We are in the final stretch of the 105-day session. Only 17 days remain before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on April 25.
Most of our committee work is now finished and we are spending nearly all of our time on the virtual House floor. Sunday, April 11, is opposite house cutoff. Between now and Sunday, we are debating and passing Senate bills. Bills that have not passed out of their opposite chambers by Sunday are considered “dead” for the session. Legislation necessary to implement the budget is exempt from the deadlines.
Washington state has three budgets: operating, transportation and the capital budget. The biennial operating budget pays for most day-to-day operations of state government. The transportation budget pays for roads, public transit, and related investments. The capital budget supports construction, acquisition and maintenance of public schools, higher education facilities, state buildings, public lands, parks and other assets.
The current fiscal cycle ends June 30. We need to write and pass new budgets before the Legislature adjourns on April 25 to fund these operations for the next two years.
Operating budget proposals
In February, my House Republican colleagues released a modest and sustainable 2021-23 operating budget framework that would fund priorities for working families, growing students, vulnerable populations, small businesses and all Washingtonians — with NO cuts to vital services and NO new taxes. Normally, the minority party doesn't write budgets, but we did so, to show that it could be done responsibly without asking citizens and businesses for more of their tax dollars, especially as many people are hurting during the pandemic shutdowns.
The Democrats' budget proposals in both the Senate and the House went in a completely opposite direction, increasing spending by nearly 13% over the current biennial budget (see the chart above) and basing their budgets on tax increases, including a capital gains income tax.
Over the Easter weekend on Saturday, House Democrats brought out their $58.2 billion operating budget proposal. We debated for several hours, offering amendments that were mostly rejected by the majority party. The bill passed 57-41 with all Republicans voting no.
After the debate, I posted a statement explaining my vote. I invite you to read it here.
Let's talk about tax increases and why I oppose them
Nearly $500 million of spending from a new capital gains tax is built into the Democrats' operating budget plan. Let's remember that Washington voters have rejected an income tax 10 times. It's very unpopular in our state. The IRS says a capital gains tax is an income tax, so the proposal is likely unconstitutional in Washington state.
The majority party also passed two bills from the House Finance Committee on Wednesday that could lead to tax increases. House Joint Resolution 4204 would seek a constitutional amendment to add an income tax. House Bill 1406 would create a wealth income tax that at some point could be lowered to affect all Washingtonians.
I oppose new and increased taxes. They are completely unnecessary in this coming budget cycle. A revenue forecast on March 17 revealed that Washington will be taking in an additional $3.2 billion over the next four years without raising additional taxes. Also, the state is receiving some $24 billion in federal COVID stimulus funds. We don't need to take more of our taxpayers' hard-earned money. There is plenty of funding to meet the state's needs and priorities without a tax increase.
During the debate on the House floor, one of the many amendments Republicans offered would have removed the capital gains tax from the budget plan. Democrats rejected the amendment and said there would be time to debate the proposal, Senate Bill 5096, when they bring it to the floor for a vote. That tells me the likelihood is high we will be voting on it within the next week or so.
The House transportation budget would spend just over $10.9 billion for the 2021-23 budget cycle. Much of the spending continues the highway projects started under the Connecting Washington program enacted by the Legislature in 2015, including expansion of the I-5 corridor through Joint Base Lewis-McChord and continued efforts related to replacement of the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland. It also includes $1 million to advance new alternative routes for vehicular and truck traffic at the Harrison interchanges (Exit 82) in north Centralia. The bill passed with a vote of 87-11. I voted yes.
Capital construction budget
A bipartisan House capital construction proposal includes more than $5.5 billion for statewide construction, repair of buildings, parks, infrastructure, and other projects in our communities.
I gave the closing speech for Republicans on the House floor during debate of the 2021-23 capital budget, in which I called it “a very well-thought out bipartisan approach of investing in the health, growth and prosperity of our state, helping build the foundation for future success and future opportunities.”
The capital budget measure, House Bill 1080, passed the House unanimously on Friday.
Protecting your constitutional rights
As your state representative, I am sworn to uphold both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the state of Washington. Recently, a bill came to the House floor that my Republican colleagues and I believe is unconstitutional.
Senate Bill 5038 would prohibit the open carry of firearms and other weapons, including knives, within 250 foot of permitted events, including the state Capitol. For five hours, Republicans argued the bill is ambiguous, not clearly defining exactly the 250-feet boundaries, meaning that anyone walking peacefully near a permitted event with a holstered gun, knife or other weapon could be charged with a gross misdemeanor crime.
We offered 16 amendments to uphold constitutional rights and reduce the impact of the bill. I offered Amendment 471, which specifies that the prohibition is within 250 feet of the perimeter of permitted demonstrations. While that amendment was approved, another was rejected. Amendment 468 would have entirely removed the prohibition on openly carrying a firearm or weapon within 250 feet of permitted demonstrations. It was rejected, 40-53. In total, only three of the 16 Republican amendments were approved.
