Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Lawmakers returned to Olympia on Jan. 8 to start the 2018 legislative session. This year is a short session — 60 days — and a time when we typically make small tweaks to the state budgets. These adjustments are usually for unanticipated changes in entitlement program workloads or caseloads, or for emergencies.
Continue reading to learn how the first two weeks of session shook out.
Checking off the Legislature's to-do list: A Hirst fix and a capital budget
Legislators began the 2018 legislative session with some unfinished business: a solution to resolve problems created by the Hirst decision, and a new, two-year capital budget. Thankfully, we were able to deliver on both of those agenda items last week, by passing a permanent Hirst solution that lets rural families build on their private property again, and a capital budget that will allow numerous community projects to move forward.
Under the Hirst compromise bill, water usage is set to a minimum of 950 to 3,000 gallons per day, depending on the watershed, and existing wells are grandfathered in. It also invests $300 million over 15 years in projects that will improve instream flows. What's most important to understand about the bill is this: If you have land, and if you have a well, you can start building today. That hasn't been the case for many rural families for more than a year. Here's what Bob Oliver, manager of LEXAR Homes, had to say about how the Hirst decision was devastating to the homebuilding industry:
“Our year-end home sale stats from 2016 (mostly before Hirst) and 2017 were startling. We are down in Spokane County 102 percent. We built in 10 counties this year in Washington and Idaho and are down companywide 31 percent. Considering we had been growing on average about 30 percent the last several years that really puts us down about 60 percent, which is huge and should NOT be in this housing market.”
This bill isn't perfect and I do have some concerns related to the mitigation process, but it provides long-awaited relief and certainty to rural landowners.
The 2017-19 capital budget makes important investments in our schools, mental health system and housing, and also puts dollars behind local projects throughout our communities.
It invests $933 million in school construction and modernization, including an additional $35 million for small, rural district modernization grants. It provides $136.5 million for community- and institution-based funding, including making targeted investments in behavioral health community capacity and security updates to Eastern and Western State hospitals. And more than $106 million is provided for the Housing Trust Fund, which will help fund housing projects for veterans, those affected by natural disasters, and supportive housing for the mentally ill.
There are also a number of projects in the 6th District that will finally receive funding:
- $515,000 for the Airway Heights Recreation Complex;
- $345,000 for predesign work on a new engineering building at Eastern Washington University;
- $3 million for vaults, a secondary road and an expanded irrigation system at Washington State Veterans Cemetery at Medical Lake; and
- $2.8 million for a new forensic ward at Eastern State Hospital.
recognizing washington's teacher of the year, mandy manning
From left to right: State Rep. Mike Volz, Asraa Ahmed, Safa Mohammed, Mandy Manning, and Jeff Louissant.
Spokane educator Mandy Manning was named Washington's Teacher of the Year in September and is currently one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year, to be determined at the end of April. I talked about Mandy and the positive impact she has on immigrant and refugee students in Ferris High School's Newcomer Center in my last email update, which you can read here.
I was honored to have Mandy and three of her former students join me in Olympia Monday to help educate lawmakers on the important work happening at the Newcomer Center. I was also able to present her with a copy of a resolution I sponsored, recognizing the tremendous work she has done as an educator for the past 19 years.
Bills I've sponsored
Here are some bills I'm working on this session:
- House Bill 1737 — This legislation seeks to provide veterans access to mental health assistance by allowing state universities, regional universities, and the state college to hire one, full-time counselor to provide these services.
- House Bill 1990 — This bill would protect consumers by applying usury laws to interest rates, which can be as high as 23 percent in the first year, and also applies to penalties and other costs imposed on delinquent property taxes.
- House Bill 2693 — This bill would increase the mandatory retirement age of Washington State Patrol troopers from 65 to 68. The action is at the discretion of the trooper. It does not mandate any change to the individual and seeks to relieve personnel shortages while allowing more flexibility to individuals on the Patrol.
- House Bill 2694 — This legislation would allow county treasurers to contract with other treasurers for services. It promotes efficiency and especially makes sense for smaller, rural counties.
With less than 50 days left of the session, it's important I hear from you about issues facing our district and state. Here are some ways you can stay connected:
Thank you for reading this legislative update. It's an honor serving you.