E-News: 2024 session just around the corner — and join us for town halls!

Hi, Neighbors!

Five weeks from now – that would be January 8 – the state Legislature will convene for a 60-day session at the Capitol. The preparations for our session shifted into a higher gear this week with what the state Senate calls “Assembly Days.” That’s when we meet as committees, typically to review past decisions and preview some of the issues expected to come before us starting next month. For me, that includes infrastructure and health-care work; please keep reading for details.

I hope this finds you and your loved ones well. If you have a question or concern involving state government, please don’t hesitate to reach out by phone or email.



Save the date: January 6 town halls

I appreciate the comments and ideas that come in over the phone and through the mail (both email and postal). Still, there’s no substitute for a face-to-face discussion, which is why (when a pandemic doesn’t prevent it) I make a point of having town halls every year, usually before and after a session.

Rep. Cheney, Rep. McClintock and I are intending to have a pair of town halls on Saturday, Jan. 6. As with our post-2023 session meetings, they would be at Battle Ground City Hall and WSU-Vancouver. The start times are 10 a.m. in BG and 12:30 p.m. at the main lecture hall at WSU-V.

Please save the date, and a reminder will go out later in December. I hope you’ll be able to join us!

Work on capital budget update already under way

If you happened to see the agenda for the Nov. 20 meeting of the Battle Ground City Council, it’s an example of how the state capital budget interfaces with local infrastructure needs. When adopted in April, that budget included money for what the spreadsheet calls “Battle Ground reservoir capacity & seismic.”

The BG council’s recent agenda, meanwhile, had an entry that was also about reservoir capacity and seismic. It was to green-light a contract for the design of a new steel reservoir that will go on Tukes Mountain, as part of a project that will also retire the city’s aging concrete reservoirs and their seismic liabilities.

Every legislator works to get local projects into the capital budget, but now that I’m assistant Republican leader for the capital budget, my focus is on thinking beyond district boundaries.

Someone who lives in the Salmon Creek or Orchards parts of our district can benefit from investments along the Washougal waterfront, which is now in the 17th District, or investments out at Cathlamet or Cape Disappointment, which are in the 19th District. It’s all southwest Washington in the end, after all.

As the capital budget is also home to the funding for K-12 construction, it had a place on today’s agenda for the Senate Ways and Means Committee. While there isn’t a lot of room within the package we adopted in the spring, Republican senators are already working on requests to be considered for the supplemental budget that will adjust the capital budget going into year two (which starts in July 2024). A couple of weeks into the 2024 session, those of us on the budget leadership team will close the gate and start sorting through the candidates for funding.

With Sen. Ron Muzzall, assistant Republican leader on the Senate health-care committee, at our meeting yesterday.

Health care is an important part of ‘affordability’ priority

I and my Republican colleagues in the Senate are focused on three priorities again for 2024: make living in our state more affordable, make our communities safer, and uphold our paramount duty to provide for schools. While we correctly highlight gas/energy prices and housing costs as examples of affordability issues, I always put health care on that list as well. Beyond the issue of prescription costs, many other things in the health-care arena can be quantified in financial terms – as rural residents know it can be a costly chore simply to access certain kinds of care.

Clark County and southwest Washington are fortunate in that both leaders of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee are locals – Sen. Annette Cleveland for the majority Democrats and me for the Republicans. While she and I come at some issues from different philosophical angles, the working relationship we’ve developed is a good example of my inclusive legislative style.

At yesterday’s meeting of the health-care committee we received an update from the state Department of Health about the COVID-19, flu and RSV vaccines, and a presentation from the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner about “ground ambulance” costs (as opposed to air ambulances) in both emergency and non-emergency situations. The latter is a result of legislation passed in 2022 as part of our work on the larger issue of charges for out-of-network health-care services – what’s also known as “balance billing.”

First up at the meeting, however, was an update on the work of our state’s Universal Health Care Commission, which was created by a 2021 law. I am one of the legislative members of the commission, which is mandated to “create immediate and impactful changes in the health care access and delivery system in Washington,” and “prepare the state for the creation of a health care system that provides coverage and access for all Washington residents through a unified financing system once the necessary federal authority has become available.”

If those mandates sound somewhat vague and complicated, I can tell you – they are. The update was followed by a presentation from Oregon officials on our neighboring state’s movement toward a universal health plan. I can’t predict where the Washington effort will end up, or whether there will be related legislation to consider in 2024. But again, access to health care is a priority of mine, so I want to be at the table.

During the 2023 session I had the privilege of sponsoring Grace Farrell of Battle Ground as a Senate page.

Teens, apply now to serve as pages for the Senate

As a former middle-school teacher, I appreciate that the Legislature invites students of middle- and high-school age to come and work as pages for a week during our sessions. There is no civics lesson like being present when bills are being debated – while also learning how accessible legislators truly are.

Teens serve for one week, receiving an unmatched civics education while meeting others their age (14-16 years old) from around the state – and receiving a paycheck as well! Each senator is allowed to sponsor a certain number of pages; I will have the privilege of sponsoring up to 6 students during the 2024 session, which begins January 8 and ends March 7.

Click here to learn more about the Senate page program, including how to apply; this video shows what it’s like. If you know teens who would be interested, they may also contact Myra Hernandez, Civic Education Director (Myra.Hernandez@leg.wa.gov​ or SenatePageProgram@leg.wa.gov) or my office.

ICYMI: Clark County lawmakers keep busy year-round with committees, constituents, and in some cases, full-time jobs

Recently The Columbian’s Shari Phiel spent some time with me and three other members of our Clark County legislative delegation, to see what our lives are like when we aren’t at the state Capitol. It was a fun experience and gave me an opportunity to point out the virtues of our part-time citizen legislature. A link to her report is here.