Friends and Neighbors,
A lot has happened since my last email update to you. In fact, it may be the most eventful first two weeks of a legislative session in my time here in the Legislature.
A Hirst solution
In October 2016, a state Supreme Court decision – often referred to as Hirst – prevented many property owners in rural areas from accessing water from new permit-exempt wells. The decision was flawed and ignored years of water law. Justice Debra Stephens, in her dissent, said: “The majority's decision hinges on an interpretation of RCW 19.27.097 that is unsupported by the plain language of the statute, precedent, or common sense.”
Understanding the devastating impacts on our constituents, communities and local governments, Republicans made finding a solution for this court-created problem a priority last legislation session. Unfortunately, a group of urban lawmakers in the House prevented a solution from moving forward.
However, lawmakers and stakeholders continued to negotiate in good faith throughout 2017. They eventually put forth legislation, Senate Bill 6091, that passed and was signed into law last week. While not perfect, I voted for it. I supported the solution because it provides legal, reliable water to impacted property owners. It gives individuals and families an opportunity to utilize their property and pursue their dreams.
Senate Republican took a strong stand last year: No permanent Hirst solution, no capital budget. We joined them in this approach to show urban lawmakers how serious we were about protecting property rights. Had we not done this then, we would not have a permanent Hirst solution now nor would we have reason to expect one any time soon.
The capital budget that passed last week had strong bipartisan support. Often called the state construction budget, it funds critical projects and programs across our state. In total, it will spend $4.18 billion – including $933 million for the School Construction Assistance Program. It also includes $136.5 million for community-based and institution-based mental health facilities.
The 20th District benefits greatly from the capital budget, including funding for:
- Centralia Readiness Center;
- Boys and Girls Club of Chehalis;
- Rochester Boys and Girls Club;
- Valley View Health Center;
- Turner Creek;
- Discover! Children's Museum;
- Lewis County Fire District #1 Emergency Services Building;
- Scott Hill Park;
- Kalama Falls Hatchery;
- Willapa Hills Trail;
- Centralia Fox Theatre;
- White Pass Country Historical Museum;
- Forestry Museum Building;
- Southwest Washington Fair Grange Building; and
- Green Hill School;
If you go to this website and enter “020” under “Leg Districts,” you can learn more about the projects in our communities.
Bringing broadband to rural communities
Many rural communities in our state, including some in the 20th District, lack broadband and Internet access. This table from the Federal Communications Commission's 2016 Broadband Progress Report shows the challenges facing many residents of Lewis and Cowlitz counties.
I have a plan to address this problem. House Bill 2749, which has bipartisan support, would allow a local sales and use tax as a credit against the state sales tax for rural high-speed internet infrastructure without increasing the total sales and use tax rate. This would provide rural counties opportunities to use the funds to make critical infrastructure investments.
While this is a tax-policy bill that would raise funds for counties, it would not raise taxes on consumers. It would simply allow counties to keep a portion of the state sales tax to be spent as they see fit, keeping more dollars local.
My bill received a hearing in the House Technology and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday. You can watch my testimony here.
In case you missed my video update last week, you can watch it here. In it, I discuss what to expect in a short, 60-day session, my role with the supplemental transportation budget, reducing our state's carbon footprint, and preventing tax increases. If you have a chance to watch it, please let me know what you think.
As always, I welcome your feedback and input. You may contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 786-7990.