Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We entered the 2017 legislative session on Jan. 9 with high hopes to make great accomplishments for the people of the state of Washington. I outlined my priorities in an email update on Jan. 13 that you can read here.
2017 SESSION ACCOMPLISHMENTS
I'm pleased that several of my priorities were accomplished, including:
- We reformed the Growth Management Act to allow property adjacent to short-line rail roads to be developed for new manufacturing jobs;
- Through agency rule, we reformed the Department of Corrections' industrial insurance mandates on local governments and non-profits utilizing work release programs;
- I helped to convince the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to ban gillnetting during the spring and summer endangered salmon and steelhead runs on the lower Columbia River; and
- During transportation town hall meetings in Clark County, we advanced the dialogue of additional, new transportation infrastructure between Southwest Washington and Portland to improve freight mobility and ease traffic congestion.
2017 SESSION DISAPPOINTMENTS – Higher taxes, no Hirst fix, capital budget
I had also hoped we could provide a final solution to the McCleary court ruling by funding education first and without raising taxes. While the Legislature provided levy reforms that will eventually lower many people's property taxes, I was disappointed the final solution and the final two-year compromise operating budget agreement relies on $2.2 billion in tax increases, even though we have $3 billion in additional tax revenue coming into the state. That's why I voted against those bills.
After a record 193 days, which included a regular session and three special sessions, the Legislature finally adjourned on July 20. The biggest disappointment is the session ended without fixing the deeply flawed Hirst decision and without passing the $4.2 billion capital construction budget. I am sorry to inform you there will not be any funding for the previously negotiated and approved community projects this year. I supported the capital budget and voted to pass it off the House floor around 3 a.m. on July 1. But it ended there, not advancing further.
Denying water to rural families across Washington state is shameful. United Republicans in the Washington State Legislature were not willing to cede our constitutional obligation to manage the water resources that are owned by the PEOPLE of this great state to a special interest group. We were also not willing to except a 24-month “kick-the can-down-the-road” temporary Band-Aid approach.
Here is some background. The Washington State Supreme Court Hirst decision last October created an artificial water crisis that threatens the right of rural and suburban property owners to drill new wells for household use. Under Hirst, every new proposal for a small well requires a costly study to prove it won't harm fish. Some counties have already stopped granting permits. This shameful and deeply flawed ruling has threatened property values, destroyed dreams and created uncertainty for families and counties. It's just plain wrong.
Certainly Republicans view this as a critical property-rights issue and we made it a priority to fight for the families and communities that are negatively impacted. Finding a comprehensive solution has been a priority since day one of session – and it continues to be. It's worth fighting for! It has been famously said, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” It's a fundamental right that families should be allowed to access water on their own property for their daily lives.
Bravo to Sen. Judy Warnick for sponsoring Senate Bill 5239 to permanently roll back the Hirst decision. The measure passed the Senate four times. However, Democrats in the House have refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Instead, during negotiations, they offered a temporary 24-month window for wells to be drilled, with a provision that would have given Native American tribes final authority over water decisions. After the two-year window, Hirst would remain permanent. That is totally unacceptable to us and to property owners across the state of Washington.
Key House Republicans, including my dear friend and colleague, Rep. David Taylor, continued to negotiate in good faith around the clock, offering a compromise that would allow property owners to drill their family wells without needing a costly hydrogeological study. Taylor and his group also proposed creating a task force to review the Foster decision, which makes it difficult to address water needs in fast-growing cities, and offer recommendations. Again, House Democrats rejected this solution.
Majority House Democrats are the only lawmakers standing in the way. They essentially want to give up our state's water rights and management to special interests. We cannot in good conscience delegate this constitutional authority. Washington families must come first ahead of agency bureaucrats.
It's interesting most of the opposition comes from legislators in and around Seattle, a city that gets as much water as it wants from rural areas of Washington. Yet, it is residents in rural Washington who are now being denied water on their own land. It's hypocritical.
I suspect that if the Hirst decision was about denying water to municipal water supplies that serve city dwellers, Democrats would have been clamoring to protect their constituents' ability to access water for living.
Remember the West Point Treatment Plant in Seattle that dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into Puget Sound for three months earlier this year? An independent assessment released on July 18 indicates this plant is still not prepared and this environmental disaster could happen again when heavy rains come. And yet, Seattle-area state lawmakers want to micromanage the water decisions of rural Washingtonians, but have not said a peep about their city's growing water use and the environmental catastrophe in their own city.
Republicans in both the House and Senate have decided that until a PERMANENT Hirst fix is in place, we will not pass a capital budget. We do not believe it is fair to allow the state to build its projects using taxpayer dollars, while telling taxpaying families they cannot develop their own private property because we will not allow them to drill a well. Yes, the capital budget is important, but not any less important than individual property rights.
While I am deeply disappointed the Legislature adjourned without a permanent Hirst fix and without a capital budget, I remain ready to return to Olympia to vote on passing BOTH. These issues are important to the people of Washington state and they deserve no less.
In the meantime, I ask you to stand with me to encourage our urban legislators to allow a vote on a PERMANENT fix to Hirst — one that returns these rights to the people of Washington state, protects our rural areas, and doesn't cede final authority over water decisions to special interests.
I welcome your comments.
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"