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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
These past several months have been a whirlwind for the Legislature: We debated several public safety measures; passed three multi-billion-dollar budgets to pay the state's bills, maintain infrastructure, and build roads, bridges, and schools; fought hard against many bad new policies; passed good legislation; and avoided statewide drug legalization during a one-day special session.
Special session on drug possession
On May 16, the Legislature convened to address the state's drug possession laws. This story begins in February 2021 when 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 which reduced the penalty for possessing illegal drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine from a felony to a misdemeanor. That law was set to expire on July 1, 2023.
On the last day the regular session, April 23, the majority party in the House brought up Senate Bill 5536 – a measure to address the issue – for a vote. The bill contained many flaws and ultimately failed to pass by a 43-55 vote.
Without a new law against possession of controlled substances, hard drugs would be effectively legalized statewide. Then, on May 2, Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to call the Legislature into special session to resolve the issue. This time, there was a more bipartisan approach in crafting a bill and the new version passed 83-13 on May 16.
The new policy isn't perfect, but it will toughen criminal penalties and invest more in treatment and recovery. The communities we serve deserve so much better than the status quo. It's my hope that this new law will be the beginning of a trend to tackle the issues of substance abuse, mental health, homelessness, and crime in a more sensible, bipartisan way.
Beefing up Washington's behavioral health workforce
A big piece of the puzzle to addressing our state's issues with mental healthcare is beefing up our behavioral health workforce. On April 20, the governor signed my bill to do just that.
House Bill 1763 will make it easier for recipients of conditional scholarships for behavioral health under the Washington Health Corps to complete their service obligations by helping them access resources, like food, housing, and childcare. It would also cap the loan interest rate and repayment interest rate for conditional scholarships at 2%.
Washington state is seriously in need of more behavioral health workers. This law will encourage more people to participate in this important program and get more workers in the pipeline.
In 2019, the Legislature created the Washington Health Corps to help recruit and retain licensed health professionals and encourage them to serve in critical shortage areas for a minimum of three years. Participants in the program are provided with educational loan repayment assistance or conditional scholarships.
Participants who fail to complete their service obligations must immediately pay back their loans, including any interest and fees. If they're unable to pay back the full amount immediately, they must enter into a payment arrangement plan with the Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA).
Interest rates are currently set at 4.99% by OSFA to match the interest rate of primary federal student loans for undergraduate students.
Despite the generous potential award of conditional scholarships, the number of participants in the program remains low and the funds are not being used.
Currently, OSFA makes exceptions to loan repayment obligations for participants whose circumstances are beyond their control, but this law will codify the following exceptions in law:
- The participant is a service member of the armed forces, or is a spouse or dependent of a service member, who receives permanent change of station or deployment orders to move out-of-state or to a location that would create a hardship to complete the participant's service obligations; or
- The participant is experiencing unforeseen emergencies or hardships that substantially affect the participant's ability to complete his or her service obligations.
House Bill 1763 will go into effect on July 23.
Increasing the cap on sales of homemade food products by $10,000
Cottage food producers will see a $10,000 increase to the annual cap on their gross sales under House Bill 1500, a new law I sponsored that will go into effect on July 23.
Washingtonians with a cottage food permit can sell homemade food products such as baked goods, candies, jams, jellies, preserves, and dry tea blends without a food processor's license. Permitholders are currently limited to $25,000 in gross sales annually. Under House Bill 1500, that limit will increase to $35,000, and the permit will be valid for two years instead of one.
I truly appreciate the broad, bipartisan support for this timely bill. During this moment of high inflation and economic uncertainty, every dollar counts. This measure will help families pay bills and put food on the table.
Under the new law, the state Department of Agriculture will also increase the cap every four years based on the change in the consumer price index for Seattle.
Investing in our communities
As a member of the House Capital Budget Committee again this year, I had the opportunity to steer investments to the 39th Legislative District.
The state capital budget, also known as the “construction budget,” appropriates money for statewide construction and repair of public buildings, and for other investments, such as land acquisitions and transfers, infrastructure, broadband, parks, and cultural and heritage facilities.
The $8.98 billion budget makes significant investments statewide, including:
- $884 million for behavioral health construction;
- $872 million for K-12 public school construction;
- $694 million for affordable housing, home upgrades, and utility connection grants; and
- $764.5 million for infrastructure through the Public Works Board, Community Economic Revitalization Board and Broadband.
Projects in the 39th District, totaling more than $46 million, include:
- $12.7 million for Skagit County Crisis Stabilization Center (SCCSC) in Sedro-Woolley;
- $9.106 million for Stillaguamish watershed floodplains and farmlands;
- $6.283 for small school districts;
- $3.981 million for Fisher Creek restoration at Cedardale and Starbird;
- $3.645 million for Hamilton floodplain education, property acquisition, and restoration;
- $1.6 million for Department of Fish and Wildlife facilities;
- $1.123 million for Cedarwood Community Recreation Center redevelopment in Lake Stevens;
- $874,000 for state Military Department field maintenance shop upgrades in Sedro Woolley;
- $850,000 for Frontier Heights athletic field and pickleball court in Lake Stevens;
- $764,000 for Lake Stevens Historical Museum;
- $485,000 for Pasado's Safe Haven water and safety upgrades in Monroe;
- $307,000 for forest riparian easement program to mitigate the economic impacts on landowners;
- $186,000 for Sea Mar community health centers in Concrete;
- $100,000 for Sedro-Woolley Club renovation; and
- $98,000 for state Military Department roof repairs in Sedro Woolley.
Standing up for parental rights
As many of you are aware, the governor recently signed Senate Bill 5599 – a highly controversial new law that erodes parental rights. As the ranking member on the House Human Services, Youth, and Early Learning Committee, I helped lead the effort against this measure.
The new law will allow youth shelters, and other similar organizations, to not to notify a parent if his or her child enters their facility seeking or receiving “gender affirming” treatment or reproductive health care services.
Prior to this law, minors could already receive these services without parental knowledge or permission. This new law strictly deals with the duty of youth shelters to notify parents on the whereabouts of their children.
Today, if a runaway youth enters a youth shelter without parental permission, the shelter is required to report the location of the child, unless there's a compelling reason not to. In that case, the shelter must notify the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
“Compelling reasons” include, but are not limited to, circumstances that indicate that notifying a parent or legal guardian will subject a minor to abuse or neglect. This new measure adds gender affirming treatment and reproductive health care services as compelling reasons not to notify a parent.
Why I oppose this bill
I am concerned about parental rights and keeping the family unit intact. Parental rights are protected under the U.S. Constitution and they're pre-political rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment secures parental rights that will be eliminated under this law. Moms and dads who are providing a safe home have the right to know where their kids are.
At the same time, I am supportive of the intent of this bill to reduce suicide rates. I don't believe, however, that we can achieve that goal by erecting barriers between families. Instead, we should keep families together and help them work through these difficult issues. Kids need their parents when they're dealing with these challenging issues.
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I work for you all year. Please contact me if you have questions about important issues facing our communities and state.
It's an honor to serve you!
436 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7816 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000