Unfortunately, the measure passed 57-40, with all Republicans voting no. It's now back in the Senate and under further consideration.
Real solutions to address the Supreme Court Blake ruling
On Feb. 25, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in State of Washington v. Shannon Blake that the state's drug possession law is unconstitutional since it punished violators regardless of whether they knew they were in possession of controlled substances or not.
Based on the decision, people under the age of 18 can be ticketed for possessing tobacco, and if they are under 21, can be imprisoned for possessing alcohol. However, possessing controlled substances, such as methamphetamine, heroin or fentanyl, regardless of age, is now legal. That's just wrong!
In response, I have co-sponsored the following bills:
- House Bill 1558 would promote recovery and improve public safety by providing behavioral health system responses to individuals with substance use disorder and providing training to law enforcement personnel.
- House Bill 1559 would provide a behavioral health response to juveniles consuming controlled substances.
- House Bill 1560 would consider the mental state element of a person's intention to knowingly commit a crime (mens rea) involving offenses related to possession of substances.
- House Bill 1561 would expand offenses and penalties for manufacture, sale, distribution, and other conduct involving controlled substances and counterfeit substances.
- House Bill 1562 would allow local governments to enact laws and ordinances relating to possession of controlled substances and counterfeit substances.
This legislation gets to the heart of the issue. It aims to reduce the devastating fallout of drugs and their effects on our local communities, while helping those most in need.
Learn more about this issue:
Remembering Trooper Justin Schaffer from Chehalis
On March 24, the one-year anniversary of his passing, the Washington State Patrol held a ceremony in Chehalis unveiling a monument to honor the late Trooper Justin Schaffer. Trooper Schaffer 28, was killed while laying down spike strips on Interstate 5 near Chehalis in an attempt to stop a high-speed chase.
In addition, I authored and introduced House Resolution 4618, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama. The measure resolves “that the House of Representatives join the people of the State of Washington in commending, saluting, and honoring Trooper Justin Schaffer for his exemplary and exceptional service.”
I attended the ceremony. The resolution was unanimously approved by the state House of Representatives. I believe it is important to remember and honor our law enforcement officers who serve and protect our communities.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an annual nationwide campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.
Some of the statistics are alarming:
- Nearly one in five women in the United States have experienced rape (or attempted rape) at one point in their lives.
- One in 67 men in the United States have experienced rape (or attempted rape) at one point in their lives.
- Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
- Only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison (which is why it is important to speak out if this happens to you).
- The majority of sexual assaults happen at or near the victim's home, often by someone they know, and/or trust.
- Health care is 16% higher for women who were sexually abused as children.
- Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported.
During this session, I have supported several bills that seek to help victims and bring criminals to justice. They include:
- House Bill 1227 – Abuse/exploitation, removal of child from parent and placement of child. I voted yes.
- House Bill 1109 – Assault, sexual, race/ethnicity impact on case outcomes, case review program to analyze. I voted yes.
- House Bill 1571 – Trafficking, sex, indigenous survivors of, services and resources for, grant funding to provide and support. I support this legislation.
If you or someone you know is a sexual assault survivor, here are some local resources where you can find help:
- CLARK COUNTY – YWCA – Sexual Assault Program
- COWLITZ COUNTY – Hope Project – Emergency Support Shelter
- LEWIS COUNTY – Hope Alliance (formerly Human Response Network)
- THURSTON COUNTY – Safe Place – Sexual Assault Response and Prevention
- WASHINGTON STATE – Department of Health – Sexual and Domestic Violence Resources; Washington State 211
Feel free to call my office if you need more assistance.
20th District Survey results
Many thanks to those of you in the 20th District who have taken my Legislative Priorities Survey. I asked you to select, in order, from most (1) important to least (7), the issues most important to you. Here are the preliminary results.
I will be closing the survey soon. If you haven't yet weighed in, please do so by going here. Please make sure you are a resident within the 20th District to qualify for the survey. Go here to find your district.
More news on my website: www.representativepeterabbarno.com
Be sure to go to my website for news and information about the 2021 session. Here are some new items to check out since my last email update:
- Listen to my interview on KEDO Radio, Longview – March 18
- Listen to my Capitol Report radio program on income taxes – March 18
- Listen to my Capitol Report radio program on capital budget projects – March 25
- Watch my video on the proposed budgets – March 29
- Listen to my Capitol Report radio program on the budget and reforming the governor's emergency powers – April 2
- Interview/story with KELA's Nic Scott on police reform bills – April 8
Please stay in touch!
I will be voting on many bills over the next two weeks that could impact our local communities across the 20th District. It is critical to hear from you. Stay informed by watching the debates on TVW. Please call, write or email my office with your questions, comments, concerns and viewpoints on legislation.
It is an honor to serve and represent you!