Thank you for the opportunity to provide a legislative update that I hope will be informative for you on the following issues:
- Operating budget negotiations
- K-12 education
- Capital budget
- Standing with small business
- Standing with you on privacy and data protection
- In-district and telephone town hall recap
- District office opening soon
- Contacting me
Yesterday, we began a 30-day special session called by the governor. While we completed the transportation budget and came close to completing the capital budget during the regular session, budget negotiators in the House and Senate were unable to reach an agreement on a final two-year operating budget. To date, the proposals are just too far apart.
Operating budget negotiations
The majority parties in the House and Senate have passed their respective operating budget proposals out of each chamber with party-line votes, creating the starting points from which negotiations have begun. The greatest divide is not in the final numbers, but rather in the two very different approaches to our fiscal challenges, including appropriately funding education without continuing our unconstitutional reliance on local levies.
The proposal brought forward by the majority party in the House relies on billions of dollars in new taxes that have not been voted on. As we all know with our own personal finances, we cannot write a budget that spends dollars we wish we had, but have not received. The same principal should apply to budgeting at the state level.
The Senate's budget addresses future K-12 education funding by implementing statewide levy reform. Their plan would replace some local levies with a new, flat state portion of the property tax. This proposal is problematic for some, as it would mean those in property-rich areas would be paying higher property taxes, while those in more rural, property-poorer areas of the state would see a decrease in their property taxes.
While the differences in the two budget proposals may seem daunting, please know the last two biennial budgets were also intensely debated, and yet the final products were supported with strong, bipartisan votes because spending was prioritized. That is why I am optimistic regarding the final outcome for the people of Washington state this session.
While operating budget negotiations continue, the legislative team tasked with negotiating a comprehensive K-12 education funding plan that will reduce districts' overreliance on local levy dollars is working in good faith. At this stage, the negotiations are ongoing and productive. It is a slow process because the issues are so complex, but I remain optimistic that a sound policy will be forged that is forward-looking, sustainable, and aimed at a fair and equitable education for each student in Washington state, regardless of their ZIP code.
Building on the billions of dollars in new education investments over the past four years, we are poised to make the largest state investment in K-12 education in decades. Doing so would help to reverse more than three decades of state leaders relying more and more on local districts to pay for basic education — including teacher salaries. However, this spending must be sustainable and include safeguards and reforms that ensure we are not in the same predicament 10 years from now. Our students, teachers, administrators, school board volunteers, and taxpayers deserve a sustainable, long-term solution, and I am hopeful education negotiators are headed in that direction.
As a member of the House capital budget negotiating team, I spend a great amount of time every session working on the $4+ billion capital budget, which provides funds for capital projects — schools, mental and behavioral health facilities, land stewardship, community projects, and more. There is strong, bipartisan work being done by each member at the negotiating table this session. We will continue to meet in the coming days to complete our work with the Senate. I've spoken with many individuals about capital projects in the 10th District and around the state, and we will continue doing our best to meet the urgent needs in many Washington communities. If you have questions regarding particular community project requests, I encourage you to contact me.
Standing with small business
Last week, my bill to bring state agencies more consistently into compliance with the Regulatory Fairness Act (RFA) was signed into law. The RFA was created to protect small businesses from overly burdensome regulations, but a state audit last year revealed many state agencies have not been complying with its requirements. House Bill 1120 is designed to iron out the problems uncovered by the audit and provide better guidance to agencies, which will in turn ensure our state's small businesses are treated fairly. I want to thank the governor's office and representatives of our small business community for working with me on this bill, which will go into effect later this year.
Standing with you on privacy and data protection
One of my top priorities this year has been working to ensure your privacy and data are better protected. I recently wrote an op-ed for The Seattle Times about how Republicans and Democrats in Olympia have been working together on your behalf on this issue. While Congress recently made it easier for companies to track and sell your data, we've been taking proactive steps in the Legislature to make it harder for them to do so in our state.
Last Wednesday, the House passed a bill (House Bill 2200) that would require broadband internet service providers (ISPs) to acquire opt-in consent from customers before selling or transferring their information, especially as it relates to marketing. Along with requiring this consent, House Bill 2200 would also prohibit ISPs from denying service to those who choose not to opt-in. The vast majority of internet users are uncomfortable with ISPs tracking their internet activity and monetizing their data.
I was one of the original cosponsors of the bill, and believe the 87-10 vote we took further showed our commitment to protecting the privacy and data of all Washingtonians. The industry is fiercely opposed this bill, but I believe it's the right policy for our state. You can watch all of the floor speeches on the bill, including mine, by clicking here.
Another bill I sponsored this year (House Bill 1717) would regulate the collection and use of biometric identifiers (retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, hand of scan or face, etc.) by state agencies. The bill is currently on the governor's desk. When it becomes law, agencies will be prohibited from obtaining an individual's biometric data without first providing notice to them and receiving their consent. Additionally, agencies will be prohibited from selling this personal information.
These are just a couple examples of how we're fighting on your behalf to protect your privacy. We will continue to stand with you and provide transparency and consumer choice in this big data economy we live in.
If you are interested in following these issues more closely, the website of the Office of Data & Privacy Protection, which was created through a bill I passed last year, is a terrific resource. Regular updates are posted on the site, as well as links to speeches, news articles and bills to help the public track what's happening in this space.
In-district and telephone town hall recap
Last month, Sen. Bailey, Rep. Hayes and I held town hall meetings in Coupeville and Mount Vernon. I want to thank everyone who came out to meet with us and ask questions on education, transportation, the environment, and many other urgent topics. Rep. Hayes and I were also grateful for the excellent participation we had during our recent telephone town hall. Hundreds of listeners joined us, and we fielded dozens of great questions. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with so many of you, and look forward to hosting more telephone town halls in the future.
District office opening soon
In the coming weeks, I will again open my district office in Freeland. The office is located at 5531 Freeland Ave (Lower Suite #2), and will be operated by legislative staff Monday thru Friday. To set up a time to meet with me, please send me an email or call (360) 222-2442.
As we begin this 30-day special session, I want you to know how grateful I am for the opportunity to serve you in the Legislature. I've received hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters from constituents this session, and as I work to respond to each one, I just want to thank you for your continued input. It is always helpful in guiding my decisions as a legislator. Please continue contacting me, and I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible.
Until next time, God bless.