Session passes midway point; long-awaited drug-possession bill clears Senate

March 4, 2023

This is what a “meeting” often looks like when we’re working full-time on the floor of the Senate chamber, as has been the case all this week. Between debates and votes on bills you try to grab a moment to talk, as I was doing here with Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, left, and Sen. Curtis King of Yakima.

Dear Neighbor,

Greetings from Olympia! Thursday was day 53 of a session scheduled for 105 days, meaning legislators are just past the midway point.

The state Senate is several days into what is probably best described as the third stage of our work.

My previous report explained how policy and budget committees winnow the number of bills in play. This new stage goes through Wednesday and has the full 49-member Senate considering bills that received the necessary committee endorsements and were placed on our voting calendar by another committee, called Rules.

Members of the Rules Committee are not obliged to put every available bill on the voting calendar, nor is the Senate obliged to bring every bill on the calendar to a vote. That means the bills we do vote on have cleared either three or four hurdles already.

Once a bill is passed by the Senate, it begins the process all over again in the House of Representatives. As I’ve mentioned before, it can be difficult to make laws – and more often than not that is a good thing.

I’m happy to report one of my prime-sponsored bills won unanimous approval yesterday afternoon: Senate Bill 5025, which would require the digitization of all records of those serving sentences in our state correctional institutions.

You can imagine how much time and trouble it would save to have all those paper-based medical records converted to electronic form, for easier management. Before the vote I related to my fellow senators a story about how having medical records in paper form once complicated an emergency medical situation involving a Washington State Penitentiary inmate — all the paper weighed so much that it became impossible to take the full record on a medical helicopter flight! That bill now moves to the House of Representatives, and the process outlined above.

Here are a few examples of other bills that moved through the Senate just this week. They help illustrate the importance and range of the decisions being made.


Fixing the state’s
lax drug-possession law

One of my video reports from the Capitol offered an update on how legislators need to deal with the drug epidemic in our state. Important progress on that has just been made.

I was among the bipartisan majority of senators that passed Senate Bill 5536 late last night (11 p.m.!). It’s very similar to a bill I sponsored in that it would make possession and use of hard drugs a gross misdemeanor. It also would do a lot to restore the legal leverage that can compel people to seek and complete substance-use treatment.

During my first session as your senator the state Supreme Court came out with a ruling in State v. Blake, a case out of Spokane involving a woman who was arrested for methamphetamine possession. Her defense was that she didn’t know the drug was in the borrowed blue jeans she was wearing. The case was appealed to the high court, which on Feb. 25, 2021, agreed and found Washington’s felony drug-possession law to be unconstitutional.

The first Blake bill passed by the Senate in 2021 was similar to what we approved last night. Unfortunately, that approach got watered down severely during negotiations between the Senate and House. What was signed by the governor that year effectively decriminalized the possession and use of drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. It required first- and second-time offenders to be referred to treatment services instead of jail. Subsequent offenses could be charged only as a misdemeanor.

The legislation passed last night is actually better than the first Blake bill I supported two years ago. Charging drug possession as a gross misdemeanor is the same, but this carries the added leverage of a minimum sentence and is more detailed about how treatment services would be provided. The priority now is to avoid a repeat of 2021, and make sure this improved policy proposal doesn’t get weakened before it reaches the governor.

Democratic majority is off-target
with ‘firearm duty’ bill

Almost every morning while I’m in Olympia it seems the television channels carry news of another shooting the night before, somewhere in the central Puget Sound area. Even worse, many of these shootings end someone’s life.

Common sense tells us the guns used in these crimes aren’t being purchased directly by the criminals from retailers. If we want to reduce this kind of crime, we should be taking action on bills that would increase the penalty for stealing a gun (SB 5049) and increase the penalty for using a gun to commit a crime (SB 5745). I am a co-sponsor of both.

Instead, it seems the Senate’s majority Democrats want to look the other way. On Thursday they passed SB 5078, a bill requested by both Governor Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The governor and AG have given the legislation a real mouthful of a name: “The Firearm Industry Responsibility & Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act.”

The people in our state who manufacture, import, market and (legally) sell firearms in our state are not the problem. Those who steal guns are the problem, those who sell stolen guns on the underground market are the problem — and, of course, those who point a gun at another human being and pull the trigger for a reason other than self-defense are the problem.

Prior to the vote, a Republican colleague noted how if someone breaks your window with a hammer, the person who swung the hammer should be held accountable – not the hardware store that sold it or the company that made it. But the majority stuck to its position and passed the bill. It has shown no interest in either of the bills I’m sponsoring to go directly after the person who commits the crime.

