Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Hello from Olympia! As always, another busy week has come and gone, with most of it spent voting on legislation in the House Chambers late into the evenings. I wanted to tell you about some of the bills heard last week as we approach the second cutoff of the 2013 legislative session.
Gas Tax Proposal
Thank you for the hundreds of emails I have received about the majority party's proposed 10 cent gas tax increase. Not only does my position match the wishes of voters in the 18th District, it also mirrors statewide opinions about the gas tax. A recent Elway poll showed 72 percent of voters were opposed to an increase in the gas tax. This number is compelling and we must enact meaningful transportation reforms before we consider any new revenue package.
18th District Town Halls
Together with Sen. Ann Rivers and Rep. Brandon Vick, I will be holding town halls in the 18th District this Saturday, March 16. The meetings will begin at 10 a.m. at Battle Ground City Hall (109 SW First Street, Battle Ground) and 2 p.m. at Camas High School (26900 SE 15th Street, Camas). Each is expected to last at least an hour. I hope you can attend one of these meetings, and please invite your friends and neighbors to come with you!
Bad Bills of the Week:
House Bill 1260:
I voted against this bill because it is a job-killer. Here's why:
The Port of Camas-Washougal is currently working with a company that is moving forward with an expansion project. The Port's goal is to construct a 21,500 square foot building shell at an estimated cost of $2.25 million. The tenant plans to invest an additional $500,000 in improvements at the site. This company currently employs 25 and with this expansion, they will hire five additional employees immediately upon completion of the building. More workers will be added as their market share grows. This project will bring new family wage jobs for east Clark County plus short term construction jobs.
The Port wishes to utilize a low interest loan from the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) to pay for this project, instead of using local tax payer dollars. Our Port does not have any other financial resources besides CERB to finance this. Unfortunately, HB 1260 passed out of the House this week. HB 1260 is a bad bill because it contains provisions that will restrict the Port's ability to use CERB funding due to current wage requirements set forth in this new legislation. It is likely the passage of this bill may “kill” this deal and the company's expansion project. I will strongly encourage our colleagues in the Senate to stop this bill in its tracks when it gets to that chamber.
When I first saw this bill, I talked with Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey. He joined County Auditors across the state in strongly opposing this legislation. This bill mandates ballot boxes to be placed at every University and Community College across the state, and also how long ballot drop boxes are placed in each location. In Clark County, we have a system that works well for voters and the state does not need to get involved in this area of election administration. I voted against HB 1290 because it establishes a precedent where certain, specific types of voters receive special attention. This unequal treatment is not good election policy and I hope my colleagues will halt this bill in the Senate.
I also strongly opposed this bill which allows children ages 16-18 to pre-register to vote. This is bad policy because it opens up the possibility of voter fraud. It is very possible some of these children will receive ballots in the mail before they are actually legally eligible to vote. Why on earth would we invite this kind of voter fraud in our election system? Unfortunately, this bill passed out of the House by the majority party.
Good Bills of the Week:
House Bill 1188:
Washington, with its rich soils and diverse climates, is home to one of the most productive growing regions in the world with approximately 300 different crops growing in our rural agricultural economies. To help ensure the future viability of agriculture in our state, this bill would instruct Washington State Department of Agriculture to inventory idle or underperforming agricultural land, working in partnership with Washington State University's county extension offices to develop a program. The ultimate goal of this good bill is to connect land owners with new, young farmers to return underperforming agricultural land back into a state of viable production. I am a strong supporter of a local sustainable food system. I spoke in favor of this bill on the floor and was pleased to see it pass out of the House this week.
House Bill 1717:
We have too many unfunded mandates on our cities and counties. I supported this bill because it provides some relief to our local jurisdictions related to the Growth Management Act (GMA). GMA establishes land use designation and environmental protection requirements for all Washington counties and cities. The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) establishes a review process for state agencies and local governments to identify possible environmental impacts that can result from government project proposals. These requirements place unfunded mandates on our local cities and counties to conduct these environmental impact statements (EIS). HB 1717 will provide funding assistance to local jurisdictions for this purpose. I voted yes for this bi-partisan bill and was glad to see it pass out of the House.
House Bill 1276:
Think of this bill as a “Skills Center” for would-be farmers. The graduating class of 2011 had a four year graduation rate of 76.6 percent. That is 14,054 students in the statewide class of 2011 who dropped out before they finished high school. The “GRUB” bill, HB 1276, aims to reduce that number of drop-outs through the use of two farm engagement pilot projects. The goal of these pilot projects is to establish an alternative high school program for at-risk youth to become involved in their community by working with local community based food banks, farms, and gardens. It provides youth with opportunities for work-based learning and employment as well as earn core and elective credits toward a high school graduation.
A similar program in Thurston County resulted in a 90 percent improvement in graduation rates with at risk youth enrolled in the program. I spoke in support of this bill on the house floor and was pleased to see it pass out of the House. The bill authorizes two pilot programs to run for a three year period beginning in the 2013-14 school year. I hope we can start a similar program in Clark County to not only inspire new, young farmers into successful careers in agriculture but also help more of our at-risk youth graduate from high school.
Citizen Email of the Week:
I have decided to feature an email from a constituent in upcoming issues of my e-newsletter. I appreciate all of the heartwarming notes of encouragement I receive each week. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did. I don't know if it's because I am a farmer or what, but I especially enjoyed the “waste deep” part of this letter.
“Thank you for standing by the values and ideals that represent so many of us who have no voice in this state. Thank you for trying to oppose bad legislation and hold state agencies accountable for their wasteful lack luster budgeting of tax payer dollars. Thank you for trying to keep the light on at the end of the tunnel. As impossible as it may seem at times, standing tall in waste deep bad legislation, it does matter and for doing that, we all owe you a big thank you. Please keep up the good work.” — Raymond Williams
Thank you for making my day, Raymond Williams!
As always, it is an honor to serve you. I invite you to share your thoughts and concerns with me, and I hope to see you this Saturday, March 16 at my town hall meetings, at 10 a.m. at Battle Ground City Hall and 2 p.m. at Camas High School.
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"