Today marks the first month since the 2021 legislative session began Jan. 11. Committees are busy holding public hearings and passing bills before the first major deadline of the session, which is Monday, Feb. 15. That's the house of origin policy cutoff. Any policy bills that have not passed by that date from their respective committees in the chamber (House/Senate) where they were introduced may be “dead” for the year. Fiscal house of origin cutoff is one week later, Feb. 22, for bills that involve appropriating money. View the session cutoff calendar here.
It's no exaggeration when you hear that serving in a legislative session is like “drinking from a firehose.” As of this morning, 1,002 bills in total have been introduced — 540 in the House and 462 in the Senate. Due to the session being held remotely, I'm told there are fewer bill introductions this year. However, it's still a lot of legislation in 30 days. We've been working long hours in our committees, trying to improve or eliminate bad legislation and advance good bills and ideas. It's an exhausting process, but I feel so incredibly honored to serve the citizens and my communities across the 20th District.
After the cutoff, roughly two-thirds of these bills will not likely advance and our attention will shift from committee action to the House floor where we will debate and pass legislation that did survive the cutoff.
Abbarno advancing bipartisan legislation
I'm pleased to report my two bills have both taken steps to advance in the House.
- House Bill 1055, which I co-sponsored with Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, passed the House unanimously last Friday, Feb. 5. This bipartisan effort extends the reporting requirements for timber purchases from July 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2025. State law requires every purchaser of more than 200,000 board feet of privately-owned timber to report the purchase to the Department of Revenue on or before the last day of the month in which the purchase took place. Information gathered by these reports helps the timber industry establish stumpage values for trees commercially harvested in Washington. I'm proud of the work we put into this bill. It shows that if we work together, Republicans and Democrats, we can accomplish great things. Learn more about this bill here.
- House Bill 1263, my rural infrastructure measure, passed from the House Community and Economic Development Committee on Friday, Feb. 5, with bipartisan support. This bill would establish a competitive grant program to support rural infrastructure projects, such as broadband, sewer, storm water, transmission, and more. The bill is now in the House Capital Budget Committee, where I serve as assistant ranking Republican. It is scheduled for a public hearing on Feb. 17 at 8 a.m. You can comment on this bill here. The measure has received a tremendous amount of bipartisan support. I'm hopeful we can get it to the House floor for a vote in the next two weeks or so. Learn more about this bill here.
Bills seek to add unreasonable restrictions against law-abiding gun owners
We all know that when it comes to passing more laws against firearms, criminals are criminals — they care nothing about the law and they're going to ignore the new laws and do what they want to do.
Additional gun control laws really only affect law-abiding gun owners. We have a long history in the 20th District of gun sportsmen and hunters. Several bills introduced by Seattle/Everett Democrats aim to crack down on gun owners. Here are some examples:
- House Bill 1164/Senate Bill 5078 – This year's “high capacity magazine” ban. It would limit magazines to 10 rounds. It appears the Senate companion bill is moving forward. It passed the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Jan. 28 and is in the Senate Rules Committee, awaiting to be pulled to the Senate floor for a vote.
- House Bill 1229/Senate Bill 5217 – This year's “assault weapons” ban. This is the most popular style rifle for hunting, sporting, rifle clubs, three-gun competitions, and other lawful gun activities. Fortunately, neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing in its respective committee. However, don't count these bills dead yet. Sometimes, they have a surprising way of coming out when the public least expects it.
- House Bill 1283 – Prohibits “acting with three or more persons and openly carrying or displaying a weapon in a manner in which a reasonable person would feel threatened.” If someone even “feels threatened” because you walked by them with a gun, you could get into trouble and be charged with criminal mischief. This bill passed the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee yesterday (Feb. 10). I serve on this committee and spoke against the bill on final passage. Watch my committee remarks here.
COVID bill uses federal money to deliver bigger government, not real relief
I'm disappointed the majority party refused to deliver real relief to our businesses and families struggling from the effects of the pandemic. On Feb. 2, they brought House Bill 1368 to the floor for a vote. This is a measure that would spend $2.2 billion of federally-allocated money for COVID relief. While that sounds like a lot of money, my Republican colleagues and I felt it was not enough to provide real comprehensive relief desperately needed by our citizens across the state and in the 20th District.
