Greetings from…here in the 16th District! This year’s regular legislative session wrapped up on schedule this past Sunday, but unfortunately, I have to emphasize the word “regular.” There’s a chance we may be called back to the Capitol for an overtime session, to deal with a situation that was completely avoidable.
I’ll explain below and also touch on some of the other results from our 105-day session, but first, let me invite you to the town hall meetings we are holding in person next week. Both begin at 5:30 p.m., and I figure they’ll last an hour or so – or as long as people still have questions!
16th District Town Halls
Tuesday, May 2 – Walla Walla
Walla Walla Community College – Performing Arts Center
Wednesday, May 3 – West Richland
Libby Middle School, 3259 Belmont Blvd.
Even though the turnout was great for our “virtual” town hall on March 28, there is nothing like being able to visit face-to-face.
In fact, the ability to work with one another in person was one of the best takeaways from the 2023 legislative session. The COVID restrictions that had kept the public out of the Capitol – the “people’s house” – during the 2021 and 2022 sessions were gone. It was great to see and hear people testify in our committees on legislation (although the remote option was still available).
Also, sorting through policy issues with other legislators is much easier when you can simply step off to the side of the Senate chamber or out into the hallway and talk. It sure beats having to schedule a virtual meeting.
Lawmakers pass new budgets in closing days
Votes by the Senate on Saturday afternoon completed the Legislature’s work on the capital and transportation budgets for 2023-25. On Sunday afternoon it was the new operating budget’s turn.
Earlier in the session I had put in funding requests for 16th District needs, and many of those were met in the compromise budgets that were negotiated by the Senate and House these past few weeks, prior to the weekend votes.
Capital budget: The final version of Senate Bill 5200 includes $42.2 million worth of investments for the 16th District. A lot of projects to repair or remodel public buildings are on the list – this is the construction budget, after all. The appropriations also include money to expand the Three Rivers Behavioral Health Center; funding related to the Walla Walla Water 2050 water management plan; and support for community assets like parks and playgrounds, and greenhouse improvements at the WSU ag research station in Prosser. The Benton County seat will even get a new city entrance sign thanks to this budget. The capital budget was passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
Transportation budget: The “Connecting Washington” transportation package passed in 2015, back when I was a county commissioner, included money to complete the widening of U.S. Highway 12 between Wallula and Walla Walla. That money got diverted. I made a case to the Senate transportation leaders (the Democratic chair and his Republican counterpart) about the need to get those dollars back ($21 million), so we could leverage them to get around $200 million in federal dollars.
I’m proud to say the $21 million is in the final transportation budget approved by the Senate and House, as is an additional $13.4 million for improvements for the State Route 224 (Red Mountain, near West Richland) corridor project. I was a “yes” on the budget (House Bill 1125) because of these local investments.
I wish the same transportation budget did not include money for a study related to the effort to breach the four federal Snake River dams – but then again, I like to think such an analysis will end up demonstrating how very important the dams are to the movement of freight and goods. That’s among the many reasons to not breach them.
Operating budget: I did not support this biggest of the three budgets when it came through the Senate in March. It wasn’t an easy call, because that version of Senate Bill 5187 plan reflected a lot of Republican input. In the end, though, I couldn’t get past things like another appropriation related to the effort to breach the Snake River dams.
The final version of the operating budget that came before us Sunday, after it was passed by majority Democrats in the House, still checked boxes that are important to fiscal conservatives like me. Also, the threat of property-tax or real-estate excise tax increases did not materialize, which was positive. However, this compromise budget retains the Snake River dam appropriation, and went in the wrong direction on K-12, by failing to go far enough to help students recover from the “learning loss” they suffered because of pandemic classroom closures.
Also, it retains a long-overdue boost in funding for special-education services but dropped the money for dedicated special-education advocates that was in the Senate version. That was the last straw for me, as a member of the Senate education committee, and made my “no” vote an easier decision.
Republicans put priority on public safety; majority Democrats falter, especially on drug-possession issue
I hoped this session would undo the mistakes made in 2021 that essentially decriminalized hard drugs and weakened the ability of law enforcement to pursue suspected criminals.
In March, seeing how our state’s current misdemeanor drug-possession law has been a disaster, I supported legislation to make possession of fentanyl and similar drugs a gross misdemeanor. This would give more leverage when trying to get people with substance-use issues into and through treatment programs.
The majority Democrats in the House said no, they wanted to stay with a misdemeanor. Negotiations between the House and Senate produced a new proposal that tried to bridge the different positions held by the two chambers, but at 9 p.m. on Sunday – the final day of the regular session – that proposal failed to win enough House votes.
Here’s what this means: The current drug-possession law expires July 1, so if the Legislature does not replace it before then, it basically falls to local governments (counties and cities) to put their own drug-possession statutes in place. That means West Richland might have a different law than Walla Walla, but that’s the situation the Democratic majority in the Legislature has caused.
It is incredibly frustrating that the Senate Democrats and Republicans worked together across party lines to put a good solution on the table (SB 5536, which I supported) yet the House Democrats would not.
A change to the criminal-friendly pursuit restrictions was adopted but is really no more than a half-step forward. I had opposed Senate Bill 5232 the first go-round and because the House did not make it appreciably better, I was a “no” the second time as well. Officers still are prohibited from pursuing car thieves, for instance, unless they literally witness the theft of the vehicle – and we know how unlikely that is to happen.
There is one bright spot on the public-safety front: While my bill to replace the state’s Offender Management Network Information (OMNI) system stalled in the House budget committee, the policy from Senate Bill 5025 is supported in the new state operating budget. This includes a project to digitize the health records of state-prison inmates – formally creating what’s being called an EHR (Electronic Health Records) system at the Department of Corrections.
I’m not counting the three anti-firearm bills passed this year (and signed by the governor yesterday) in the public-safety category, in part because I expect legal challenges may invalidate each. However, I view the dismissal of sensible bills like SB 5049 and SB 5745 as adding to our state’s public-safety concerns friendly to criminals. These measures would have increased the penalty for firearm theft and committing a crime with a stolen firearm, and I co-sponsored both. While the governor’s own Office of Firearm Safety acknowledges many of the guns tied to “gun violence” aren’t obtained legally, the majority did not give either of the bills serious consideration.
I’ll look next time at what the 2023 session meant for making life in Washington more affordable, and for K-12 education. Those, along with public safety, are the priorities Republicans brought to Olympia this year.
YOUR state government
Now that legislators are back to meeting in person, there are many events, hearings and activities happening on the Capitol Campus. Additionally, we will continue to offer virtual options which may be more convenient. To help you navigate the legislative website and external resources, I have provided the following frequently used links to make your participation in the legislative process a little easier:
Watch legislative hearings, floor sessions and press conferences – https://www.tvw.org/
Testify in a committee – https://leg.wa.gov/legislature/Pages/Testify.aspx
Provide remote testimony – https://leg.wa.gov/House/Committees/Pages/RemoteTestimony-RegisterToTestify.aspx
Comment on a bill – https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/
Visit my website – https://perrydozier.src.wastateleg.org/
Senate Page Program. If you know a teen (between the ages of 14-16) interested in spending a week in Olympia learning about our state government, have them apply here – https://leg.wa.gov/Senate/Administration/PageProgram/Pages/default.aspx
Please remember I am here to serve you. Although we may not always be able to meet face to face, I encourage you to reach out to my office and to share your thoughts, ideas and concerns on matters of importance to you. Please, if you don’t already, follow me on Facebook. I look forward to hearing from you.
Also, I hope you’ll be able to join us next week at a town hall meeting!
16th Legislative District