(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
ODDS IN OUR FAVOR?: Seventh District lawmakers see positives, negatives in session…
While concerned about the way the Washington State Legislature passed its latest budget which increases taxes and continues to raise spending, the three Republican 7th Legislative District Representatives did get some victories during this latest session.
Senator Shelly Short, along with Representatives Jacquelin Maycumber and Joel Kretz sat down with The Independent to talk about how things have been going in Olympia the past few months.
Seventh District State Representative Jacquelin Maycumber’s House Bill 1448 created the Veteran Service Officer Program and a funding mechanism that will allow a veterans service officer to be established in underserved rural counties. Thanks to this bill, Ferry, Stevens, Okanogan and Pend Oreille counties now qualify for the Veterans Service Officer Program. VSOs help set up veterans with the benefits they are entitled to.
“Only about 25 percent of veterans are using their benefits in Washington from a VSO,” Maycumber said. “That means there are 75 percent of veterans that don’t even know what they are due.”
Maycumber also pointed to house bill 1324 which passed with bipartisan support as an economic win. The bill directs the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to conduct a study on programs that incentivize private investment and job creation in rural and distressed communities. It also extends the expiration date of the preferential business and occupation tax rate for timber products from 2024 to 2045 and extends the expiration date of the Forest and Fish Support Account surcharge on timber products from 2024 to 2045. The bill also adds mass timber products to the list of products that receive the timber products preferential business and occupation tax rate.
Other issues area legislators worked on was the continuing push for more broadband in rural areas and the killing of several severe gun control bills.
Long-serving representative Joel Kretz was able to pass House Bill 1784 which requires the state DNR to prioritize forest health treatments to specifically and strategically include wildfire prevention corridors. It would also require DNR to track these treated areas and provide the information to wildfire personnel to assist with managing fire response.
Kretz pointed to instances in prior NE Washington wildfires where managed pieces of timber slowed down wildfires.
“We want to get to a point where we’re not just using roads as the stopping points for fires and letting vast tracts of timber burn but also use these managed timber pieces to help contain wildfires,” Kretz said.
Kretz also sponsored House Bill 2097 which would require the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to develop and implement conflict mitigation guidelines for each wolf recovery region considering the provisions of the 2011 Wolf Recovery and Management Plan, requires the DFW to increase staff in Ferry and Stevens counties for ongoing wolf-livestock conflict management, and for other nonlethal wolf management efforts, provides that certain conservation district staff members are eligible for appointment to the Northeast Washington Wolf-Livestock Management Grant (Grant) Advisory Board. The bill also removes the provision stating that certain individuals are no longer eligible for grant funds and requires the Department of Agriculture to maintain a list of grant funds awarded.
Senator Shelly Short also sponsored a bill that would have required tracking of ungulate populations per square milage to better determine how predators were affecting the populations of those animals but the bill did not pass.
“In the end, it definitely jump-started the conversation about ungulate populations and how they are being affected,” Short said.
Federal de-listing of wolves from endangered status will give the lawmakers more flexibility and they hope to reach a point where the wolves are de-listed by Washington.
All three lawmakers were troubled with how the budget was passed for the State of Washington. The legislature adjourned the 105-day session on a Sunday at midnight, sending the budget to Governor Jay Inslee. Because of the late night passing and the lateness of the budget passing in the session, the lawmakers said there wasn’t enough time for everyone to read through the budget and see exactly what was getting pushed though.
“When I can’t get it in printed form and read through it and I’m a lawmaker, you know the media and people aren’t getting to look at the budget before it is passed,” Maycumber said. “That is against transparency.”
The $52.4 billion budget passed the House on a 57-41 vote shortly after clearing the Senate on a 27-21 vote. The state implemented targeted tax increases to help cover the $7.8 billion in spending increases.
Maycumber said the lawmakers weren’t happy with the new barrel tax for gas that doesn’t go to fund road infrastructure, clean energy acts that will raise energy bills for people and increased property taxes.
They added that the clean energy effort seems to be inequal as the state also approved a study of breaching the Snake River Dams, which studies show would increase vehicle traffic significantly if people can’t use the dams.
They were also discouraged with sex education from kids as young as kindergarteners making it into the budget, title bill funding (bills that have yet to be written being passed) and haven’t been happy with how the McCleary funding for schools has worked out.
“With the way it has become, the inequity is still there between rich and poor school districts,” Short said. “Now schools can’t pass bonds or districts are in land-poor areas.”
Short said that lawmakers had suggested that there be restraints from where the state money would go so districts could see what they would have for each section of their budget. However these restraints were taken off, and the ensuing teacher salary negotiations pitted unions against districts with unions feeling districts had a big pot of money to spend.
“Another bad thing about this is it has really hurt what had previously been a good relationship between school districts and lawmakers,” Short said. “Those are damaged now.”
Washington will also provide a state option for health insurance, but the lawmakers point out that it will provide insurance for people who already have it and will remove the option of smaller insurance plans which will hurt rural areas that are already struggling with healthcare access.
“The state option is also slated for Jan. 1, 2021 and nothing really concrete has been settled yet,” Short said.
Short said that recent healthcare bills have hurt small pharmacies thanks to middle managers that simply add costs to the system, and that the lawmakers will continue to fight to make healthcare more accessible in rural areas.
Kretz said he wants to continue to work on wildlife managing and make it easier for landowners to burn land for wildfire prevention along with pushing for more state-prescribed burns.
This is the first time that all the elected officials from the Seventh Legislative District have been in key leadership positions in the legislature, and this should be helpful for the district. They said, however there has been a more hardline approach from Democratic lawmakers on the western side of the state and they feel free speech and different viewpoints are being stifled because it doesn’t match up with one side.
“This is the worst I have ever seen it,” Short said.