Dear Friends and Neighbors,
How time flies! Today is the 59th day of the scheduled 60-day session. Tomorrow is the final day. As we begin to wind down this session and put it in the history books, I wanted to share this update with you, along with information about my upcoming virtual town hall.
Please join me March 24 for a virtual town hall meeting!
I'm holding a virtual town hall meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on March 24. This is an opportunity to connect with me from the comfort of your home and discuss issues of the concluded 2022 legislative session. I want to hear your questions, comments and concerns. Please take a moment now to preregister by clicking here. I look forward to seeing you at this event!
Getting back to normal after two years of COVID restrictions
Although the pandemic is not entirely behind us, there are promising signs of optimism ahead. Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the end of the statewide indoor mask mandate this Saturday, March 12.
The state House of Representatives relaxed some restrictions, which finally allowed me and a few more COVID-tested lawmakers to debate and vote on the House floor for the first time in two years. Previously, my voting has been conducted remotely. Toward the end of this session, the floor operations became a hybrid of members voting virtually online and inside the House chamber. I hope we can get back to normal next session with all members returning to the House floor.
Reducing Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls by 75 cents per crossing
I'm very pleased to report the state House took action yesterday to pass Senate Bill 5488 by a vote of 58-39. This bill would transfer $130 million from the general fund to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Account, which would lower the amount the state owes on the bridge loan. This could allow the state Transportation Commission to lower two-axle toll rates by 75 cents per crossing. I co-sponsored the companion measure, House Bill 1602, in the House.
When I first took office in 2015, I promised to put politics aside and support legislation that would help my 26th District constituents, regardless of whether the bills had Republican or Democratic sponsors. Reducing these tolls for our commuters has been one of my top priorities. I have fought hard to bring us to this point. As a member of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Work Group in 2017, I worked to address long-term toll payer relief on the bridge.
Unfortunately, the only solution that advanced in 2018 was House Bill 2990, which provided temporary relief by extending repayment of the bridge loans, and resulted in increased tolls by 25 cents, costing 26th District commuters millions of dollars.
In my 2018 Legislative Report, I wrote, “While the solution in HB 2990 provides temporary toll relief for the next four years, I do not believe it is the best solution for the residents of the 26th District and will continue to fight to get our fair share from the Legislature.” I took that promise seriously, which is why I am proud this year's toll relief legislation is most likely heading to the governor.
Prime-sponsored by my seatmate, Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, Senate Bill 5488 is the first meaningful toll relief for our district commuters since the new bridge was constructed. It will save our commuters millions of dollars, not cost them like HB 2990. With gas prices heading toward $5 a gallon and inflation at its highest in the past 40 years, this is the right legislation for our district. And it doesn't matter to me whether the prime sponsor is a Democrat or a Republican. What matters is that you will be paying less when you drive over that bridge. That's more money in your pocket for you and your family.
The bill that passed yesterday was amended in the House, so it goes back to the Senate for concurrence. I hope we can provide the REAL relief our local commuters deserve.
Supplemental capital construction budget brings money home to the 26th District
Yesterday, the state House gave unanimous approval to a $1.5 billion supplemental capital construction budget that invests in schools, parks, and other important infrastructure across Washington state. Here in the 26th District, this budget allocates $14.2 million for local projects.
This includes nearly $11 million for modernization of the West Sound Technical Skills Center in Bremerton; about $2 million is directed toward day use development of Kopachuck State Park near Gig Harbor, and $1.4 million for the YMCA's Camp Colman cabin preservation and upgrades near Longbranch. Money is also provided for Peninsula Community Health Services, Kiwanis Park playground accessibility upgrades in Bremerton, restoration and bridge construction at Harper Estuary in Port Orchard, a new HVAC system for the Bremerton Library, and funding is provided for the Gig Harbor Senior Center office.
The bill passed the Senate today and is heading to the governor for his signature.
Transportation budget includes my amendment to address ferry worker concerns
I received word this morning that the conference agreement to the supplemental transportation budget includes a modified version of my amendment that seeks to improve employment opportunities on our ferry system.
Washington State Ferries is operating on a reduced schedule because of the inability to staff the boats. Ferry route cancellations are common, affecting thousands of people who rely on our marine highways to get to work, operate their businesses, or be home with their families. An estimated 132 ferry employees lost their jobs in October as a result of the governor's COVID vaccine mandate, further exacerbating the employee shortage.
In January, I introduced House Bill 1608 to address this issue. The measure sought to direct a review and analysis of collective bargaining agreements governing state ferry employees for the purpose of identifying provisions that create barriers and disparate impacts on newly-hired ferry employees. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a hearing on the bill, and it died in the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. Read more about this proposal here.
Recently, I was able to attach a similar amendment to the supplemental transportation operating budget. I learned today that the conference agreement contains a modified version of my amendment. The new provision would require the Department of Transportation to “conduct a review and analysis of the collective bargaining agreements governing state ferry employees, to identify provisions that create barriers for, or contribute to creating a disparate impact on, newly hired ferry employees, including those who are women, people of color, veterans, and other employees belonging to communities that have historically been underrepresented in the workforce.”
Hopefully, this helps to alleviate some of the issues that have become barriers to hiring and retaining ferry workers.
When did 'mother' become an offensive word?
I am a mother to two daughters and countless foster children I have cared for over the years. It is the most important job I have ever held. I am very proud of my title as “mother.”
Unfortunately, several bills this year have tried to eliminate gender-specific terms in statute, such as the word “mother,” so as not to offend the few women in our state who have transitioned to becoming a man. These are people who kept their female reproductive organs, went off testosterone, got pregnant, and then became offended that other women were called “mothers” or “women.”
I offered an amendment to the midwifery bill, Senate Bill 5765, that would allow both the terms, “mother” and “gestational parent,” but it died along party lines. House Bill 1851 (abortion care) strips the word “woman” and changes it to “pregnant individual.” I offered an amendment to allow both gender-specific and gender-neutral terms, but again, that was also rejected. My amendment to House Bill 1881, which creates a new health profession for birth doulas, was adopted in the House. It sought to add “women” in addition to “birthing persons” and “birthing people” as those supported by a birth doula. That amendment, however, was removed in the Senate.
I feel removing these words in statute are insensitive to the majority of woman and mothers — many of us who proudly wear those labels.
Please stay in touch!
We still have final operating and transportation budgets to pass before the Legislature adjourns tomorrow. I will bring you more details on these and other issues in my next email update.
Please remember that although the Legislature will no longer be in session, I work for you throughout the year. Be sure to contact me any time you have questions, comments, suggestions or ideas about legislation and state government.
It is an honor to serve you and the 26th Legislative District.