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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The 60-day 2024 legislative session ended March 7, and I wanted to fill you in on the highlights.

Public Safety/Initiatives

We got a big victory on public safety this session thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians who signed I-2113, an initiative to the Legislature to restore the ability of police to pursue criminals. Majority Democrats failed to prioritize hearings for the pursuit initiative and five other initiatives the people of Washington sent to us, waiting until the final days of the session to schedule hearings and only scheduling them on three of the six measures. The good news: all three of the initiatives to get hearings were passed by the Legislature. They include, Initiative 2113, restoring the authority of law enforcement to engage in vehicular pursuits; Initiative 2111, banning personal state and local income taxes; and Initiative 2081, establishing a parental bill of rights.

WATCH Rep. Travis Couture stand up for parental rights. 

All three of these initiatives will soon become law. Our law enforcement believes having the ability to go after criminals again, and making sure those criminals know that they can, will be a game changer. It will have a significant impact on the rising crime Washington state has seen.

WATCH Video message from Rep. Couture, Rep. Griffey, and 35th District sheriffs on police pursuit initiative.

The fate of the remaining three initiatives to the Legislature that did not get hearings will be decided by voters in November.

Those initiatives would:

  • Allow people to opt out of Washington’s long-term care program (WA Cares) and payroll tax;
  • Repeal the state’s cap-and-trade program; and
  • Repeal the state’s capital gains tax.

Drug Crisis/Missed Opportunities

We passed some bipartisan legislation with House Bill 2396 to help continue the fight against fentanyl, but it is not enough. We must create tougher penalties for those who traffic this deadly drug.

Listen to Rep. Dan Griffey, Rep. Travis Couture join the Fix Washington Podcast to talk fentanyl.

The impact of fentanyl on the most vulnerable in our society has been severe, especially for children. We continue to see record deaths connected to kids left in the custody of parents using fentanyl or other hard drugs, either from the child accidentally ingesting fentanyl or worse. Just last week, a 4-year old Everett boy was found dead. His mother has been arrested for the murder. Just one day before the little boy disappeared his grandmother was in court to get temporary guardianship citing the drug and alcohol abuse of his mother and her violent and unpredictable behavior.

I had a bill this session that would have clarified that use of fentanyl and other hard drugs in the home meets the legal standard of imminent harm. This would make clear to the courts that drug abuse qualifies as enough of a threat to either remove a child temporarily while the parent seeks treatment or to permanently remove a child if the parent cannot provide a safe home.  House Bill 2233 was ignored by majority Democrats despite multiple instances of more child deaths connected to fentanyl and other hard drugs right before and during session.

Listen to Rep Travis Couture join KVI’s Ari Hoffman to talk about going to war to save at-risk kids from fentanyl-addicted parents. 

I will keep fighting for this change to protect these children who deserve a second chance at life.

The majority continues to prioritize criminals over public safety and those who have been victimized. Fortunately, between Republicans in both the House and Senate pushing back on those efforts we were able to stop some of those bad bills in their tracks, including:

  • House Bill 2001 (Resentencing) – This bill would have allowed judges to reduce sentences of convicted criminals, other than a person sentenced as a persistent offender or for Aggravated Murder in the first degree, after they serve 7-10 years of that sentence;
  • House Bill 2030 (felon voting) – Would have allowed all incarcerated people to vote, serve on juries, and run for public office; and
  • House Bill 2177 (Sex Offender Policy Board) – This bill would have changed the name of the Sex Offender Policy Board to the Sex Offense Policy Board and added a convicted sex offender to the membership of the board.

I had a bill to address two critical public safety needs – indigent public defense funding and increasing the number of state law enforcement officers. While most states in the country provide about half of the funding to cover the cost of providing defense attorneys to those who cannot afford them, Washington state only provides about 3% of that funding. That has led to a crisis in most Washington counties. The big worry for me is if suspects can’t access their constitutionally required public defense the courts must release them. My bill would have seen the state create a $200 million dollar account to help counties cover the cost so long as they met minimum police staffing ratios. If not, they’d have to use the funding to hire more police. That bill also was not given a hearing.

Sexually Violent Predators

Democrats refused to set a hearing for a bill I cosponsored to overhaul the state system for sexually violent predators (SVPs) civilly committed to McNeil Island who are being released into group homes across the state. House Bill 2093 was a good faith effort to fix the current patchwork system in Washington that sees groups of some of the state’s most violent sex offenders moved out of civil commitment to less restrictive alternative (LRA) group homes in communities, as we saw defeated in Tenino last year after the community pushed back.

READ 35th District lawmakers frustrated after majority refuses to hear vital bill on sexually violent predators. 

Among other things, House Bill 2093 would have ensured all LRAs are owned, operated, or contracted through the state to improve accountability, transparency and oversight. It also redefines where SVPs can be released, places new restrictions on the siting of LRAs, adds specific notification and engagement requirements with local governments, law enforcement, prosecutors, and community members before an LRA can be sited, bars SVPs from choosing their own LRA, and improves transparency of SVP treatment plans, including the criteria used to determine their eligibility for release. We are not done working for toward this change.

Special Education

As a parent of kids in public school on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), I am a fierce advocate for improving our special education system. It is underfunded and kids pay the price. One of the big issues with special education is the cap on funding special education services to just 15% of a district’s student population. This session, that was bumped to 16% in the final supplemental budget. That’s good, but not good enough. I would prefer there be no cap on special education funding.

WATCH Rep. Couture fight for special education funding.

I proposed House Bill 1914, a wide-ranging bipartisan bill that would have helped ensure students with special education needs get the assistance they need, improved school accountability and transparency, ensured parents are kept informed, and shifted the burden of proof in due process hearings from the parents to the school districts. While this bill did receive a hearing, it ultimately died in the House. But I was happy to vote for Senate Bill 5883 – bipartisan legislation that also shifted the burden of proof to districts, which has since been signed into law.

My Bills That Became Law

Though House Bill 1934 – my bill to create an Artificial Intelligence (AI) task force – did not pass this session, its companion in the Senate did, and that is great news. So many of us are uneasy about the potential impact of AI as it continues to thrive. At the same time, we do not want to see the Legislature pass a knee-jerk reaction and overregulate AI out of fear. That’s why I wanted to see the state have this thoughtful task force put together, so lawmakers could get the best information and recommendations from experts about the potential risks and benefits of AI before rushing to pass new laws. This needs to happen, and I am grateful to see it signed into law, regardless of which chamber it came from. I truly believe this is the best option for our state.

I was very proud to sponsor House Bill 1941 to help families with children on Medicaid suffering from medically complex conditions, which means kids with chronic conditions, impacting multiple organs, who spend much of their time with doctors, and often need medical technology. They also do best when all of the care is coordinated, which is why in 2019 Congress passed the Advancing Care for Exceptional (ACE) Kids Act,  which creates a new coordinated care option for these kids under Medicaid. But to be able to offer it states must submit a state plan amendment and apply to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. My bill directs the Washington Health Care Authority to do that so not only can we improve the lives of these children with chronic health issues and their families but the state with federal match dollars, which will greatly drive down Medicaid spending.

Look for another update soon, and please remember, I always want to hear from you!

CONTACT: Find Rep. Travis Couture’s contact info here.


Travis Couture

State Representative Travis Couture, 35th Legislative District
representativetraviscouture.com
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
travis.couture@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7902 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000