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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It has been the honor and privilege of my life to serve you and to be your voice in the state House of Representatives. In my freshman year there was a certain level of uncertainty going into session; however, I was absolutely blessed to be surrounded by Rep. Dan Griffey and Sen. Drew MacEwen. They made me feel comfortable and supported throughout the entire session, and their experience was an invaluable resource as I navigated those rocky waters.
Although, in many ways, the session was a disappointment regarding statewide policy, my seatmates and I worked as a team to accomplish great things for the 35th District, including historic investments into our rural areas that will absolutely lift up our community. I promised when I came to Olympia I would fight for rural communities, public safety, quality education, a vibrant economy, and your constitutional rights. I kept those promises, and I was proud to be your voice and stand up for our values.
Special session to begin on May 16
On Tuesday, May 16, the Legislature is going into extra innings to address the state's drug possession laws.
Back in February 2021, the state Supreme Court ruled 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 illegal drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine from a felony to a misdemeanor. That law is set to expire this July 1.
On the very last day of the regular session, April 23, the majority party in the House brought up a measure to address this issue, Senate Bill 5536, for a vote. While the bill would have established drug possession as a gross misdemeanor, it was deeply flawed. It would have allowed violators to avoid substance abuse treatment, blocked local governments from restricting the distribution of drug paraphernalia, housed recovering addicts with active drug users, and established “Health Engagement Hubs” which would facilitate injection sites open to all ages, and eliminated the public notice requirement for siting opioid treatment facilities. For these reasons, all 40 House Republicans voted against the measure, and were joined by 15 House Democrats. The bill fell seven votes short of a majority: 43-55.
Unless the Legislature acts in time, there will be no statewide criminal penalty for possession of these drugs. If that happens, local governments could adopt their own criminal penalties.
Reps. Gina Mosbrucker and Peter Abbarno coauthored an opinion article, which lays out our concerns and priorities, published in The Seattle Times on May 5: WA drug possession reform needs both accountability and compassion
State Route 3 Freight Corridor (Belfair Bypass)
On transportation, you spoke, and we listened. The governor attempted to push the construction of the State Route 3 Freight Corridor (Belfair Bypass) to the 2030s. That was unacceptable to us. We fought back and secured funding in House Bill 1125, 2023-25 the transportation budget, to purchase land and begin construction at the end of this year and early next year, respectively. This was an enormous win for the 35th!
We reprioritized funding in the capital budget, Senate Bill 5200, to finish the final phase of the Oakland Bay Restoration. That project is important to Shelton, our local tribes, salmon recovery, and will create new jobs. We also secured critical funding for infrastructure with PUD1 that will help us build housing, and to help fix aging infrastructure like the dock in Allyn, and even secured funds to build more shelters for Mason County children who are homeless, and funds to begin building a new childcare center for Turning Pointe.
One investment I am proud of is funding for a new Mason County jail, which we envision will have increased capacity and an attached 23-hour crisis receiving center. With over $32 million secured in the capital budget, these are just a few examples of the historic results we delivered for the 35th.
All projects in the 35th include:
- $3 million for repairs to water tank storage at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton;
- $2.131 million for small district public school construction districtwide;
- $1.85 million for Angleside reservoir capacity upgrades in Shelton;
- $1.2 million for young adult transitional housing in Shelton;
- $1.03 million for the design of a new Mason County jail in Shelton;
- $1 million for Mason Public Utility District water infrastructure in Matlock;
- $618,000 for Mason Public Utility District 1 Vuecrest water system storage project in Union;
- $618,000 for Camp Thunderbird wastewater treatment facility in Olympia;
- $571,000 for replacement of the water system at Millersylvania State Park in Thurston County,
- $515,000 for Port of Allyn public pier repair in Allyn;
- $412,000 for Kitsap Humane Society Veterinary Lifesaving Center in Silverdale;
- $350,000 for Sandhill Park;
- $350,000 for Yelm Highway Community Park;
- $250,000 for regional water and sewer upgrades in Rochester;
- $250,000 for security and access improvements in Shelton;
- $215,000 for Shelton daycare and building project;
- $198,000 for the Swede Hall renovation project in Rochester;
- $103,000 for emergency shelter capital improvements in Shelton; and
- $70,000 for library improvements in Shelton.
