conference. You can do so by going here. The conference can only accommodate the first 500 attendees, so participants should register early. I look forward to talking with you then.
Sex offender/felon voting rights
As a sexual assault survivor, I am very concerned about a bill that passed the House on Feb. 24 that would automatically restore voting rights for sex offenders in custody and felons across the state.
House Bill 1078 would automatically restore voting rights of a person convicted of a felony when he or she is not serving a sentence of total confinement under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections (DOC). This includes felons under partial or community custody — even under house arrest and on home-monitoring equipment.
The bill would also restore the voting rights of the worst convicted sexual predators in our state who are still in custody. This includes dangerous sex offenders in civil commitment on McNeil Island.
How can this be? The Department of Social and Health Services, NOT the DOC listed on the bill, operates the Special Commitment Center that provides specialized mental health treatment for civilly committed sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences.
The bill also removes provisions authorizing the revocation of provisional restoration of voting rights if there is willful disregard to pay their restitution and legal financial obligations. This means there is no incentive to meet these responsibilities.
I joined with Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, and other lawmakers to fight this bill on the virtual House floor. (Watch excerpts of our floor debate here.) Rep. Graham's sister was murdered by the Green River Killer. We would have been more supportive of this bill had it excluded criminals of the most heinous crimes. Unfortunately, the sponsors of this bill were not willing to work with us, and it passed the House, 57-41. It's now in the Senate. I encourage your involvement to stop this very bad bill.
Rep. Graham and I recently co-authored an opinion editorial on this issue in the Kitsap Sun. Read it here.
$37,000 a month per child for group home foster care? There's a better solution!
In my last email update, I told you about House Bill 1347, a measure I sponsored to increase payments to foster care parents willing to take in hard-to-place children — many of whom are warehoused by the Department of Children, Youth and Families in residential group homes or even hotels. A foster home provides a much better and more stable environment for foster children with severe behavioral or medical problems.
It costs the state (you the taxpayer) up to $2,000 a night for hotels and on average about $15,000 per month per child in group homes, and even upwards of $37,000 a month per child.
Foster families are willing to take in hard-to-place children, but we need to make sure they have the support to do so. The basic rate paid to foster parents to take in a child 12-years and older is $810 a month. Those levels may increase to just over $1,600 a month for children at Level IV, who exhibit the most extreme forms of physical, mental, behavioral and emotional conditions that require more work, care and supervision. However, the formula to allow for those higher levels is defective and cumbersome. Most foster homes never receive that level of support. My bill would have corrected this problem and ensured increased support for parents who accept challenging foster kids.
Unfortunately, the Washington Association for Children and Families, which represents group homes and private agencies, fought against the bill and ended up killing the measure. Why? Because they would have lost a lot of money if kids were taken out of group homes and placed in stable homes with foster parents.
KING 5 Investigative Reporter Chris Ingalls has filed a series of reports on the problems in the state's foster care program. I am a former foster child and also involved in regular foster care parenting. I called Chris and told him about my bill and how I was blindsided by this association. He looked into the issue and filed an investigative report. Watch it here or click on the photo below.
Forcing rental property owners to extend leases is not the solution to homelessness
As the ranking Republican on the House Housing, Human Services and Veterans Committee, I have great concerns over a bill that would make it nearly impossible for a rental property owner to stop renting property to a tenant whose lease is expiring.
House Bill 1236 would force rental property owners to renew a tenant's expiring lease; rent month-to-month unless the tenant agrees to a longer term; and allow occupants to stay on the property if they damage the property beyond the security deposit amount, or even if they say racist remarks to neighbors, the property owner and their staff.
In a seven-and-a-half hour debate that spanned both Saturday and Sunday, more than 25 amendments were offered to try to bring the bill back into balance. Most were rejected. The bill passed the House on Sunday with a vote of 54-44.
This will be an enormous burden against rental property owners who have struggled for nearly a year under the governor's eviction moratorium. More than 171,000 Washington renters are now behind in rent. Many owners are paying mortgage on those properties without receiving income from their tenants.
On the virtual House floor, I said: “People will no longer want to rent anymore. They will sell those homes and our housing crisis will get worse.”
- Listen to the radio report on this bill.
- Watch the first day of debate on House Bill 1236.
- Watch the second day of debate on House Bill 1236.
A budget proposal that would fund vital services without tax increases
We are still awaiting the unveiling of a state operating budget proposal by the majority party. Meanwhile, last month, House Republicans unveiled a new two-year state operating budget proposal which would fund critical services with no cuts and NO new taxes. In fact, it would reduce taxes by $445 million. Here are some of the highlights.
I am encouraged by this proposal, which shows we can meet the state's vital needs and not ask citizens for more of their hard-earned tax dollars at a time when most people and businesses are struggling economically from the pandemic shutdowns. To review the actual budget, go here.
An income tax in Washington? I am opposed!
On Saturday, the Senate approved and sent to the House a capital gains income tax (Senate Bill 5096), with Republicans voting no. While proponents are saying it would fund expanded child care, that's not truly the reason behind this bill. It's widely speculated the real reason is that proponents want it to be signed into law and then immediately challenged in the courts. Supporters hope if it reaches the state Supreme Court (the same court that just ruled state law against drug possession is unconstitutional), justices will invalidate state law preventing an income tax.
A measure was also introduced that would impose a wealth income tax on billionaires in Washington. House Bill 1406 would impose a 1 percent income tax, exempting the first $1 billion of income. While this measure and the capital gains income tax proposal may not affect the average Washingtonian, these are just a foot in the door to a statewide income tax that could be expanded to all income earners in Washington.
Washingtonians have rejected state income taxes 10 times, as recently as in 2010 when Initiative 1098 was defeated by 65 percent.
Washington doesn't need new taxes. An official state revenue forecast will be released on March 17, and it's expected to show much higher revenues. We can sufficiently fund child care, health care, education and other vital needs within existing revenue without raising taxes. At a time when families, employers and people across the state are financially struggling from the COVID-19 economic shutdowns, this is not the time to be seeking higher taxes to pay for bigger government.
Please stay informed and in touch
I encourage you to stay informed and involved. Seven weeks remain of the legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn April 25. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to submit written comment on bills or even testify remotely in the committee process. Go to the “Participating in the Process” page on the Legislature's website to become actively involved.
Please call, write or email my office with your questions, comments, concerns or ideas about legislation and state government. You'll find my contact information below.
It is truly an honor to represent and serve you!