Legislative Update January 14, 2015


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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Although I am your state senator year-round, it is only when the Legislature is in session that I may propose or support legislation to address the needs of our legislative district and state. This week my colleagues and I returned to our state’s capitol for the 2015 legislative session. For the next 105 days I will be working diligently to ensure job opportunities are expanded, a great education is within the reach of every child and that we budget at the state level like you do at home: by living within our means.

Two years ago I was part of the Senate’s newly formed Majority Coalition Caucus; we set out to govern in a whole new way, and our success was evident at the conclusion of last year’s legislative session, when we finished on time with no new taxes and on budget. The MCC will continue as the majority in the Senate, and while others in Olympia talk about raising taxes, we are even more determined to make sure taxpayers are getting the most value for the tax dollars they already pay.

While I may not see you in the community for the next few months, I hope you’ll e-mail me your thoughts or call my office in Olympia to share your concerns. My complete contact information can be found at the end of this newsletter.



Legislative session preview

While I have no doubt education funding will take center stage during this legislative session, the good news is that our Senate majority has already spent the past two years addressing the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling, which requires a larger state investment in Washington’s public schools. For many years the rate of spending on non-education services and programs had been increasing more than the rate of spending on education; we reversed that trend and also succeeded in including, in the most recent state budget, an additional $1 billion that is dedicated to answering the court’s 2012 decision. I’m proud to be part of a caucus that has treated K-12 education as the “paramount duty” our constitution says it is.

There is a myth being circulated by the governor and others that our state is facing a massive budget deficit and there won’t be enough revenue to even continue funding state services and programs at today’s level. The answer, according to these same sources, is hiking taxes. Thanks to the sensible state budget that was passed in 2014, not only do we have enough money to continue providing essential services, but to fully meet the next step of addressing the court’s McCleary mandate as well. I believe tax increases should be considered last, not first. Many families are finally managing to recover from the recent recession. I won’t ask these folks – or anyone – to pay more in taxes, especially when there is still plenty of belt-tightening that could happen in Olympia.

Passage of a new transportation reform and revenue package also will be a priority this session. Recently Governor Inslee released a proposal for transportation that has me concerned. His plan relies heavily on untested revenue sources that may have consumers paying significantly more at the pump, to heat homes and to transport goods to market. I won’t support policies that harm working families. Instead we need solutions that are fair, equitable and make our transportation system work.

My legislative priorities for 2015

Since the Legislature adjourned its 2014 session in March, I have been busy meeting with business owners, neighbors, local and state officials and colleagues to prepare for the legislative session that began today. Going beyond the 105 days allowed for the legislative session would mean an unnecessary cost to taxpayers, which is why I feel strongly that the people I represent should expect me to be ready to go day one. To that end, I “prefiled” several bills prior to today so that they can start moving through the process as soon as hearings begin.

Two of my bills deal with the consequences of the state’s legalization of marijuana – whether for medical or recreational use.

Rivers - smiling at desk

Senate Bill 5002 would tighten the laws surrounding driving while possessing or consuming marijuana or products that have a marijuana base. This bill has been referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee and is scheduled for its first hearing this Thursday.

Senate Bill 5052 introduces the Cannabis Patient Protection Act. This act would ensure that folks who need legitimate access to medical cannabis can get it while providing some much-needed parameters to the medical marijuana industry. This bill has been referred to in the Senate Health Care Committee, where I expect a hearing to be scheduled for next week.

In December I was re-elected by my peers to serve in a leadership capacity as our Senate majority’s “whip”. As whip, I assist other members of my caucus with office assignments and assist with votes on the floor of the Senate chamber. It’s a position I have enjoyed over the last two years and I was pleased by my colleagues’ support for another term.