Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 105-day regular legislative session finished just after 10 p.m. on Sunday, April 23. However, in the last hours of the session, a very inadequate “fix” to the state’s drug possession law that expires July 1 failed on the House floor. Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee called the Legislature back for a special session, beginning May 16, to come up with new legislation to address the Blake drug possession issue.
This email update reflects on the successes and disappointments of the 2023 regular session and discusses expectations of the special session.
Please reach out to my office if you have any questions or comments about information in this newsletter.
Why is the Legislature going into a special session on May 16?
One of the most difficult debates this year centered on public safety. Crime and drug abuse have exploded over the last two years, particularly due to relaxation of state laws and decisions made by the state Supreme Court.
By way of background, the state Supreme Court ruled in February 2021 under “Blake v. State” that the state’s drug possession law was unconstitutional because it did not require the state to prove a defendant knew they possessed the illegal substance.
In the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5476, which re-criminalized drug possession as a misdemeanor rather than as a felony. It also encouraged prosecutors to divert cases for assessment, treatment, or other services. The criminalization of possession of drugs by this bill was set to expire on July 1, 2023, if no solution was reached by the Legislature by that expiration date.
We had all session to address the problems caused from the Blake Decision. And we negotiated in good faith for legislation that would hold people accountable and get them the treatment they need to break addiction. Unfortunately, on the last day of the regular session, House Democrats came up with their own language to the bill — that didn’t even have enough of their own votes to pass. Senate Bill 5536 failed on the House floor by a vote of 43-55, with 15 Democrats voting against their own party’s bill.
The lack of a “Blake fix” at the end of the regular session is why we are going back into a special session. On Tuesday, Gov. Inslee signed a proclamation calling the Legislature to return to a special session to address the state’s drug possession law. We believe the Legislature must create a meaningful state policy that helps people break the cycle of drug addiction. But it must be done right. The 11th hour fix was wholly inadequate and would have only helped to enable the further cycle of addiction. We need accountability, local control, flexibility and compassion in a true fix. I am hopeful that can still be achieved.
Learn more about it in an article from The Seattle Times: WA drug possession reform needs both accountability and compassion.
Police chase bill falls short, but allows limited pursuits
Likely one of the most controversial bills of the 2023 session was the police pursuit legislation. In 2021, the Legislature enacted a new law that toughened the requirements for officer pursuit. Under that law, officers need probable cause to arrest someone before initiating a pursuit rather than reasonable suspicion. This emboldened suspected criminals to flee crime scenes before law enforcement could question them.
I co-sponsored House Bill 1363, to restore the reasonable suspicion standard. Unfortunately, the final measure that came to the House floor was a heavily watered-down Senate Bill 5352 that passed the House 57-40, and the Senate 26-22. I voted no. The bill was signed into law on Wednesday. It will allow police pursuits under the reasonable suspicion standard of those suspected of committing a violent crime, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offense, vehicle assault, driving under the influence, and trying to escape arrest. Police still cannot pursue a vehicle suspected of being stolen.
My seatmate, Rep. Spencer Hutchins, and I voted no. We issued this statement following the vote. It’s important to note that our local law enforcement did not support the bill, including Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey and Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese. In Chief Busey’s words, “There is more work to be done by the entire Legislature. Our citizens largely expect us to maintain order and keep our communities safe. In its present form, SB 5352 does very little to enhance that ability.” I agree and believe it’s important to listen to the concerns of our officers who are working every day to keep us and our families safe.
Record spending in the operating budget without tax relief
The final 2023-25 operating budget spends $69.77 billion. I remain concerned about the rate of growth in this budget and the fact that spending has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
It’s also disappointing the majority party shut us out of budget negotiations. My Republican colleagues and I were not allowed to see the final 1,404-page operating budget bill until the day before we voted on it. That doesn’t give much time to digest what is arguably the most important bill of the session.
The positive is that this budget does not include any broad-based tax increases. Fortunately, we were able to stop tax increase proposals from advancing. However, the budget also does not provide any tax relief, even though we proposed sales tax relief, property tax relief and expansion of the Working Family Tax Credit.
It also leaves a small ending fund balance and reserves are less than the state treasurer’s recommended target of 10%. For these and other reasons, I did not support the final operating budget.
Bipartisan transportation and capital budgets fund local projects
Democrats and Republicans worked together this year to create bipartisan capital and transportation budgets. I voted in favor of both these budgets.
A $9 billion capital construction budget appropriates nearly $68 million for projects in the 26th District, including:
- $41.3 million for modernization of West Sound Technical Skills Center – Bremerton
- $1.3 million for Lakebay Marina cleanup – Key Peninsula
- $1 million for marina breakwater replacement – Port Orchard
- $1 million for PenMet Parks Community Recreation Center – Gig Harbor
- $165,000 for Admiral Theatre improvements – Bremerton
To view 26th District capital budget projects, go to this link, make sure the version is the “As Passed Legislature (04/22/2203),” choose the 26th Legislative District from the drop-down menu, and click the “View Report” button.
The House approved a $13.5 billion transportation budget, including nearly $228 million for the 26th District. Local projects to receive funding include:
- $182 million for local ferry projects, including vessel improvements and preservation, reservation system modernization, and preservation and improvements to terminals.
- $16 million for SR 3/Gorst widening.
- $10.8 million for preservation of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
- $1.6 million for SR 16/Wollochet Drive safety improvements in Gig Harbor.
Another big win for our district is the passage of House Bill 1846, which I co-sponsored. This bill opens the procurement process of new ferry vessels to national shipbuilders. Currently law dictates that Washington State Ferries are made in Washington. Historically, we’ve only had one in-state company able to bid on ferries, so that law has made it harder for us to acquire new vessels. The bill calls for the Washington State Department of Transportation to contract for up to five new hybrid diesel-electric vessels that can carry up to 144 vehicles. T
Governor signs Caldier’s interstate dental compact bill
I share the frustration of military members and their spouses who are stationed to serve here on bases in Kitsap and Pierce Counties and throughout the state — and they are restricted from engaging in economic activities because they are from out of state and may be here temporarily. Specifically, I’m talking about dentists and dental hygienists licensed in other states who have the experience to provide dental-care services, but the requirements for them to do so here in Washington are expensive, complicated and unnecessarily require additional education.
Washington has a critical dental workforce shortage, exacerbated by the pandemic. However, it can be overcome. That’s why I introduced House Bill 1576. This measure establishes the Dentist and Dental Hygienist Compact, which will reduce barriers, facilitate interstate licensing, increase portability, and preserve patient protections.
The measure passed the Legislature unanimously and was signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee. The compact, established under the bill, will allow licensed dentists and dental hygienists to practice across state lines in states that join the agreement.
Iowa and Washington are the first and second states, respectively, to pass legislation for a dental compact. Tennessee, Ohio and Texas are also on track to adopt their own legislation. When six states have joined, the compact will be formed. Early states in the compact will write the rules through a new seven-member compact commission, including requirements for licensed dentists and dental hygienists to practice within the compact states. Compact states are also given the option of charging a reduced fee or no fee to active military members and their spouses.
This new law removes barriers, helps to solve our dental workforce shortage, and provides needed financial stability for our military families. I am honored to be the sponsor of this legislation.
Your 26th District House Team: Rep. Michelle Caldier and Rep. Spencer Hutchins
I am grateful to be working alongside Rep. Spencer Hutchins, who was elected to his first term in November as my 26th District seatmate. Together, we are bringing a strong, unified voice to Olympia.
Please remember that I work for you throughout the year, not just when the Legislature is in session. Please call my Olympia office if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about state government and legislation. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!