Dear Friends and Neighbors,
December is right around the corner, and shortly after the holidays your citizen legislature will convene in Olympia for the 2020 legislative session. The main task ahead of us is passing updates to our state operating, construction, and transportation budgets. As always, there are also many important issues affecting the way people live, work, move around, and thrive in our state—like climate action, the housing crisis, health care access and affordability, worker protections—to name just a few.
Last week, our House committees met again as we did in September to receive updates from State government agencies on the progress of implementing policies the Legislature has previously approved, and to set the stage for the short, 60-day legislative session ahead of us. We are focused on adjourning our work time without any additional “special” sessions, and will therefore need to prioritize our time to make sure we both finish our work on time and uphold our core value of “Putting People First.”
Keep reading for a quick update on just a few of the many issues facing the Legislature in 2020.
Cuts and delays due to Initiative 976
The passage of Initiative 976, regarding car tabs, means the legislature needs to make some very difficult decisions. One thing remains unchanged by these initiative results: the Puget Sound region already ranks as one of the most congested regions of the country. What does change is this: passage of I-976 makes the problem worse.
On Wednesday, a King County judge placed a hold on the initiative, but the legislature still needs to prepare for a scenario where the initiative is implemented. It will be up to all Washingtonians to advocate to legislators about what transportation funding and projects should be spared from devastating cuts.
What services will be cut, and what projects will be delayed? We don’t know yet where those cuts will come from, since the initiative was silent on that question. It will be up to lawmakers to make those cuts.
While I can’t make any specific predictions, I will continue to fight for adequate transit funding, light rail expansion, ferry improvements, special needs transit services, and other services people in our community rely on.
What about the court cases? Local governments and people with disabilities who rely on paratransit services have gone to court to challenge this initiative, but those court cases won’t be decided and appealed until after the legislature finishes session. That means we have to assume the cuts will happen and budget accordingly.
Can’t you just tap the rainy day fund or raise gas taxes to fill the holes? The state operating budget has reserves that, by law and constitutional amendment, can only be tapped for emergencies or recessions and only by super-majority votes. So we can’t empty the rainy day fund to fund transportation services and projects. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity to galvanize our efforts at enacting progressive revenue and structural tax overhaul.
The gas tax is also a constitutional issue, with the 18th Amendment to the state constitution requiring that gas tax revenue be spent on highways. That’s why some of the car tabs, weight fees and other fees eliminated by I-976 were such key sources of funding for mass transit.
What’s next? Governor Inslee recently directed the State Department of Transportation to postpone several improvement projects across the state that are not yet underway, including major construction on SR 99, I-5, and SR 520 in our district. Delaying the obligation of funds is intended to provide funding flexibility to determine how to implement I-976 during the legislative session. With the 2020 legislative session beginning soon, my colleagues and I need to hear loud and clear from our constituents about the transportation funding and projects important to you. Please share your thoughts with me, and encourage everyone you know—friends, family, coworkers, even your gym buddy or book club—to reach out to their local legislators as well.
Protecting and expanding reproductive justice
Despite ongoing attacks from the national level, Washington state has a history of enacting some of the most progressive reproductive health care protections in the country and we are continuing to lead on issues of reproductive justice.
With the passage of Reproductive Health Access for All (RHAA) (Senate Bill 5602) in 2019, Washington state created the strongest disclosure law in the country for reproductive health care coverage. The Legislature has proactively ensured that patients are provided with the critical information about reproductive health services available at all hospitals so that patients can make informed health care decisions.
However, there is still more work to do. We need to empower doctors and all other medical professionals to get patients the information they need, when they need it. Medical practitioners should never feel afraid to share information with their patients – especially when a reproductive or maternal health care emergency puts a patient’s life on the line.
Next session, I will lead an effort to pass legislation to ensure health care providers – and medical staff at all hospitals – know their rights when counseling patients on the full range of reproductive health care services, as well as all community resources available for obtaining the care of their choice no matter where they work.
Moving forward to end discrimination
Despite the outcome of Referendum 88, I remain committed to doing all I can to end discrimination. The data is clear—people of color, women, veterans, and people with disabilities face unjust lack of access and opportunity in state contracting, higher education, among other aspects of daily life. That’s why I was proud of the legislature for taking action to pass I-1000 that advocates spent a year crafting.
Legislators, along with community partners, will continue in our pursuit of equal access for all. As long as inequities exist, our efforts to break down the forces that cause disparities will continue. Last year, I co-sponsored legislation to establish a statewide Office of Equity within the Governor’s Office. I will continue to advocate for this, so that state agencies can be better advised on improving race and social equity policies, programming and governance both internally and for the public.
Thanks for taking the time to read this update.
All my best, and I hope you and your loved ones had a great Thanksgiving,