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Dear Neighbor,

Before we settle into some of these warmer temperatures and more family activities for the summer, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the regular and special legislative sessions we recently completed and our accomplishments.

When I was asked to deliver the Washington State Republican response to the Governor’s State of the State address on Jan. 10, 2023, I discussed the core “kitchen table” issues that Washington families care about and said:

“Too many families are struggling financially. Too many children caught in the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Too many seniors forced to cut essential items from their budgets. Too much crime in our neighborhoods.

The antidote for the hopelessness that many are feeling is real solutions for the real problems we face every day. I call them kitchen table issues. The things that mean the most to us. The issues you discuss with your family and friends around the kitchen table. The cost to feed your family, heat your home, and drive to work. The availability of childcare. Accessibility to quality educational opportunities. The increased crime in your community.

What we need are real solutions that help build stronger families, stronger communities, and a stronger Washington. Solutions that put people before programs and touch every corner of our state.”

You can watch that speech here.

I believe House Republicans stood up for the rights of Washington parents and families, stood up for small business owners, and stood up for all Washingtonians, not just some.

I hope this e-mail is informative and you share it with your friends and family. As a reminder, I work for you all-year-long, so please feel free to contact my office if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for legislation.

Rep. Peter Abbarno speaks on the House floor during the one-day special session on the so-called Blake “fix,” Senate Bill 5536, creating a new drug possession law.

Legislature finally adopts bipartisan agreement to address state’s drug possession issue

The Legislature had an entire 105-day regular session to reach an agreement on a new drug possession law. As one of the negotiators for the House Republicans, I worked hard to try to bring all four caucuses together on a reasonable measure that would provide a mix of accountability and compassion for people addicted to drugs.

Nearing the end of the session, we thought we had an agreement with at least three of the four caucuses, including Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats. However, in the final hours, House Democrats unilaterally came up with legislation that didn’t even have the support of their own members. The bill was brought to the floor in the final hours of the 2023 session on Sunday, April 23, just hours before the Legislature adjourned. It failed, with 15 Democrats joining House Republicans in voting no.

The reason it was important to have a new drug possession law in place is because a stop-gap law passed during the 2021 session after the state Supreme Court had thrown out Washington’s drug possession law under “Blake v. State” was to expire on July 1, 2023. That stop-gap law in 2021 only made possession as a misdemeanor. Should that law have been allowed to expire, hard drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, would have become legal July 1.

Gov. Inslee called a special session for May 16. During those three weeks between the end of the regular session and the special session, I worked behind the scenes with other negotiators to come up with a meaningful compromise agreement. We reached that agreement just days before the special session was to begin. And in one day, we passed the so-called Blake “fix” and adjourned the special session.

Among other provisions, Senate Bill 5536 creates a modified gross misdemeanor for drug possession with 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000 for the first two offenses. The penalty increases to 364 days for subsequent offenses. The bill gives prosecutors and judges more flexibility to use a “carrot and stick” approach to get addicts into treatment but retains jail time if they don’t accept the help they need. There’s $63 million for programs to alleviate illegal drug use and provide treatment. The legislation also enables cities and counties to set rules around drug paraphernalia.

Cold Water Lake near Mount St. Helens (20th District)

As weather warms up, beware of cold-water shock

As the weather warms up, a hidden danger lurks in our rivers, streams, lakes, and waterways across Washington state. It’s known as “cold-water shock,” and it can kill you and other swimmers. The outdoor temperatures may be reaching into the 80s or higher, but our rivers, streams and lakes are still being fed by extremely cold mountain water. 

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the human body responds to cold water immersion with an increased heartbeat and blood pressure, faster breathing, uncontrolled gasping, and sometimes uncontrolled movement. Lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, the cold-shock response can be deadly by itself. Victims may panic, take on water in that first uncontrolled gasp, cold incapacitation sets in, making it difficult for the person to move arms and legs, hypothermia begins, and as many as 20% die in the first two minutes.

This is what happened to 18-year-old Zachary Lee Rager, an experienced swimmer who fell victim to cold-water shock and drowned in the Chehalis River on March 23, 2021. In his honor, I sponsored House Bill 1004, also known as “Zack’s Law,” which requires state government agencies and local governments to erect signs warning of drowning hazards when replacing or erecting signs near dangerous water hazards. The bill passed the Legislature unanimously and was signed into law.

I want to make sure other families do not experience the tragedy and heartbreaking loss of a loved one to this hidden and deadly danger. The first step to prevention is awareness.