The operating budget, Senate Bill 5187, was passed along partisan lines. It will spend nearly $70 billion (a $5.6 billion increase over current spending) leaving $2.1 billion in the rainy-day fund by the end of the four-year outlook period, which is less than the State Treasurer's minimum target of 10% of annual revenues. Unfortunately, it provides no tax relief for working families. Once again, the Democratic majority has failed to properly prioritize state spending. Amendments to the budget to fund police, clean up homeless encampments, properly fund special education, address learning loss and record low test scores in schools were denied. I fought for taxpayers against reckless taxes and spending in our budget that has more than doubled in 10 years while our incomes at home have not.
Fighting for families
One of the themes of my efforts this session was protecting kids and families. As a dad of kids with special needs, I fought for special education and for people with developmental disabilities.
I also passed my first bill, House Bill 1274, to protect children under Child Protective Services (CPS) supervision who are being abused and malnourished; it was signed into law on April 13. I also fought to increase access to and lower the cost of childcare (House Bill 1537).
Read more here.
Justice for victims
On May 3, Rep. Griffey, Sen. MacEwen, and I wrote a joint letter to Gov. Inslee asking that he reject the recommendation of the Clemency and Pardons Board to release David Lennon. Lennon was convicted of brutally murdering Terry L. Stitt – a father of two – on July 4, 1984. Lennon and two teenage boys were hitchhiking. After Mr. Stitt offered them a ride, Lennon shot him several times and dumped his body on the side of the road.
The children of Mr. Stitt – Katilin Stitt Wilbur and her brother Jonathan Christopher Douglas Stitt – were 6 and 4 years old, respectively, when their father was murdered. They waited days for their father to come home. Instead, an unsuspecting teenager found the long-expired Mr. Stitt while cleaning trash on the side of the freeway – a discovery that would inflict lifelong trauma on the teenager.
Ms. Wilbur has noted publicly that the death of her father has continued to devastate her family and left her with lifelong suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Our state must recognize that victims are entitled to justice. The idea that families must frequently be retraumatized to keep the perpetrator of their pain in captivity is unethical and unconscionable. These victims will be continually tormented by the idea that they may encounter the wrongdoer at any moment, robbing them of any peace that comes through justice.
We need to respect the wishes of the victims and keep Lennon behind bars.
Read our letter here.
Going into the session, we knew we had to address a shortage in housing statewide, severe workforce shortages, a failed drug possession law established after the Blake decision, and fix the police pursuit laws that have led to a substantial increase in crime and cost many their lives. It was frustrating to see that these critical issues were not prioritized by the majority, and as they ultimately control what is passed on the House floor, they own the failure of not fixing these devastating problems for Washingtonians.
A modification to police pursuit was passed, Senate Bill 5352, which added a few additional crimes where police can chase suspects with reasonable suspicion; however, those additions are not enough – not even close. Although it is minor progress over current law, I fear that police still won't have most of the tools they need to stop crime. We spoke to all three 35th District Sheriffs, and they supported our decisions on that bill.
In housing, we passed policies that would enable more growth and development. Stunningly, the majority party passed follow-on laws that substantially increase the cost of that same housing we need to desperately build, such as the banning of natural gas and adding more requirements to the Growth Management Act (GMA).
The Legislature tried to curb the workforce shortages we see in every sector; however, it was not enough. Ultimately, the Legislature must look in the mirror to see who created the bulk of the workforce shortage situation. Failed pandemic polices, as well as bad economic and social policies, have people migrating en masse out of Washington, taking their career experience and spending power with them.
Parental rights under attack
Senate Bill 5599 was signed into law. This is the measure to allows the state and shelters to hide children from their parents if a child as young as 13 is seeking society's most controversial care. Now the government and shelters can illegally harbor a youth from their parents for gender transitions or abortions.
I voted against this bill in committee and on the House floor.
Three anti-gun bills passed, including one that bans semi-automatic rifles. These anti-gun laws do not save lives – they just harm law abiding citizens and restrict their rights, while criminals ignore these laws and find ways to circumvent them to the detriment of public safety.
- House Bill 1143 imposes training, permitting, and waiting period requirements on gun owners and firearm dealers with large fines and possible jail time.
- House Bill 1240 outlaws 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 holds gun manufacturers legally responsible for how individuals misuse their products.
Amazingly, the majority party concurrently passed soft-on-crime bills that would reduce punishments to those who commit crimes with firearms, while fast-tracking their release from prison. These laws are wrong and unconstitutional, and I hope federal courts soon strike them down.
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Whether we're in session, special session, or the interim, I work for you year-round. Please contact my office with your questions, concerns, comments, or suggestions. I am here to listen to and represent you in Olympia.
It's an honor to serve you!
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7902 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000