Editor’s note: This is the last Capitol Dispatch, a column that appears every Sunday during the legislative session.
When the 60-day legislative session concluded Thursday night, the supplemental capital budget included money for a number of local projects, including $250,000 for a Longview satellite police station in the Highlands and about $250,000 for Community House on Broadway to purchase a new building and upgrade its kitchen. It also allocated about $55,000 for lead paint remediation at Cathlamet’s Pioneer Center.
All four local Republicans, however, said they were frustrated with the spending in the supplemental operating budget, which adds about $1 billion to the $52 billion two-year budget passed by lawmakers last year.
Sen. John Braun, a Centralia Republican, said the majority party didn’t spend all the money they had, which “showed some good restraint.” The final budget has an ending fund balance of about $800 million.
“They did an admirable job not spending all the money, but that said, they did spend quite a lot. It represents an overall growth 20% from the last budget,” Braun said. “So it’s hard to say it’s all good news.”
In response to the Republicans, Democrat Sen. Dean Takko of Longview said, “They probably would have said that no matter what we spend.”
“I think our chair did a good job holding back on some things — even things our side wanted to do — knowing there’s a lot of unknowns right now,” he continued.
Local Republicans and Democrats all praised the transportation budget as “bipartisan.” It released almost all of the projects that had been “frozen” after funding uncertainty related to Initiative 976, including Longview’s $1.9 million Beech Street extension, which is expected to open up about 48 acres for development.
All six local lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — said they were pleased that major gun control and carbon emissions measures were knocked down. These measures included an assault weapon ban, high capacity magazine ban, ammunition tax and a low carbon fuel standard.
The Legislature also approved $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund to combat the new coronavirus. Local lawmakers agreed that was the right amount of money. Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama, however, said the state had more tax revenue last year than anticipated, and he would have liked to use that additional revenue to combat coronavirus, rather than emergency funds.
“We are going to have an economic downturn at some point, whether the virus causes it or something else does,” he said. “I’m concerned that we dipped into that when we didn’t really need to.”
Rep. Jim Walsh, an Aberdeen Republican, said Washington’s coronavirus outbreak is an example of what the emergency funds are there for.
“I don’t want to be alarmist, but there are going to be economic effects,” he said. “This is a rainy day, so I think this qualifies.”
Discussion of sexual health education legislation dominated the last week of the session. Lawmakers said it spurred the largest response from constituents they had seen in a while.
“I’ve heard from more school districts and people on this bill than any other bill in last 10 years,” said Rep. Richard DeBolt, who has served more than two decades in the Legislature.
DeBolt, Walsh, Orcutt and Braun all said they opposed the legislation primarily because they felt it moved control over curriculum away from local school boards to the state.
“To have this control at the state level doesn’t make any sense to me,” Braun said. “(Teaching this topic) is a parental issue and a school board issue. We shouldn’t step into that as the state.”
Democrats Takko and Rep. Brian Blake of Aberdeen disputed that claim, saying school boards still get to decide the curriculum, as long as it meets state standards of being “scientifically and medically accurate.” Both said there’s been a lot of misinformation about the bill.
Takko said he spoke with local superintendents this week and they told him the new legislation doesn’t differ much from what they are currently doing.
Blake said the bill is intended to reduce teen pregnancies, suicides, bullying, sexually transmitted diseases and child molestation.
The bill passed out of the House 56-40 and out of the Senate 27-21.
A voter referendum to repeal the legislation was submitted on Friday. If it gets enough signatures, it would be on the November ballot.
- Orcutt said he was concerned that legislation regulating facial recognition tools got “watered down” this session and may not adequately protect citizens. He said he expects to revisit the matter during next year’s session.
- Takko said he was proud of legislation allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
- Braun said he was pleased there was some progress on special education funding and support for developmentally disabled people, although not quite as much as he had hoped.
- Braun also successfully passed a constitutional amendment authorizing future payroll tax revenue to be invested in stocks and bonds. The matter will come before voters on the general election ballot in November.
- Blake said he was pleased to secure $24 million for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which gets the agency close to being fully funded.
- Walsh said it was “a good session for conservatives” because they were able to knock down some major progressive efforts.
- DeBolt, who announced he won’t run for re-election, said he was pleased to pass a bill during his final legislative session that focused on salmon recovery, flooding and culverts in the Chehalis basin. “We’ve got to make sure that keeps moving,” he said. “The neat thing about Olympia is when you leave, somebody else comes. It’s kind of their job now.”
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