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Dear Neighbor,

The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene for a special session on May 16 to pass a measure criminalizing the possession of dangerous drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine ahead of a July 1st deadline. Before the regular session adjourned on April 23, sine die, the majority party failed to enact a new drug possession law. Unless we act in time, drug possession will be legal statewide; however, if that happens, local governments could adopt their own criminal penalties.

The failed Blake fix

In Feb. 2021, the state Supreme Court ruled in in State v. Blake, that Washington’s felony drug-possession statute was unconstitutional because it criminalized possession even when a person did not knowingly have drugs. Two months later, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5476, a temporary measure reducing the penalty for possessing dangerous drugs to a misdemeanor, which is set to expire on July 1, 2023.

This year, the Senate passed Senate Bill 5536, which was a reasonable compromise to get addicts into treatment and hold them accountable. Unfortunately, the House-amended version was deeply flawed. It took the very policies that have failed to address substance abuse on the local level and would have expanded those failed policies statewide. It would have led to more substance abuse, more homelessness, more preventable tragedies, and less local control. 

While the bill would have established drug possession as a gross misdemeanor, it created opportunities for violators to “game the system” without punishment or undergoing treatment. The measure would have also prevented local governments from restricting the distribution of dangerous drug paraphernalia; housed recovering addicts with active drug users; established “safe” injection sites open to all ages, including children; and eliminated the public notice requirement for siting opioid treatment facilities.

For these reasons, House Republicans were unanimous in their opposition to the bill. A tentative, bipartisan agreement was struck the day prior, but House Democrats offered only a partisan conference report to vote on as the House approached the final hours of session.

Recent headlines:

Capital budget

The 20th Legislative District will see more than $133 million for local projects under the compromise 2023-25 capital budget passed by the Legislature.

The state capital budget, also known as the “construction budget,” appropriates money for statewide construction and repair of public buildings, and for other investments, such as land acquisitions and transfers, infrastructure, broadband, parks, and cultural and heritage facilities.

The $8.98 billion budget makes significant investments statewide, including:

  • $884 million for behavioral health construction, including a 136-bed facility at Maple Lane in Rochester for civil conversion patients;
  • $872 million for K-12 public school construction;
  • $694 million for affordable housing, home upgrades, and utility connection grants;
  • $764.5 million for infrastructure through the Public Works Board, Community Economic Revitalization Board and Broadband; and
  • $870.4 million for fish barrier removal, riparian restoration, and Floodplains by Design.

The best thing about the capital budget is that it’s a grassroots community budget based on the priorities of our communities. Many of the projects begin with individuals and organizations in the district identifying needs and solutions, and then partnering with our office and the state to assist. I am very proud of our local and state investments.

Within the plan, the 20th Legislative District will receive a wide range of projects, including:

  • A portion of the $70 million appropriated for the Office of Chehalis Basin to administer floodplain risk reduction and habitat restoration projects in the Chehalis River Basin;
  • $3.345 million for critical habitat in the South Sound;
  • $3.05 million for a new emergency medical services and fire station in South Thurston County;
  • $2.48 million for the Centralia Quad Infield Turf Project;
  • $2 million for double culvert replacement in Castle Rock;
  • $1.25 million for the SW Washington Agriculture Business Center in Tenino;
  • $450,000 for the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreational Complex;
  • $500,000 for Dig-Once coordinated projects on Reynolds Rd./Harrison Ave. in Centralia;
  • $500,000 for the Lewis County Senior Center in Chehalis;
  • $482,000 for the restoration of Centralia Historic Fox Theater;
  • $350,000 for the Scott Hill Park and Sports Complex of Woodland;
  • $250,000 for athletic field lights at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreational Complex;
  • $217,000 for Fire Mountain Arts Council in Morton;
  • $160,000 for Tenino Stone Carvers Guild workshop and classroom;
  • $100,000 for United Learning Center in Centralia; and
  • $53,000 for Toledo City Hall structural assessment.

I appreciate all the hard work that my colleagues, staff, and members of our community put into this bipartisan budget. These investments will pay dividends for years to come by helping improve our economic opportunities and quality of life in Southwest Washington.

Operating budget          

The state’s operating budget, Senate Bill 5187, totaled approximately $69.8 billion in near general fund outlook (NGF-O) spending. These are the funds and accounts that the Legislature primarily focuses on as part of the operating budget development process.

