Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2011 Legislature has wrapped up its seventh week, and as we head toward the midway point of the scheduled 105-day session, I'd like to bring you up to date on recent developments.
On Thursday, Feb. 17, we reached our first “cutoff” date. Cutoffs are the Legislature's self-imposed deadlines to keep the timeline of the session on track. The Feb. 17 cutoff required that all policy bills be approved, or as we say, “reported out” of committee. Budget-related bills had a few more days for consideration, but had to clear their committees by the close of business on Friday, Feb. 25.
Between the House and Senate, hundreds of measures failed to win committee approval and are considered “dead,” but many others successfully worked their way through the process.
I should add that a bill is never considered completely dead until the session adjourns. Any of the “dead” measures could end up as an amendment to another bill with a similar title that survived the cutoff. Such parliamentary procedures serve to keep our attention during this time of session.
You can see an overview of the “Dead or Alive” list of House bills on our House Republican Web site by clicking here.
Up to this point, most of our day-to-day work has been filled with committee meetings to hear public testimony on legislation. A minimum of time has been devoted to floor action in the House chamber.
Now the scenario changes, and our focus shifts to floor sessions where all 98 members will spend long hours debating, amending and voting on legislation. If we can't get the work done during the day, we'll work nights and weekends to make it happen.
The reason for the hectic pace is that bills must clear their house of origin by Monday, March 7 – the next session deadline. After that date, it's back to committee work to start considering Senate-passed legislation.
Budget continues to dominate much of our discussions
You've probably heard there's a projected budget shortfall of more than $5 billion for the next two years. But we also have a more immediate problem – the operating budget for the current biennium, which ends June 30, which had a $600 million shortfall.
We recently took our second vote of the year on the current budget. I voted against this measure when it was before the House in January, and voted against it again on Feb. 18.
Feb. 18: The bill we voted on (ESHB 1086) would reduce the deficit by about $367 million, but leaves a big gap that will have to be addressed later, probably after the next revenue forecast, March 17.
Our caucus opposed the bill for three fundamental reasons:
• It's not sustainable;
• It targets education unfairly; and
• It fails to prioritize or reform government.
The most egregious element of the proposal is the $25 million retroactive cut in K-4 education, which takes money back that school districts have already worked into their budget plans. That's short-sighted and unfair because it punishes the districts' responsible use of their dollars.
Read the joint news release I issued with Rep. Chandler here.
Postponing true solutions
We know that there will have to be significant reforms and elimination of entire programs to close the deficit in the next biennium. It doesn't make sense to keep some programs on life support for the next few months just to have them cut on July 1. But some lawmakers just won't face the fact that state government needs to be smaller and more efficient.
Instead of setting priorities and reducing the size of government, what we passed on Feb. 18 is a budget that once again kicks the problem down the road, and makes the crisis worse. Tough decisions have to be made, and we need to make them now.
Getting Washington working again
The long-term solution to our state's budget crisis is getting people back to work. House Republicans have made private-sector job creation our top priority this session. Legislation we have proposed would address shortcomings we believe are holding back Washington's economic growth.
Some of our solutions include:
• Reforming workers' compensation and unemployment insurance programs to reduce costs to employers;
• Placing a moratorium on most new regulations;
• Eliminating all state health insurance mandates not required by federal law;
• Providing a training wage for new workers (for employers with 50 or fewer employees); and
• Streamlining the state's permitting process to remove barriers for small businesses looking to expand or locate in Washington.
A few bills of note that I have co-sponsored:
House Bill 1592 – The bill would have suspended the Growth Management Act in counties and cities where the unemployment rate exceeds 7 percent for three consecutive months. The measure died in the House Local Government Committee.
House Bill 1156 – Would have created jobs by putting a freeze on new rules or regulations by state agencies until 2014, or when the economy recovers. The proposal died in the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee.
House Joint Resolution 4213 – Would make permanent the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes by passing a constitutional amendment. Under consideration in the House Ways
and Means Committee.
House Bill 1672 – Would encourage small business job creation by doubling the small business tax credit. Pending in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Reining in relinquishment
The “use it or lose it” water management law provides that a water right reverts to the state if it has not been used in the previous five years. Apart from eliminating the law altogether, what is needed is a fair, final resolution that encourages conservation and provides assurances that water rights will be preserved even if they are transferred or the water isn't used.
HB 1117 (Taylor) – Would remove all statutory references to the five-year “use it or lose it” reference to relinquishment of water rights, and instead leave the common-law notion of “abandonment” as the only means by which a water right is forfeited.
HB 1054 (Chandler) – Would encourage conservation practices by water users by protecting such practices from relinquishment.
HB 1380 (Warnick) – Would ensure that the owner of a water right would retain it as long as he or she continues to use at least a portion of the water for the established purpose of use.
Thanks for reading my legislative update.
Your opinions are important to me and always welcome, so please keep in touch.