Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2024 legislative session is just around the corner, so I wanted to take a moment and fill you in on everything I am working on. I am also including a brief survey. If you have a few moments, I’d love to hear from you on the important issue of artificial intelligence.
Last month, Rep. Dan Griffey, Sen. Drew MacEwen, and I were thrilled to celebrate the groundbreaking of the final phase of the Oakland Bay Restoration Project. For over a decade, Mason County officials, community members, and leaders of the Squaxin Tribe have worked with 35th District lawmakers to secure funding for the project. I was proud to be able to use my role on the House Capital Budget Committee during my first year in office, to help secure the final $5.3 million needed for the last phase of this critical project .
The funding will complete the final phase of the West Bay Conservation and Restoration Project removing nearly a quarter mile of bulkhead and enhancing 17 acres of saltmarsh to promote growth of intertidal vegetation. The project will also help restore the estuary’s natural habitat and significantly boost recovery efforts for coho, chinook and chum salmon.
A Visit from the House Speaker
Earlier this month, Rep. Griffey and I had the opportunity to accompany Washington State House Speaker Laurie Jinkins on a tour of the Sierra Pacific Industries sawmill in Shelton. The Speaker has critical decision-making authority when it comes to choosing which bills move through committees and on to the House floor for a vote during session. This was a great chance to highlight the rich history of the lumber industry in the 35th District as well as show off how well it has shifted its process into methods focused on the environment and sustainability.
Sierra Pacific Industries provides hundreds of local jobs and is a critical part of county and state environmental efforts.
Public Safety Concerns
I continue to be concerned about public safety in Washington. Specifically, I am increasingly worried about the ever-growing list of judges that are releasing dangerous offenders on low or no bail. This is something I shared my concerns about during the last legislative session and an issue that seems to have only gotten worse during the interim. Suspects are presumed innocent and there are constitutional rights that must be honored. However, judges have the discretion to hold someone on reasonable bail when they deem the suspect a flight risk or a danger to the community, considering factors like the suspect’s prior offenses. Unfortunately, we see many judges deciding to give unreasonably low bail or no bail in cases involving repeat offenders or those the judges acknowledge in court records pose a risk to society. That must change. I intend to support legislation that clarifies minimum bail levels for certain violent offenses, repeat offenders, and those who are deemed a risk to the community. We must demand that elected judges do their part to set radical ideology aside in order to reasonably keep the public safe.
WATCH: Rep. Travis Couture’s interview with Brandi Kruse regarding low/no bail decisions here.
Protecting Social Workers So They Can Protect Our Children
Our state’s child welfare system is failing. As assistant ranking member of the House Human Services, Youth, and Early Learning Committee, I hear often from those impacted by this broken system. Last session, the Legislature passed a bill I sponsored to assist Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) in protecting kids from malnutrition. The bill came in the wake of the death of 15-year-old Karreon Franks, whose adoptive parents were just convicted on all charges for starving him to death. Franks died despite repeated abuse complaints made to DCYF, including one a week before he died. There are reports of an impending wrongful-death lawsuit against DCYF for failing to protect Franks, who weighed just 61 pounds when he died. But the issues don’t stop there. Recently, we have seen a growing number of tragedies involving kids who either are, or recently were, under the care of DCYF. Among them is the case of 4-year-old Oakley Carlson, whose parents are the prime suspects in her 2021 disappearance in Grays Harbor. Earlier this year, a one-year-old girl in Snohomish County died of fentanyl poisoning in an Everett hotel room after being left in the care of her mother despite fierce opposition from the little girl’s grandmother. This year, a Tacoma mother brutally tortured and murdered her 3-year-old son while abusing meth – while under CPS supervision.
WATCH: Rep. Travis Couture’s DCYF Op-Ed video here.
Recent child fatality and near fatality reviews conducted by the state show more kids dying or nearly dying from accidental ingestion of fentanyl or other drugs when left in, or returned to, the homes of drug-using parents.
READ: Rep. Travis Couture’s DCYF Op-Ed here.
Among other issues, DCYF social workers say they have unmanageable caseloads and worry for their own safety after a violent, near-fatal attack on of one of their own. They recently initiated a vote of no confidence against agency director Ross Hunter for failing to address these and other issues and leaving social workers without the tools they need to protect children. All of this is unacceptable. That is why I plan to introduce legislation in the upcoming session to make it easier to remove children from homes where there is a parent abusing meth or opioids, and to make it a felony to assault social workers – the same level of protection given to state ferry workers.
From self-driving cars and job insecurity to privacy and bias concerns – and everything in between – we are hearing a lot about the future of Artificial Intelligence, including potential regulations. I want to know what you think about AI. Please take a moment to share your thoughts on AI in my brief survey here.
You’re Invited: Highway 3 Freight Corridor (Belfair Bypass) Town Hall
Finally, I want to remind those interested in the Highway 3 Freight Corridor (Belfair Bypass) project about our upcoming town hall event.
The bypass is moving forward after myself, my seatmates, and other lawmakers successfully fought back an effort to further delay it and other transportation projects statewide in the 2023 session. We also secured $12 million to launch construction on top of the $79 million already dedicated to the project. On Thursday, Nov. 9, at 6 p.m., 35th District lawmakers and Washington State Department of Transportation officials will host a town hall to provide an updated timeline on the project and answer your questions. We hope to see you there.