Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you and your loved ones are finding time to relax and enjoy our beautiful summer.
During the 4th of July holiday, I was overwhelmed with gratitude because I am fortunate enough to raise my children in a place that affords us such freedom and opportunity – we truly live in the greatest country on Earth. I also reflected on my time in the U.S. Navy. I am extremely proud to have served this country, and just as proud to serve you as your state representative.
But, this year, that pride and gratitude were also mixed with great concern over the direction our state has shifted in recent years. The majority party has passed many bad policies I truly believe veer from the vision of our forefathers, and in my view, infringe on the American Dream and our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All you have to do is watch five minutes of local news, read a local paper, or take a short drive to see what I mean.
As I have said multiple times in the past, I am incredibly concerned with the state of public safety in Washington. Our law enforcement continues to struggle with staffing. Our courts are still dealing with massive backlogs and not enough resources. We see example after example of tragedies occurring because so many judge’s set low or no bail without considering the risk to the public. Not only does that embolden criminals in Washington, but it also attracts new ones.
In June, a Seattle business owner and mother was sitting at a stop light, in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood when a stranger approached the vehicle she and her husband were in and opened fire hitting them both. The husband was injured and survived. The mother – who was eight months pregnant – and her new baby daughter did not.
Earlier this year, I highlighted a case where a local judge released a woman charged with shooting her boyfriend multiple times. I have many problems with that decision but it is the overall trend I am most concerned with – and the narrative from the majority that jail only causes harm and can’t save lives. In this domestic violence case, jail would absolutely have saved a life because shortly after the judge released the woman she took her own life by jumping from a bridge. But I could fill an arena with people who have been in jail and say that the experience did save their life and set them straight.
Prioritizing keeping suspects out of jail is also a threat to the public as we saw when a man attacked a woman at a Seattle light rail station and threw her down the stairs. Later that day, that same man stabbed someone else at a Seattle bus stop. Months later, he was charged with murder for allegedly killing a man in another random attack less than 24 hours before the other two attacks.
He should never have been on the streets in the first place with such a lengthy and violent criminal history.
In another case in 2019, a man randomly stabbed several people as they walked out of a Seattle Nordstrom, and there are countless other examples of random attacks by suspects who were released on no or low bail, or otherwise slipped through the cracks in the system. Or even worse because the state could not get its act together to resolve the years-long problem of providing timely competency evaluations and the necessary beds at state mental health facilities to ensure those awaiting evaluation are not held in jail, unconstitutionally.
The man charged with throwing the woman down the stairs at the light rail station, killing another man, and stabbing a third person in a 24 hour period was held in jail for months because of the lack of beds at Western State Hospital as he awaited competency restoration treatment so he could be eligible to stand trial. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was fined $250 a day for months because of that failure. This is just one example.
In fact, recently, a federal judge slapped DSHS with over $100 million in fines for its failure to provide adequate mental health beds and services for those awaiting competency services in jail in connection with what’s known as the Trueblood case.
That case, filed nearly a decade ago, resulted in a settlement that requires the state to provide adequate mental health and competency services to those in jail – known as Class Members. The order for DSHS to pay these fines is due to what the judge called, DSHS’s “inexcusable” violation of Class Member’s constitutional rights from “at least September 2022 through 2023.”
All of the above examples are a large driver of those with mental health issues and competency restoration needs cycling in and out of jail over the past several years, many of them committing new crimes, randomly attacking strangers, or worse. Let me be clear – that is not acceptable.
READ: The full Trueblood ruling here.
New Drug Possession Law
Streets across our state are littered with people who have been openly using drugs over the past two years under our now-expired useless drug possession law. The new law we passed in a one-day special session in May that makes personal drug possession a gross misdemeanor is better than what we had before, but law enforcement and prosecutors in our communities tell me they are not confident it gives them the tools they need. They also say we do not have anywhere near the level of treatment needed to meet the requirements of the new law.
I will be keeping a close eye on how the new law – which took effect this month – impacts our communities and meeting with local law enforcement to find out what additional legislation surrounding the drug possession law may be needed in 2024. I also expect to be involved in improving the inadequate vehicular pursuit policy passed by the majority party this year.
READ: Mason, Kitsap, and Thurston County sheriffs voice support for Reps. Griffey and Couture’s vote on police pursuit bill here.
WATCH: Rep. Travis Couture urges no vote on Democrats’ vehicular pursuit bill here.
Your Paycheck is Shrinking
Despite my efforts to repeal the new long-term care payroll tax and those of House Republican leaders, On July 1, the state began collecting the payroll tax for the WA Cares Fund – Washington’s new long-term care insurance program.
As I explained in my last update, this program will cost a person $0.58 per $100 of earnings via payroll deductions that will cost those earning $50,000 annually nearly $300 a year. What you get is an inadequate limited lifetime benefit of up to $36,500 to assist with future long-term care costs that cannot be transferred to a spouse, you lose if you retire out of state, and that are nowhere near enough to actually help cover long-term care costs for any length of time.
The benefit won’t even be available until 2026 and there is already talk about the need to increase the payroll tax to keep the program solvent.
The good news is Republicans in both the House and Senate are working on ways repeal or fix this unfair and unpopular program so, stay tuned.
Learn more about the new long-term care payroll tax here.
The Price at the Pump
The alarming rise in gas prices is hitting so many people in our community hard. Washingtonians are already dealing with the high cost of everything due to inflation, and now our gas prices have risen to nearly $1.50 a gallon above the national average. Last month, our state took the unwanted top spot as the state with the highest average gas prices in the nation when the average cost reached $4.91 a gallon. As of this E-mail, the national average price is $3.63, while Washington gas prices sit at an average of $4.92 per gallon.
While there are multiple factors that can drive up the cost of gasoline, taxes are a big driver, as are the recent climate policies proposed by Gov. Inslee and passed by majority Democrats.
In Washington state, gasoline is taxed at a rate of 49.4 cents per gallon. That is the third-highest gas tax rate in the country and accounts for more than 11% of what you pay every time you fill up the tank.
Add to that the Climate Commitment Act, Washington’s cap-and-trade program proposed by Gov. Inslee and the majority party that passed the Legislature in 2021 and was implemented in January of this year. Affordable Fuel Washington reports gas prices in Washington state have spiked an additional 44 cents for gasoline and 54 cents for diesel fuel since the state launched this program and the corresponding tax on CO2 emissions.
See the latest Washington gas prices from AAA here.
The surge in gas prices has a devastating ripple effect that leads to even higher costs for goods and services and fewer donations to charitable organizations and food banks. It hurts small businesses, low to middle-income families, and seniors the most.
This will be a big issue in the 2024 session, but I know many of you need relief now. That is why I recently joined many of my House Republican colleagues in signing onto a letter from Sen. Chris Gildon to the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) laying out tangible steps DOE can take right now to provide relief at the pump.
There are also discussions underway on multiple bills that can help keep these prices down long-term so we are in no way just going to lie down and accept these prices.
I truly thank you for reading my update. These are an important way for us to connect and for me to keep you in the loop about what is happening even when we are not in session.
Please remember, that even though we are not in session, I am always working for the people in the 35th Legislative District, so please contact my office with any thoughts, concerns, or suggestions you might have.
I look forward to hearing from you!