Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Lawmakers are now more than halfway through the 2019 legislative session. We recently wrapped up a week and a half full of floor debate, during which House Democrats pushed a number of controversial bills over to the Senate. I cover a few of these below.
But first, I wanted to invite you to join Sen. Holy, Rep. Graham, and me for a telephone town hall Tuesday, March 26 from 6-7 p.m. Toward the beginning of the program, households with landlines will receive a phone call to participate. If you don't receive a call or don't have a landline, you can still participate by calling (509) 795-2166 at the beginning of the event.
During the hourlong call, we will provide a brief update on the 2019 legislative session and then open up the phone lines for questions. I look forward to hearing from you!
Low carbon fuel standard, 'public option' health plan, presidential primary
A number of controversial bills have passed out of the House so far that would be detrimental to Washingtonians. I simply cannot cover all of them in this email update, but I did want to highlight a few that you should be aware of:
House Bill 1110 – Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Aimed at reducing the carbon intensity of transportation fuels, this bill would drive up the cost of gas and goods while doing little to make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions. I opposed this bill for a number of reasons:
- Reports indicate this is one of the most costly mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions with unfounded environmental results. Even the governor's Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup reported it was not an efficient means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Speaking of costs, this would significantly increase the price you pay at the pump. California has enacted a low carbon fuel standard, which has added more than 16 cents per gallon. It's essentially a hidden gas tax, and we already have one of the highest gas taxes in the nation. It's also regressive, putting an even greater financial burden on those who can least afford it.
- It would especially impact rural families who have to drive long distances to work, school, the grocery store, medical appointments, and other routine destinations.
- Washingtonians have made themselves clear – they don't want carbon pricing. Voters soundly defeated a carbon tax initiative on the ballot last November, and the people of the 6th District have certainly made their concerns loud and clear to me and my office.
- House Republicans offered an amendment that would have put the low carbon fuel standard on the ballot, but it was rejected by the majority party.
House Bill 1523 – Governor's Public Option Health Plan. This bill would create a “public option” health plan. Supporters of the bill contend standardized health plans will make choosing a health plan in the Washington Health Benefit Exchange easier and more affordable, but it will actually do the opposite. It limits health insurance options by design. It would shift costs by lowering reimbursement rates for individuals on private plans and increase rates for those on public plans offered through the Exchange. And it does nothing to increase the quality of care provided. For those reasons, I voted 'no.'
Senate Bill 5273 – Moving the State's Presidential Primary from May to March. I agree with moving our presidential primary up by a few months, but I disagree with other provisions in this bill. It requires voters to declare allegiance to one party or another in order to participate. By doing that, we're asking many independents to sacrifice their principles, and that's wrong. Also, because the parties are allowed to keep the data collected from primary voters, many people who are forced to pick a party will be added to Democrat and Republican voter lists. House Republicans attempted to revise the bill so that every voter would have the ability to participate in our state's primary, regardless of their affiliation, but the majority party rejected our amendment. Unfortunately, this bill was signed into law by the governor last week.
Bills to delink standardized tests from grad requirements advance
Two House bills I co-sponsored that would delink standardized assessments from high school graduation requirements have moved on to the Senate.
I spoke about the need to remove this barrier to graduation during floor debate on one of these bills. You can watch my remarks here or by clicking below.
You can learn more about both bills and my thoughts here.
Reducing cost burdens associated with delinquent property taxes
One of the greatest financial hurdles taxpayers who fall on tough financial times can face is a 23 percent penalty and interest assessed on late property tax payments. The reason for such a hefty fee is outdated and misguided.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, interest rates went through the roof. In response, the Legislature at the time raised the underlying interest rate charged on delinquent property taxes to 12 percent, as well as added an 11 percent penalty. This amounted to a 23 percent penalty and interest after the first year. Changes to this specific policy haven't been made since, so counties have continued to charge an excessive penalty and interest.
That's wrong. Current interest rates simply don't warrant such a punitive fee, and counties shouldn't be relying on the financial misfortunes of its already strapped residents in order to fill its tax coffers. Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner agrees, and he recently offered his support in a press release I sent to local media about this issue.
In an effort to lessen this substantial burden, I sponsored an amendment that would remove provisions in current law that require counties to charge an 11 percent penalty on top of the interest already charged, bringing the total penalty and interest charged on delinquent property tax payments to 12 percent. The underlying bill that this amendment applies to seeks to prevent home foreclosures.
The bill, along with my amendment, passed the House and is currently being considered in the Senate.
Helping counties with limited resources
I'm pleased to report my bill to allow county treasurers to partner with each other passed the House and was heard in the Senate this week.
House Bill 2072 would authorize county treasurers to contract with another county treasurer, the state treasurer, or both, for services, including banking, investment services, and technology projects. Banking and other financial services can pose challenges to rural communities with limited resources. And when it comes to financial contracts, volume is key. The more counties involved in a contract, the more negotiating power you have, leading to better services at better prices for residents.
This bill would have been helpful in a recent incident with Spokane and Lincoln counties. Due to the delay in the 2017-18 capital budget, Spokane County was able to provide stop-gap funding to one of its own school districts but was not permitted to provide the same assistance to a school district in Lincoln County, even though roughly two-thirds of the students in that school district reside in Spokane County. There was a clear benefit to be had by Spokane County assisting this neighboring county, but because state law doesn't currently allow two county treasurers to enter a contract with each other, Lincoln County was left in the lurch. My bill would fix that.
As always, if you have any questions about the issues discussed above or any other matter before the state Legislature, I encourage you to contact me. You can do so by calling my office at (360) 786-7966 or sending an email to Mike.Volz@leg.wa.gov.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you!