After paying for existing programs, there is a four-year budget surplus of about $6.6 billion. The 2023-25 budget increases spending $5.6 billion over current spending levels.

NGFO-O State Spending by Biennium
dollars in billions

As you can see, the state’s operating budget has doubled over the past 10 years. And, despite strong revenue collections, this year’s budget focuses on government programs and does not provide any broad-based tax relief for working families. That’s why we voted against the budget, and urged the majority party to go back to the drawing board.

We need to get back to basics and focus on those kitchen table issues: the cost of groceries, fuel, and childcare have all gone up while wages have not kept up with inflation. While the Legislature failed to provide relief for families this year, I will keep fighting to get money back into the pockets of hard-working taxpayers.

Zack’s Law signed into law

On April 13, House Bill 1004, also known as “Zack’s Law” – my effort to prevent cold water shock drownings was finally signed into law.

Zack’s Law will help educate the public about the dangers posed by cold water shock and save lives. I am thankful to Zack’s family and friends for advocating and communicating the importance of this policy.

This was a team effort with fellow 20th District legislators Senator Braun and Representative Orcutt. Everyone came together and worked on this policy, along with Zack’s family. The memory of Zack is now memorialized in state law The people of Washington will remember Zack and his story will ultimately prevent future tragedies.

Background: Zack’s Law honors 18-year-old Zachary Lee Rager, who fell victim to cold-water shock and drowned in the Chehalis River on March 23, 2021. I am sponsoring this bill to help inform the public about the very real dangers posed by diving or jumping into cold water. If this measure saves even a single life, then I believe it’s worth passing.

Read my full statement on the passage of Zack’s Law by clicking here.

Anti-firearm bills signed into law

Governor Inslee signed three anti-firearm bills into law this year.

  • House Bill 1143 would impose training, permitting, and waiting period requirements on gun owners and firearm dealers with large fines and possible jail time.
  • House Bill 1240 would outlaw the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, or offer for sale of any so-called “assault weapon” with an emergency clause to go into effect once signed.
  • Senate Bill 5078 would hold gun manufacturers legally responsible for how individuals misuse their products.

I appeared on Newsmax TV to discuss why we need to focus on criminals, not law-abiding Washingtonians: https://bit.ly/3p8OVlE

Washington needs an Office of Transparency

On April 13, I introduced House Bill 1856 aimed at making Washington state government more open, transparent, and accountable to citizens.

The measure would commission a legislative task force and broad-based study on the establishment of the Washington Office of Transparency Ombuds, which would serve as a nonpartisan and independent agency tasked with helping Washingtonians access public records.

In 1972, the Washington voters established the Public Records Act with Initiative 276, which required that most records maintained by state, county, and city governments be made available to the public. At the time, the Act included only 10 exemptions from public disclosure. Today, there are more than 500 exemptions. During the 2023 legislative session alone, the House passed five bills expanding or creating new exemptions.

Currently, when a legislator or state agency refuses to comply with a public records request from a member of the public, the only recourse is through the legal system to resolve disputes. The status quo has cost taxpayers and state agencies over $100 million, plus legal fees and costs.

I plan to meet with stakeholders over the summer and work on passing the bill during the 2024 legislative session. Please contact me with your input, thoughts, and suggestions about how to improve our state’s public records process.

Good bills that passed the Legislature

  1. House Bill 1013 (Maycumber) – Establishes regional apprenticeship programs.
  2. House Bill 1173 (Connors) – Requires light mitigation technology on new and existing utility scale wind farms to limit flashing red nighttime lights.
  3. House Bill 1210 (Rude) – Requires all school district board meetings to be audio recorded, with recordings kept for at least one year, and made available to the public.
  4. House Bill 1274 (Couture) – Requires the Department of Children, Youth and Families to establish a child malnutrition field guide.
  5. House Bill 1293 (Klicker) – Makes it easier to build new housing by eliminating burdensome red-tape requirements.
  6. House Bill 1301 (McClintock) – Requires Department of Licensing (DOL) to review and analyze 10 percent of professional licenses each year and provide a report to legislature as to whether the professional licenses should be terminated, modified, or continued.
  7. House Bill 1564 (Mosbrucker) – Prohibits a person from selling, offering for sale, or otherwise making available over- the-counter sexual assault kits that may be used to collect sexual assault evidence.
  8. House Bill 1682 (Maycumber) – Increases funding for preventing, investigating, and prosecuting auto theft.
  9. House Bill 1766 (Griffey) Requires courts to develop and issue wallet sized laminated “Hope Cards” that contain certain information about a protection order.
  10. House Bill 1730 (Waters) – Allows an employee 18 years of age or older to work at a 21+ establishment as long as work performed is unrelated to the sale or service or alcohol.

