We finished the 2019 Washington legislative session on time and I couldn’t be more excited about our progress advancing meaningful policies that elevate the quality of life of families, children and communities across our state. Here’s an overview of our work in Olympia.
Environment, Energy, and Technology
Your Legislature had one of its most productive and successful environmental years in decades. As chair of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology (EET) Committee, I was proud to lead on issues of vital importance, including climate action, orca protection and data privacy.
• 100 percent Clean Energy – I sponsored the Washington Clean Transformation Act, a historic bill moving our electric utilities completely off coal by 2025 and to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2045. It ensures that we continue to lead in the worldwide movement away from fossil fuels toward a modern system using integrated wind, hydro and solar power. It’s also the centerpiece of a comprehensive carbon emission reduction package that I partnered with Gov. Inslee to craft, and it puts Washington on track to meet the Paris climate agreement goals.
• Orca Protection – Only 75 Southern Resident orcas are left in the Salish Sea, the lowest number in decades. The Senate EET Committee led on bills to aid orca and Chinook salmon recovery by improving oil transportation safety, prohibiting the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products and protecting orca habitat in Puget Sound. The operating budget increases funding for orca recovery efforts by $31 million. The capital construction budget allocates another $585 million for projects to benefit salmon and orca recovery.
• Data privacy – Washington is home to some of the world’s most prominent technology companies, but we fiercely value our right to privacy. My Washington Privacy Act would advance our leadership on this issue by bringing our state’s data privacy laws into the 21st Century. Taking best practices from Europe and California, it would give Washingtonians meaningful tools to determine how their personal data is generated, collected, stored and sold. It would also provide safeguards on the use of facial recognition by companies and law enforcement. The Senate passed the bill 46-1, but it House failed to bring it to a vote. I remain committed to passing this groundbreaking policy in 2020.
Repealing the Death Penalty
I have supported legislation to repeal the death penalty each of my 10 years in the Legislature, including Senate Bill 5339 this year. I was proud the Senate passed the bill, but disappointed that it didn’t receive a vote in the House. It’s time to join the global movement away from the death penalty and I’m confident the bill will pass next year.
I appreciate the substantive discussion on school funding this session. Following the McCleary case, our state continues to undergo an enormous transformation in how schools are funded, from a local-centric system to a state-centric one. This transition is not easy and will require years of engaged dialogue and reexamination to ensure we do what is best for our kids.
I voted against the original McCleary bill that increased state property taxes and capped local levies, and I remain deeply uncomfortable with the state’s over-reliance on property taxes to fund education. Nevertheless, despite my concerns about lifting the levy lid, I’m pleased that we found a compromise lifting caps in Seattle Public Schools to $2.50 per $1,000 assessed value, or $3,000 per pupil. While the state should lead on funding, this will allow local districts to decide how best to fund other critical aspects of K-12 education, like nurses, librarians and counselors. We also increased special education funding by $155 million.
We significantly invested in reforming and improving Washington’s behavioral health system. The centerpiece is House Bill 1593, establishing a new innovation and integration campus at the UW School of Medicine to train the next generation of behavioral health providers and provide inpatient and outpatient services. We also appropriated $47 million to expand community behavioral health beds and services, and $92 million to ensure the stability of state hospitals.
In this 21st-century economy, a post-secondary credential is more important than ever, but higher education is increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible for middle class families. We addressed this head-on with the Workforce Education Investment Act, expanding need-based aid and increasing career pathways. It replaces the State Need Grant with the Washington College Grant Program, a statewide, guaranteed free college program for lower-income students. This investment is paid for by an increase in the B&O tax on companies that employ highly educated workers, including Microsoft and Amazon.
As a member of the Ways & Means Committee, I’m proud that we put together an operating budget that truly puts people first by investing substantially in children and families. We improved our state’s behavioral health system, enhanced our foster care system, bolstered access to early learning and increased funds for housing. I pushed hard to include $3.5 million to expand Treehouse, which helps youth transition out of the foster care system. In 2018, 83 percent of Treehouse participants graduated high school within five years, compared to 49 percent of foster youth statewide. Our investment will help Treehouse continue a proven track record of supporting our most vulnerable children.
I’m also proud that we were able to pass capital construction and transportation budgets that make substantial infrastructure investments in the 36th Legislative District over the next two years.
36th District Investments
The budgets passed this year include $1.5 million for infrastructure to clean polluted storm-water runoff at both ends of the Aurora Bridge before it flows into Puget Sound, and another $700,000 to install variable, digital speed signs on both approaches to the bridge to reduce speeds and increase safety.
They also allocate $700,000 for planning on how to maintain current and future capacities of the Magnolia and Ballard bridges, including possible replacements, and $1 million to restore the site of the proposed North Elliot Bay Public Dock and Marine Transit Terminal. Other appropriations include upgrades to local schools, grants supporting the arts and public access to history, and funding for programs serving the less-fortunate, like the Ballard Food Bank, the Chief Seattle Club and Farestart.
I’m pleased that the Legislature approved my amendment adding $2.7 million in funding each biennium, starting in 2021, to the operating budget to make capital improvements to the Pacific Science Center, which has not received any meaningful public investment since it was built in the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.
State government is more important than ever. As the federal government avoids many of the most profound and pressing issues of our time, your Legislature is elevating our civic dialogue and standing up for everyone across Washington on the environment, economy and education.
The legislative process requires ongoing input, advocacy and involvement by real people living real lives. As a husband, father, entrepreneur and citizen legislator, it’s an honor and a privilege to listen and learn from constituents in the 36th District. Every day I’m grateful for the chance to be your voice in Olympia.
I welcome the chance to continue this conversation. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com or (360) 786-7670, or at the postal addresses listed below, with further thoughts, comments or questions.
Your partner in service,