Session Review and Special Session Update
The regular session of the Legislature adjourned last Friday, April 22 (day 103 of the scheduled 105 days), without two critical pieces of legislation: the capital construction budget and the state's operating budget for the 2011-13 biennium. The governor called the Legislature back into special session beginning Tuesday, April 26. The Senate has chosen to remain at the state Capitol, even though there is not an agreement on the budgets. When the entire Legislature is in session, it costs taxpayers as much as $14,000 per day. To save taxpayers money, the House has chosen to go into what is known as “rolling session,” meaning only a handful of House members will stay at the Capitol until a budget agreement is reached.
I share your frustration that the majority party has pushed the Legislature into another special session for a third year in a row. We had nearly four months in which to complete our work – plenty of time to pass our budgets and go home. My House Republican colleagues and I were ready from day one of the legislative session, which began Jan 10, to tackle the state's budget problems with solutions that would reform spending to reflect current economic realities. Unfortunately, majority Democrats who control the Legislature set aside our ideas and then procrastinated until the last three weeks of the session in writing a budget.
The editorial pages of newspapers across the state tell the story best:
“The problem was that the House Democrats had trouble coming up with a budget-cut plan that 50 of their own members would support. When you wait until the last three weeks of a legislative session to get the ball rolling on the biggest bill of the session, you're asking for trouble.” Washington Wire – April 17, 2011
“If lawmakers had been attentive, they wouldn't have squandered the 105-day regular session without completing their work. They knew the $5 billion enormity of their budget problem when the session began. They knew the limits of their options. They understood that almost all their options would inflict pain on someone. They knew that every nickel was going to be critical. Now, out of time, they will return to the same job at an additional cost.” Spokesman Review editorial page – April 19, 2011
“If Democrats go into overtime, it will be their third consecutive special session. Therefore, voters have a right to ask whether majority Democrats, led by (Majority Leader Lisa) Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp, are capable of effective leadership during challenging budget times.” The Olympian editorial page – April 20, 2011
Failed leadership from majority Democrats
The failure in leadership on the part of majority Democrats is why we are now in a special session. Whether it lasts the full 30 days is anyone's guess. However, it is my hope that this special session can be wrapped up soon. If Democrats are unable to reach agreement, maybe they should step aside and let us move forward with a budget. House Republicans are ready with a budget plan that is responsible, sustainable, accountable, and reflects the economic realities facing our families, taxpayers and employers across the state.
In addition to offering solutions to our state's budget crisis, I also spent the majority of the session focusing on legislation that would help small businesses in the 4th District and across the state create jobs. Below in this e-newsletter is a recap of those efforts. I believe our budget problems will be solved when we have Washington working again.
As always, I appreciate your comments. My district office in Spokane is now open once again. You may call my office at (509) 921-2353. You can also e-mail me through my Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Shea.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you!
DISTRICT OFFICE NOW OPEN
502 S. Sullivan Rd., Suite 207
Spokane Valley, WA 99037
Phone: (509) 921-2353
WILL IT HELP SMALL BUSINESSES? WILL IT GET WASHINGTON WORKING AGAIN?
More than 340,000 people in Washington are unemployed and looking for work, including more than 5,500 in the 4th District. I believe the best way to address our state's budget crisis is to get Washington working again. When people are working, they are spending more money. The taxes collected from that additional spending provides additional revenue to support vital state services, such as education, public safety and protection of the state's most vulnerable population.
In every vote I took, in every issue I considered, and in every bill and amendment I sponsored or co-sponsored, I asked: Will this help small businesses and employers in our state? Will it help to get people back to work?
Three attempts to bring workers' compensation reform to a vote
One of the job-creation bills this session is workers' compensation insurance reform. Last month, the Senate passed a measure, Senate Bill 5566, which would allow the option of voluntary settlements in the workers' compensation system. The bill, however, has languished in the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee. Three times, my House Republican colleagues and I have tried to bring the measure to the floor. Unfortunately, those efforts failed.
While some House Democrats don't like the bill, we have had the support of eight moderate Democrats, also known as “the Roadkill Caucus.” Last Thursday, I made a motion to ask that the House “revert to the eighth order of business,” which would allow us to bring Senate Bill 5566 to the House floor for a vote. Four of the Roadkill Caucus Democrats refused to vote on the issue, even though House rules require all members on the floor to vote. They were sending a signal they are frustrated with their own party's leaders, who have stopped the bill because labor unions don't like it. In Olympia, members almost never vote against their own party's leaders on a procedural motion. But not voting at all? “I've never seen it happen,” said House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt.
On Friday, the Roadkill Caucus caved and voted against our motion to bring the measure to the floor. I am very disappointed, but I will continue efforts to reform the workers' compensation system because it is so important for job creation in our state.
Below is a list of bills I sponsored and co-sponsored, and amendments I authored for the benefit of our 4th District citizens and to help our local small businesses.
- House Bill 1922 – Canadian cattle truck inspections (prime sponsored by Shea): This measure requires commercial cattle trucks that come into Washington's Pend Oreille and Spokane counties from Idaho and Canada to stop at a port of entry for inspection or face a $1,000 fine. The bill addresses a growing problem in which hundreds of Canadian cattle trucks entering Washington via Idaho are bypassing the I-90 port of entry east of Spokane to avoid inspections. Instead, they are entering Washington on Highway 290 to the north. The two-lane roadway is not constructed to handle the heavy trucks or the congestion caused as the trucks move through the Spokane Valley. They have caused an intense amount of wear and tear on East Trent Avenue. Under the bill, fines collected would be used for road maintenance purposes in Spokane and Pend Oreille counties. Increased inspection of out-of-state cattle entering Washington will also help to prevent infection to other cattle and will help keep our food supply safer. The bill has been delivered to the governor.