Bad bills that passed the Legislature

  1. House Bill 1074 (Thai) – Creates heavy documentation requirements housing providers must comply with to recoup costs for damages made by tenants.
  2. House Bill 1143 (Berry) – Establishes significant new requirements to legally purchase or transfer a firearm, including a new permit requirement with fingerprinting, in addition to a background check.
  3. House Bill 1169 (Simmons) – Eliminates criminals having to pay a penalty to fund services for victims of crimes and shift these costs to taxpayers.
  4. House Bill 1181 (Duerr) – Adds a climate change element to the Growth Management Act and require policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled.
  5. House Bill 1240 (Peterson) – Prohibits the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, or offer for sale of any assault weapon, subject to various exceptions for licensed firearm manufacturers and dealers, and for individuals who inherit an assault weapon.
  6. House Bill 1324 (Hackney) – Prohibits juvenile dispositions, except for murder in the first or second degree or a class A felony sex offense, from being included in a defendant’s offender score for the purpose of adult felony sentencing.
  7. House Bill 1474 (Taylor) – Adds a $100 assessment to record a document with a county auditor (e.g., real estate transactions) to provide down payment assistance for historically marginalized communities.
  8. Senate Bill 5082 (Kuderer) – Repeals most provisions of voter approved Initiative 960 by abolishing advisory votes required when the legislature raises taxes.
  9. Senate Bill 5217 (Dhingra) – Repeals the law prohibiting Department of Labor and Industries from adopting rules related to ergonomics or musculoskeletal disorders and provides limitations on the adoption of new ergonomic rules.
  10. Senate Bill 5599 (Liias) – Allows shelters to not notify parents that their children are at a shelter if they are receiving gender affirming care or reproductive services.

Bad bills that died

  1. House Bill 1025 (Thai) – Would have allowed police officers to be sued personally while doing their jobs protecting our communities. Died on House Floor Calendar.
  2. House Bill 1131 (Berry) – Would have created a complex bureaucracy to manage the waste stream from paper products and packaging, and require manufacturers to pay fees to fund a producer responsibility organization to oversee the collection and recycling of the waste. Died on House Floor Calendar.
  3. House Bill 1189 (Hackney) – Would have allowed the release of incarcerated individuals prior to the expiration of a sentence. Passed House; Died in Senate Ways & Means Committee.
  4. House Bill 1268 (Goodman) – Would have reduced some sentences by eliminating certain enhancements. Passed House; Died on Senate Floor Calendar.
  5. House Bill 1282 (Duerr) – Would have required contractors on covered projects to provide certain environmental, health, labor, and HR data about construction materials used. Passed House; Died in Senate Ways & Means Committee.
  6. House Bill 1389 (Ramel) – Would have established annual maximum rent increases that cannot exceed 7%, but would also create a “banking” system for landlords to save up additional rent increases that they can use at a later date. Died in House Rules Committee.
  7. House Bill 1513 (Street) – Would have prohibited law enforcement from stopping drivers committing certain violations, including nonmoving violations, certain suspended or revoked licenses, or certain misdemeanor warrants, and would have required written consent of the driver and passengers to search a vehicle. Died in House Rules Committee.
  8. House Bill 1589 (Doglio ) – Would have prohibited new natural gas connections in Puget Sound Energy’s service territory and combined PSE gas and electric operations. Passed House; Died on Senate Floor Calendar.
  9. House Bill 1628 (Chopp) – Would have increased the cost of multifamily housing and single family homes through increases in both state and local real estate excise taxes. Died in House Rules Committee.
  10. House Bill 1670 (Ormsby) – Would have allowed cities, counties and other taxing districts to triple their annual increases in property taxes. Died in House Rules Committee.

In the news

I work for you year-round

Whether we’re in regular session, special session, or during the interim, I work for you year-round. Please call, write, or email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions about government. I am here to serve and represent you!

Thank you for the honor of allowing me to be your voice during the 2023 legislative session.


Peter Abbarno

State Representative Peter Abbarno, 20th Legislative District
411 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7896 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000