Dear friends and neighbors:
After five years of Republican control of the state Senate, exciting changes are afoot in Olympia. Democrats gained a one-seat majority as a result of this month’s special election in the 45th Legislative District (Redmond/Woodinville). Senate Democrats will now be able to set the agendas for Senate committees and floor action, determining which bills will be heard and brought up for votes. The shift in power presents many opportunities for Legislature to end the gridlock that has been prevalent in recent years and pass legislation to help families and communities here in Seattle and across our state.
When the Legislature convenes in January, I will have the privilege of serving as the chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, which has jurisdiction over civil and criminal law issues such as gun regulation, family law, the death penalty, and police use of deadly force. I will also continue to serve on the Senate Ways & Means Committee, which writes the state’s operating and capital budgets and reviews every bill with a fiscal impact.
I will also join the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. As the father of two students at Stevens Elementary and two at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, I look forward to working on correcting the significant defects in the education funding bill that we passed this summer in response to the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. We will continue to work to lower class sizes and improve outcomes for students at every level. Finally, I will be serving on the Senate Rules Committee, which decides which bills will be considered by the full Senate.
At the end of the extended 2017 session, Senate Republicans refused to bring up the capital (construction) budget for a vote because of an unrelated dispute with the House on rural water wells. This has held up funding for important projects throughout the state, including school construction (over $20 million for Seattle Public Schools) and environmental cleanup projects; community health center projects such as Country Doctor; and arts and heritage projects such as Hugo House and Town Hall Seattle. Hundreds of family-wage jobs have been lost. While we are still working to resolve this standoff, I am confident that we can pass the agreed-on capital budget no later than January.
Law & Justice Committee issues
The Senate Law & Justice Committee has a busy agenda this session, including work on some issues that have been largely stalled in a divided legislature:
- Preventing gun violence: We will have a real opportunity to make progress on a range of public safety measures to address gun violence in our state. The committee will consider banning “bump stocks,” which were used in the Las Vegas shooting in September to make a rifle fire faster. We will develop strategies to ensure that guns are safely stored and kept out of the wrong hands. We know that a majority of all adult firearm deaths are the result of suicide. I will work to pass SB 5553, which would allow individuals to put themselves on a “do not purchase” list for firearms, providing another layer of prevention.
- Second chances: We will be looking at several measures aimed at giving people with criminal records a fair shot at making a decent living as they re-enter society. The evidence shows these policies reduce poverty, boost public safety, and save taxpayer dollars through reduced recidivism.
- Visitation rights with kids: It may surprise you to know that relatives such as grandparents have no right to seek visitation with a child if parents object. Washington is the only state in the country that has no effective visitation statute since ours was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2000. I am proud that 39 of my 48 Senate colleagues agreed to co-sponsor SB 5598, which would allow relatives to petition a court for visitation rights if denial of visitation might cause a risk of harm to the child.
Thank you for the privilege of representing you in Olympia. I welcome your comments and questions anytime.
State Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District