Legislative Update April 28, 2015

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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Although the Senate has done everything possible to finish the regular legislative session within the scheduled 105-days, the legislature failed to reach an agreement on a new two-year operating budget by April 26. As a result, Gov. Jay Inslee has called for a special session of up to 30 days to begin tomorrow.

Read on for more details about the $38 billion challenge, and how we move forward.



Back to business as usual?

Three weeks ago, the Senate approved yet another no-new-taxes operating budget that would balance over four years. The first was two-years ago and was approved by the full Legislature and signed by the governor. While this sounds like news that would only excite accountants, this fact is actually quite groundbreaking. Two years ago, the Legislature passed a law that requires any increases in state spending over one budget period to be fully covered by revenue in the next budget cycle. This prevents lawmakers from relying on one-time revenues and accounting gimmicks to raise spending.

This fundamental change in how budget-writers account for spending has been referred to as the “most important fiscal reform in state history.” I couldn’t agree more. That said, this new way of budgeting is at the heart of the negotiation impasse here in Olympia.

Shortly after the Senate passed their two-year budget proposal, the House followed with their plan. While there were many differences – it is a $38 billion budget after all – the biggest surprise was the addition of $1.5 in tax increases included in the House plan. After all, state revenue forecasters estimate that the state will collect $3 billion more in revenue over the next two years than it collected over the past two years, isn’t that enough?

The good news is that there is some common ground. Both chambers propose adding $1.3 billion to fully fund K-12 education. I’m hopeful that even though the governor has set a 30-day special session, the Legislature can reach an agreement earlier – by May 15. School districts need to be able to definitively plan for the next year, especially when we all agree schools need increased funding.

From the first day of this legislative session, our Majority Coalition Caucus has held firm that tax increases should be a last resort, not a first step. This “living within our means” way of thinking is also perfectly in line with the new way of state budgeting.

Years of work capped off with governor’s signature

Late in the 2013 legislative session it became clear to me that someone needed to step in and reconcile the conflicts between Washington’s long-established medical-marijuana market and the state’s new recreational-marijuana law – just approved by voters through Initiative 502 – which promised this new industry would be tightly regulated and also have a strong public-safety component.

Despite the parameters being developed to ensure that pot was being kept out of kids’ hands, the worst element of the unregulated medical-marijuana market was determined to continue profiting greatly from poisoning our youth. As a lawmaker (and a parent) I couldn’t just stand by and allow that happen.

Friday, after contentious public hearings, countless stakeholder meetings and tours that included dispensaries, grow operations and collective gardens, my Cannabis Patient Protection Act was formally signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. Senate Bill 5052 strengthens rules surrounding medical cannabis-authorization cards and transitions medical dispensaries into licensed recreational shops with a medical endorsement.

I am well aware that there are many legitimate patients who get relief from medical marijuana. It was my goal from day one for them to have a safe, clean and adequate supply of their product, while keeping our children from accessing marijuana and eliminating the black and gray markets that are threatening to derail the entire system. My legislation will go a long way toward realizing what I believe the voters had in mind when they made these laws in the first place.

Organ donors recognized for their ultimate gift

Gift of life

Earlier this month I sponsored a Senate resolution recognizing the ultimate gift of life: organ donation. This voluntary program truly reflects the character and compassion of those individuals who elect to save the lives of others.

April is National Donate Life Month. I am proud to say I have the organ-donor notation on my driver’s license. It is my hope that if you don’t, you’ll make that decision next time you renew your license.