If SB 5078 becomes law, it will be challenged in court on constitutional grounds, and the state of Washington will likely lose. But in the meantime, it would probably put in limbo the more than 3,000 federally licensed firearm dealers in Washington… plus sellers at gun shows and swap meets… and others engaged in the manufacture, importation, or marketing of firearms. Besides, why should taxpayers have to pick up the tab to defend the state against a bill that clearly looks unconstitutional from the start?

New attack on parental rights moves forward

Back on Feb. 1, when my Parents’ Bill of Rights bill (SB 5024) came up for a public hearing in our Senate K-12 committee, more than 70% of the people who signed in to offer their opinion agreed with the point of my legislation: School districts can and should do more to involve parents.

I thought that was a pretty one-sided response. But it didn’t hold a candle to Senate Bill 5599, which would go in the opposite direction by eliminating an important parental right. When it received a hearing before the Senate Human Services Committee on Feb. 6, more than 4,700 people registered their opinion on the bill – and 98% were opposed.

If a teen runs away from home and ends up at a licensed youth shelter, the parents are supposed to get a notification call within 72 hours, preferably sooner. At least then the parents know their child is alive as opposed to being in a hospital or morgue or just plain missing. Since 2010 there has been one exception to the parental-notification rule, and it’s reasonable: if a child shows signs of parental abuse or harm, the parents don’t get notified, but the state Department of Children, Youth and Families does.

SB 5599 would create a new exception to the parental-notification requirement, and it’s got a definite slant: All children would have to do is show up at a shelter, claim they are seeking what the bill calls “protected health services,” and just like that – the “cone of silence” comes down around the child. No call to the parents is required.

Before the vote on this bill, which happened Wednesday night (which meant it couldn’t make the evening news) Senate Republican Leader John Braun did a great job of explaining why this bill is not only anti-parent but also not pro-child. Click here to view his remarks and here for a statement he issued afterward. Either will give you a fuller sense of the problems with this proposal, and why it needs to be sidelined rather than become law.

The state Senate has been approving a wide range of bills all week – and while some are supported only by majority Democrats, most have received bipartisan votes. An example of a bill that brought Republicans and Democrats together is SB 5569, which I am co-sponsoring. It would help kidney disease centers to offer more dialysis stations, and before it received a unanimous vote I explained to my fellow senators how access to dialysis several years ago is why my 86-year-old mother is still able to go out and work in her garden!

Co-sponsored bills still in play

No legislator has a corner on good ideas, so I am happy to look at legislation proposed by other senators and decide whether to co-sponsor or “sign on” to it.

Here are just a few of the bills I am co-sponsoring that have either been passed by the Senate or are still in a position to move forward by March 8.

Land stewardshipSB 5353 would give the rest of Washington’s 39 counties an opportunity to participate in the state’s Voluntary Stewardship Program – an alternative approach for protecting critical areas on lands where agricultural uses exist. I know about the stewardship program firsthand, as Walla Walla County was one of the 27 counties that signed up when the first opportunity was presented in 2012. It has produced great results in our area.

Besides opening up the program to the 12 counties that didn’t sign up the first time around, SB 5353 would also allow any counties joining the program to access funding for riparian projects. The unanimous vote from the Senate for this bill Thursday is great news to agriculture groups and tribes, after a bipartisan riparian-buffer bill many had supported failed to make it past the committee stage in the House.

Irrigation-district elections – Washington has many special-purpose taxing districts nowadays, but it all started with irrigation districts. Our state has around 100 irrigation districts that construct, operate, and maintain the infrastructure that supplies water for Washington agriculture. A fraud case involving an irrigation district in King County exposed how the election procedures for irrigation districts are out of date.

SB 5709 was approved unanimously this past Tuesday; it would allow for mail-in ballots to modernize ballot security and make some important changes to how one becomes a candidate to the board of directors.

School-maintenance money – For the third straight year, I’m sponsoring legislation that would help school districts in Washington address their building-maintenance needs.

Senate Bill 5403 was approved by the Senate yesterday. It would allow school districts to voluntarily create a “depreciation subfund” that can receive a transfer of up to 2 percent of a school district’s general fund each fiscal year.

Sometimes it can be better for a school district to pay cash for a building repair or to set aside money for emergencies when they arise. This bipartisan bill would provide such a path for school districts to handle building- or facility-maintenance needs.



Participating in YOUR state government

Now that we are back 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 –

Testify in a committee –

Provide remote testimony –

Comment on a bill –

Visit my website –

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 – 


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.

Perry Dozier

State Senator

16th Legislative District