ladies purses ebay Legislators aim to pass flurry of bills in short session
A sweeping carbon tax plan, gun control legislation and a new state Voting Rights Act have dominated the early news coming out of the Democrat controlled Legislature.
But beneath the major headlines, Southwest Washington’s legislators have been active on the margins.
From creating a state agency focused on boosting rural tourism to expanding high speed Internet access, members of both political parties have proposed a stack of bills that could effect Cowlitz, Lewis and other counties in the region.
With Democrats holding majorities in both chambers for the first time in five years, the party seems determined to adjourn on March 8 without calling a special session. The Senate, for example, has already held late night votes on three different occasions.
“I know there’s definitely an agreement that we’re getting out of here in 60 days,” Sen. Dean Takko, D Longview, said Friday.
Last summer, the divided Legislature rankled the public by concluding its work at the end of a marathon third special session without passing a $4 billion capital budget.
“Those extra sessions are wildly unpopular,” said freshman Rep. Jim Walsh, R Aberdeen. “In that sense, it’s more urgent than last year because (Democrats) really want to stick to the short cycle.”
Only 39 days remain in the session, leaving limited time for lawmakers to push bills through committee. The cutoff to schedule a bill for a floor vote is Friday.
Here’s a rundown of significant bills local lawmakers hope to pass.
Sen. Dean Takko, D Longview
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Legislature killed the Washington Tourism Commission at the end of the 2009 2011 biennium. Now, Washington is the only state in the nation that does not designate public funds to promote tourism. In Pacific County, for example,
52 cents of every taxable dollar was spent by a visitor in 2016. Roughly 30 percent of jobs in Pacific County are tourism related, according to the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.
“The rural areas, with our limited marketing resources and heavy reliance on tourism, continue to suffer losses as Washington continues to lose market share to our neighboring states,” Andi Day, the group’s executive director, said at a Jan. 18 Senate hearing.
The bill could be a boon for rural Washington. The text stipulates that any statewide tourism marketing plan must include focuses on rural tourism dependent counties and outdoor recreation opportunities.
“We don’t need to advertise Seattle. Everybody knows about Seattle,” Takko said. “The thing that’s really critical to me is that (the bill) has the verbiage in there that . rural areas need to be concentrated on.”
The bill was scheduled for a floor vote last summer but ultimately got lost in the end of session scramble. It currently has three Democratic co sponsors and two Republican co sponsors.
Rep. Brian Blake, R Aberdeen
With HB 2417, Blake is looking to save Puget Sound’s orca whales by boosting fish hatchery production.
The region’s southern resident orca whale population listed as an endangered species under federal, state and Canadian law has dwindled to roughly 76. That’s the lowest number in more than three decades, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
As wild Chinook salmon runs have declined, so have the iconic killer whales that depend on the fish for food.
Blake’s bill would dedicate $1.5 million to increase Chinook salmon and other salmon production by 10 million fish at specified hatcheries.
The bill would also create a legislative task force to deliver recommendations about how to support the recovery of southern resident orcas by November 2019.
Rep. Jim Walsh, R Aberdeen
With the conclusion of the state’s decade long legal battle over public school funding, the next major lawsuit brought against the Legislature could be over indigent criminal defense. (A criminal defendant who can’t afford a lawyer gets appointed one at government expense.)
Walsh said counties are struggling to shoulder the increased costs associated with paying public defenders, mental evaluations and seating juries. Walsh his hoping to avoid a lawsuit over the matter by introducing HB 2301, which would redirect one third of marijuana excise tax revenues to counties. Counties would have to use the money only for indigent defense.
The bill is undergoing mark up in the House Commerce and Gaming Committee, which oversees all marijuana related legislation.
“They’re really giving it a haircut over there,” Walsh said.
The state expects to rake in about $730 million from legal marijuana sales between 2017 2018, according to the state Office of Financial Management. Walsh said he thinks the bill will make it out of committee,
but he expects counties’ final share of tax revenue to be less than the one third he originally proposed.