- House Bill 1016 – Firearm noise suppressors (co-sponsored by Shea): This bill corrects an oddity in state law that allows people to own registered noise suppressors, but not use them. The measure allows the use of firearm noise suppressors that are legally registered and possessed under federal law. This is an important measure to allow police training on ranges in urban areas without disturbing the surroundings. Noise suppressors also help to prevent hearing loss for hunters and sportsmen. Signed into law. (Read my press release on this bill.)
- House Bill 1028 – Prison population exclusion (co-sponsored by Shea): Under this measure, the city of Connell may exclude inmates at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center from its official population. Additional inmates would have pushed Connell's population over 5,000 residents, which would have resulted in the loss of its designation as a small city. It would have also required Connell to add two city council members. House Bill 1028 allows Connell to exclude the prison's inmates from its population. Signed by the governor.
- House Bill 1031 – Ballot security envelopes (co-sponsored by Shea): This measure will allow county auditors to send re-usable security envelopes to voters. Currently, when voting by mail, a voter receives a ballot, a security envelope, and a return envelope. Voters are instructed to place the ballot in the security envelope, seal it, and to place the security envelope in the return envelope. There's a lot of waste when those envelopes are opened. County auditors have suggested using Tyvek-type security envelopes that are strong and can be used over and over. This would not only reduce waste, but save money. The measure passed the Legislature and has been delivered to the governor.
- House Bill 1169 – Noxious weed lists (co-spons
ored by Shea): This bill directs the state Noxious Weed Board to adopt rules specifying how plants will be considered for addition to the state noxious weed list. This measure is largely in response to a proposal to add English holly to the noxious weed list, even though experts have concluded the plant does not qualify under the definition of a noxious weed. Commercial growers of holly could have been put out of business had it been added. This bill requires that scientific data must be presented to the board regarding a plant's invasive and noxious qualities before it could be considered for listing. Signed into law.
- House Bill 1432 – Veterans' preferences in employment (co-sponsored by Shea): This bill will would permit private employers to establish preferences in employment for veterans, widows or widowers of veterans, and spouses of certain veterans. The measure will expand employment opportunities for veterans and is an appropriate way to honor their service and sacrifices. As a result of the legislation, Washington will be the first state in the nation to enact this kind of employment preference for veterans. Signed into law.
- House Bill 1874 – Investigations of human trafficking (co-sponsored by Shea): This measure would allow law enforcement officers to conduct surveillance operations on suspected human-trafficking and child-prostitution activities with the consent of the victim. It would also authorize prosecutors to request assistance from juveniles in the undercover surveillance of telephone communications in trafficking investigations, without putting them in danger. The bill has been delivered to the governor.
Sponsoring and co-sponsoring legislation are just a couple of ways of effecting needed changes in our state. Another way is by changing (amending) existing proposed legislation. I actively proposed and supported numerous amendments during the 2011 session. Here are highlights of some of those amendments:
- Amendment 455 to House Bill 1175 – Closing tribal gas tax loopholes – (authored by Shea): This amendment to the state transportation budget would have required the governor to renegotiate fuel agreements with tribes to make sure they are paying their fair share of taxes to the state. Currently, under most of the tribal compacts, gas tax money collected by the tribes is sent to the state. But the state keeps only 25 percent while the tribes receive a 75 percent refund. Tribes are able to use their refunds on “transportation planning, construction, and maintenance of roads, bridges, boat ramps, transit services and facilities.” They can also use the money to fund police services and other highway-related purposes. However, the compacts do not require the tribes to adhere to the state's 18th amendment, which restricts use of gas taxes solely to highway purposes. The amendment would have provided for no more than a 15 percent refund to the tribes for an increase of $23 million to support the state transportation budget. Tribal refunds would have been restricted to 18th amendment use. Unfortunately, Amendment 455 failed.
- Committee amendment H2328.1 to House Bill 1175 – First right of repurchase of surplus transportation property (authored by Shea): This amendment allows citizens who lost land to condemnation by the state Department of Transportation to have first repurchase rights if that property is deemed surplus.
- Amendment 577 to Senate Joint Memorial 8008 – Unemployment tax relief (authored by Shea): This amendment requests the United States Department of Labor provide federal unemployment tax relief for Washington's employers and a financial benefit for the state's unemployment insurance trust fund. This amendment was adopted.
- Committee amendment 113 to House Bill 2026 – Protecting funds in the state's workers' compensation program: This amendment would prevent the Legislature from raiding trust monies in the state's industrial insurance program.
- Amendment 570 to Senate Bill 5748 – Cottage food inspections: This amendment limits the inspection authority of the Department of Agriculture, as it relates to cottage food operations, to the area of the domestic residence where cottage food products are prepared, packaged, stored, or handled. The amendment was adopted.
- Amendment 175 to Senate Bill 1885 and Amendment to Amendment 677 on Senate Bill 5622 – Parks volunteers (authored by Shea): Both of these amendments would have removed limits on volunteers in state parks, which would help to prevent park closures. Unfortunately, Amendment 175 failed and the other amendment was ruled out of order.
- Amendment H2409.1 to Senate Bill 5540 – School bus cameras: This amendment requires a vote of school board directors before automated cameras are placed on school busses to detect vehicles that fail to stop for a school bus that displays a stop signal. This amendment was adopted.