We had proposed nearly twice as much as the Democratic bill, $4 billion in relief, in REAL Recovery for Washington Act, (House Bill 1334). Our bill would have used $1.8 billion in federal money and $2.1 billion from the state's rainy-day fund. Admittedly, fiscal conservatives, myself included, are reluctant to touch that fund because it is the state's savings account to be used for emergencies. However, we ARE in an emergency and I cannot think of a time more rainy in our state's history than now. We believe it is appropriate to return your tax dollars to help you, your neighbors and employers struggling to hang on. Our concern is that majority Democrats are saving that fund for later this session to spend on bigger government, which is not helpful for you.
Republicans offered six amendments that focused on providing more rental and utility assistance, helping child care providers, supporting small businesses, safely reopening schools and assisting students who have fallen behind. Only one of those amendments was accepted.
House Bill 1368 passed the House, 61-36. Meanwhile, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee has not allowed a public hearing on our COVID relief legislation. Read more here about these bills.
Which COVID relief bill would you prefer? Take a look below at a comparison chart.
House committee passes bill on party-line vote to eliminate use of natural gas — Republicans speak against it
One of the most egregious, job-killing, industry-eliminating bills of the 2021 session is House Bill 1084. This is a measure that would take steps to accelerate removal of natural gas from homes and buildings, including use for space heating, furnaces, water heaters, interior gas fireplaces — even back-deck barbeque grills.
I joined my other four Republican members on the House Environment and Energy Committee Tuesday to outline the damages they say the legislation would cause, including eradication of the natural gas industry in Washington and the thousands of jobs it supports. You can watch my comments here.
“This legislation proposes the worst kind of trifecta – a bill that takes away choice from consumers, takes away money, takes away jobs. And I'm opposed for those three reasons.” Rep. Peter Abbarno on House Bill 1084
Natural gas is less expensive than electricity. If it is eliminated, it's estimated to cost more than a million Washington families an additional $700 a year for electrical energy. That additional demand will further stress our region's electrical grid and set us on a course for brown-outs, like California.
The measure passed the committee on a party-line vote, 8-5, and has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee. I highly encourage you to go here and comment on House Bill 1084.
- Read the press release on Republicans opposing House Bill 1084.
- Listen to the radio report on this bill.
Data breach in State Auditor's office
It's a double whammy — and not a good kind. Many of the 1.6 million people who filed for unemployment last year and were victims of the Employment Security Department Nigerian scam (their checks were sent to Nigerian fraudsters), may now have had their sensitive personal data exposed to hackers. On Feb. 1, the Washington State Auditor announced a security breach from the unemployment claims made in 2020. You can read the Washington State Auditor's news release here.
This is completely unacceptable and we need to hold state government leaders accountable for these actions. We also need reforms, such as House Bill 1455, that would prevent ESD and the Department of Labor and Industries from using full Social Security numbers and replace them with other forms of personal identifiers, such as only the last four digits of the Social Security number.
If you've had an unemployment claim with ESD, here are some links to information on what you can do if you think you might be affected.
- Office of the Washington State Auditor
- About the Accellion data security breach | What you need to know
- What you can do if you are concerned you are affected
- Office of Financial Management | State Auditor's Office data security incident
- Office of the Attorney General | Identity theft/privacy
- Federal Trade Commission | Identity theft
- TVW webcast of Auditor McCarthy's conversation with journalists on Feb. 1, 2021
- What you can do if you are concerned you are affected
Participation through Zoom Town Hall and other means provides valuable input
I want to thank everyone who attended my Zoom town hall conference this evening. We had good participation and great questions. These activities are very important because they provide valuable information to me.
I encourage you to get involved now in your state government while the Legislature is in session. Go here to learn how you can testify on a bill or submit written comments.
I also invite you to call, write or email my office with your questions, comments, or ideas about legislation. Some of the best legislation starts with you. I'm glad to discuss these issues with you on the phone or remotely via Zoom.
It is an honor to serve and represent you!