Please read more from my news release.

Abbarno appointed Republican leader of Capital Budget Committee

When I first took office as your state representative in January 2021, I noted in a press release that “rural communities like mine in the 20th District need strong bones and updated infrastructure to be able to grow and prosper.”

After serving three years as the assistant Ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee, I am honored to be appointed Ranking Republican. Capital Budget is one of three fiscal committees in the Legislature. This year, it appropriated more than $9 billion statewide, including over $125 million in the 20th Legislative District.

Capital Budget is a unique fiscal committee in which local communities identify a problem and work with the state Legislature on finding and funding solutions. It is truly a community-up, not Olympia-down, process. The Capital Budget Committee helps to provide those strong bones for our communities in the district and across the state.

I’m looking forward to this leadership position and building a stronger Washington.

Read the announcement.

Green Hydrogen award

We have a unique opportunity to establish an international hub for the production and distribution of hydrogen, not only here in Washington state, but also in the 20th District. I’ve been involved in seeking to seize on this opportunity, which I believe will be an enormous economic driver for our district as the state transitions away from fossil fuels.

I am honored to have recently been named the Washington Green Hydrogen Legislative Champion by The Washington Green Hydrogen Alliance.

The group’s goal is to make Washington the nation’s number one source and user of green hydrogen, which is used in all forms of zero emission transportation, including light to heavy duty vehicles and marine and aviation fuels, storage of zero emission and renewable electricity, as well as manufacturing and other industrial applications.

I strongly believe Washington needs a diverse energy portfolio, and that’s going to include hydrogen. Hydrogen is an emerging source of transportation fuel, electric storage and energy production, and manufacturing and industrial energy. And most importantly, the production and use of hydrogen will open the door to new educational and workforce opportunities in the clean energy innovation economy.

I helped secure funding in the 2021 capital budget for Washington’s first hydrogen refueling station in Chehalis. I also sponsored House Bill 1729, a measure that received unanimous support in the House to create and expand tax incentives for developing and selling hydrogen fuel products. Unfortunately, the bill did not advance through the Senate before the 2023 legislative session adjourned. 

Read more here about the work and bills I have sponsored/cosponsored to make Washington a hydrogen leader.

Payroll tax takes effect July 1

Unfortunately, even though I fought hard for the past two years to repeal the state’s controversial long-term care insurance program and payroll tax, the majority party prevailed, and this program becomes effective on July 1.

Most Washington workers, including part-time and temporary workers, will begin to pay $0.58 per $100 of their earnings for the WA Cares Fund. For example, if you make $75,000 a year, this new tax will cost you $36.25 monthly or $435 a year. For those eligible, the program will provide a lifetime maximum benefit of $36,500 for long-term care costs.

This program has many problems. The Office of State Actuary warns future benefits might have to be reduced or future payroll taxes may have to be increased to ensure solvency. Others who pay into the system may never receive benefits. It also disregards working families experiencing hardships at a time when the cost of living and inflation is the highest in many years. That’s why I sought the repeal. We could have and should have done better rather than this program which will punish working families.

Click here to read more about this tax.

ICYMI – Read more about the 2023 regular session

In case you missed it, I encourage you to read my May 4 recap of the 2023 regular session.

Some year-end information includes:

  • Capital and transportation budget appropriations, including millions for the 20th District.
  • Democrats pass Senate Bill 5599, taking away notice to parents.
  • Spending concerns in the state operating budget.
  • Zack’s Law signed.
  • My appearance on NewsMax discussing the anti-firearm bills.
  • My proposal for an Office of Transparency.
  • Good and bad bills.
  • And much more!

Honoring our veterans

This week marks the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history as 160,000 Allied troops landed on Normandy, France to fight Nazi Germany. More than 9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed the Allies to gain a foothold on Continental Europe, ultimately defeating Adolf Hitler.

Just as we remember this date, I was also honored to give the Memorial Day Speech on May 25 at an event hosted by the Centralia College Veterans Center. As I noted in that speech, Centralia College played an important role in World War II. You can read more about it here.

I work for you throughout the year

Although lawmakers are no longer in session in Olympia, I am here to serve and represent you throughout the year. Please contact my office if you have any questions or ideas about legislation and state government. Also, if you’re getting the run-around in dealing with state agencies, often my office may be able to help. You’ll find my contact information below.

Thank you for allowing me to serve and represent you!


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