Lawmakers from across the state are back to work. The 2018 legislative session convened at noon Monday, Jan. 8. In even-numbered years, session is short; 60-days, including weekends and holidays. We have a full agenda for the next few weeks. In order to finish on time, we will need to work smart and stay focused.
More taxes | The governor's state-of-the-state address
During the Governor's State of the State address last week, he made it clear he intends to push for a new, $1.5 billion carbon tax. This would translate to a 20-cent per gallon gas tax and steep increases in heating and energy costs. Taxes like these slow our economy, kill jobs, and hurt low-income and rural families. I'll do everything I can to prevent these taxes from being implemented. We must find ways to incentivize, rather than penalize, good environmental stewardship.
2018 | What to expect
Normally, these brief sessions are reserved for making small adjustments to the already approved two-year budgets. However, in addition to approving the supplemental operating and transportation budgets this year, lawmakers need to come to an agreement on the capital budget and a comprehensive, long-term solution for Hirst.
Hirst | What's at stake?
You've probably heard about the Hirst decision last year. It's a 2016 court ruling that prevents many rural property owners from obtaining a permit to drill an exempt-well. There are a couple interesting things to note about Hirst. The first is this; the court's decision means urban dwellers can draw water from sources in rural regions, but people living in those areas cannot. It means you can build a 500-unit apartment complex in Seattle, draw water from rural watersheds, but a property owner in a rural region is not allowed to drill a single (1) permit-exempt well.
Another thing to note about Hirst is the “boa-constrictor effect” this ruling has on rural economic development. Left unchanged, Hirst has the potential to cost rural Washington more than $452 million in lost wages, $37 billion in lost property values, and $6.9 billion in economic activity.
During the 2017 legislative session, a few solutions for Hirst were considered, but none of them were approved. The governor's recent proposal would severely limit usage for any new, previously permit-exempt wells and cost property owners a minimum of $1,500. Lawmakers are coming closer to an agreement on a solution. However, it's imperative the solution provides real relief to property owners across our state.
Stay tuned | Next steps
I fully expect a vote on the capital budget by the full House chamber to happen very soon. However, without a solution for Hirst it is likely to fall short of the necessary supermajority it needs to pass. I'm standing with many of my colleagues on this issue. We refuse to roll-over. We need a capital budget and a real solution for Hirst.
Amendments | Breakfast After the Bell
The “Breakfast After the Bell” bill calls on schools in areas with high poverty rates to offer breakfast to students at the beginning of the day, during the first period of instruction. Low-income students who eat breakfast at school have improved overall diet quality compared to those who skip breakfast. Consuming a well-balanced meal before the academic day results in more attentiveness, less tardiness, and improved reading and math scores.
My recently approved amendment to the bill would create a bridge between the Washington State Department of Agriculture's Farm to School and Small Farm and Direct Marketing and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. This means locally grown agricultural products would be available for schools. It would expand economic opportunities for local farmers, while offering nutritious alternatives for students and bolster their academic success.
I'm happy to report House Bill 1508 has received wide bipartisan support. It was approved by the House last week, 83-15.The bill now heads to the Senate for a concurrent vote before reaching the governor's desk for final approval.
Visitors | Wenatchee High School Vocal Jazz Ensemble
It was an honor to host this group of extremely talented young people during their visit to Olympia. The choir performed the national anthem prior to the State of the State address. I'd like to thank all of them for coming!
Listening, helping, leading
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or comments about legislation or state issues. Better yet, if you are planning a visit to Olympia, come see me. I welcome your feedback and questions. Call (360) 786-7832 or send email Mike.Steele@leg.wa.gov.
It's an honor to serve you.