No agreement on drug issue could force special session
Note: The following e-newsletter was sent to Sen. Drew MacEwen’s subscribers April 27, 2023. To subscribe to Sen. MacEwen’s e-newsletter, click here.
Dear friends and neighbors,
Our 2023 legislative session ended on schedule April 23, with promising developments and a few causes for concern. We saw bipartisan cooperation on the budget and other issues, but we witnessed major debates on public safety, and the failure to pass a drug bill could force us to return for a special session. In this e-newsletter, I want to give to give you a quick rundown on the top issues of the 2023 session for the state and 35th Legislative District.
Public safety is Olympia’s top issue in 2023 session
Bipartisan cooperation on budget and housing, sharp divides on drugs and Second Amendment rights
Police pursuit – Two years ago, our colleagues responded to the riots in Seattle and national unrest with a series of bills weakening the hand of law enforcement. The biggest was a restriction on most police pursuits when suspects flee the scene of a crime. The result? The crime rate skyrocketed. Car theft increased 50 percent and criminal “driveaways” tripled. Police couldn’t stop stolen cars and reckless drivers, and people were killed.
Most lawmakers were ready to restore the old law – yet we encountered great resistance. The final compromise gets us partway there, but does not allow police pursuits for stolen cars, reckless drivers, robbery, theft and other non-violent crimes. I supported this year’s legislation, Senate Bill 5352, as a step toward progress, but efforts will need to continue in future sessions.
Drug policy – The Legislature’s deadliest failure this year came on our laws against hard drugs. Overdose deaths have become an epidemic – nearly 2,500 last year — yet political disagreements in this year’s Legislature could leave Washington with no laws against possession of drugs like heroin and fentanyl. This issue could force us back for a special legislative session.
The problem started two years ago, when our state Supreme Court overturned our old felony laws against possession of hard drugs like heroin and fentanyl, in a case called State v. Blake. Our colleagues chose not to fix our old laws, and instead made possession a barely enforceable misdemeanor. The state Department of Health tells us overdoses are now the leading case of death among men under age 60, bigger even than cancer.
Fixing this law proved one of the most difficult issues of the session. In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass Senate Bill 5536 — a compassionate response restoring gross misdemeanor penalties, giving police and prosecutors the tools they need to get addicts into treatment. I voted for the Senate version of this bill. Unfortunately, this became a partisan issue in the House. The proposal was weakened, and in an unusual vote on the Legislature’s final day, the bill was defeated, 55-43.
Our majority colleagues will need to move quickly to find the votes for an effective drug law, because our current law expires June 30.
The budget – There was a hopeful sign of cooperation on the operating budget this year. Republicans and Democrats worked together in the Senate on a $70 billion proposal. While not a bipartisan budget, the result reflected responsible budgeting principles, stayed even with inflation, left a sizeable reserve for downturns, and avoided new taxes.
Affordable housing – Here lawmakers demonstrated they can work together in a non-partisan way. As a housing shortage drives up home prices statewide, new laws passed this year will streamline permit processes, increase high density development, and make it easier to develop an accessory dwelling unit on your property. Unfortunately, other laws this session work against affordability, including a bill requiring state and local land-use policies to be designed around climate change. Costs imposed by state and local government already add $128,000 to the cost of typical new home construction. We’ll need to keep working to keep housing costs under control.
Second Amendment rights – There were sharp differences on gun rights issues. Our colleagues passed three bills offering an emotional response to recent tragedies, rather than addressing the root causes of violence. House Bill 1240 bans certain types of high capacity firearms. House Bill 1143 requires firearms purchasers to complete state-approved gun-safety courses. Senate Bill 5078 allows the attorney general to sue gun manufacturers when firearms are used in crimes.
These measures were signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jay Inslee, and legal challenges are already being filed on constitutional grounds. I was opposed to all three. Heavy-handed solutions like these will not prevent violence. We need to address underlying issues of mental health, behavioral health and our responsibility to address problems when we see them. Only when we are willing to deal with more difficult issues like these will we make a difference.
Affordability a growing problem – Washington’s tax burden now ranks 13th nationally, according to the state Department of Revenue. There weren’t any new tax increases this year, but taxes approved in previous sessions started taking a bite. These included a new state income tax on capital gains and cap and trade policies that increase the price of fuel. A new payroll tax for long-term care insurance launches in July. New tax proposals for next session include a wealth tax, an expansion of the income tax, a higher estate excise tax, and a tripling of the annual growth rate the property tax. The last two proposals would be especially damaging to our efforts to increase affordable housing. We need to reverse this trend, and make affordability in Washington a priority.
Speaking on Senate floor.
Local projects are funded, Belfair Bypass remains on track
Capital budget launches construction projects, Turning Pointe shelter gets boost
Final budgets approved by the Legislature will finance projects across the 35th Legislative District. I worked closely with my House seatmates in the 35th Legislative District in delivering key projects for our area, and want to credit the hard work done in the House by Reps. Dan Griffey and Travis Couture. By working together, we were able to score important wins for our district.
The Belfair Bypass remains on track, with construction due this year. Lawmakers rejected a proposal from Gov. Jay Inslee that would have delayed many road projects five years or more. The final transportation budget provides $12 million for the project, on top of $79 million already allocated.
Shelton’s Turning Pointe shelter and others get $1.5 million to offset higher demands on domestic violence facilities in rural counties. I have led efforts to improve funding for rural shelters. This year I sponsored and passed Senate Bill 5398, which establishes a task force to develop a new domestic violence shelter funding formula based on demand.
The state capital budget provides funding for local infrastructure projects. Allocations for the 35th District this year included:
• $3 million for repairs to water tank storage at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton;
• $2.131 million for small district public school construction districtwide;
• $1.85 million for Angleside reservoir capacity upgrades in Shelton; $1.2 million for young adult transitional housing in Shelton;
• $1.03 million for the design of a new Mason County jail in Shelton;
• $1 million for Mason Public Utility District water infrastructure in Matlock;
• $618,000 for Mason Public Utility District 1 Vuecrest water system storage project in Union;
• $618,000 for Camp Thunderbird wastewater treatment facility in Olympia;
• $571,000 for replacement of the water system at Millersylvania State Park in Thurston County;
• $515,000 for Port of Allyn public pier repair in Allyn;
• $412,000 for Kitsap Humane Society Veterinary Lifesaving Center in Silverdale;
• $350,000 for Sandhill Park;
• $350,000 for Yelm Highway Community Park;
• $250,000 for regional water and sewer upgrades in Rochester;
• $250,000 for security and access improvements in Shelton;
• $215,000 for Shelton daycare and building project;
• $198,000 for the Swede Hall renovation project in Rochester;
• $103,000 for emergency shelter capital improvements in Shelton; and
• $70,000 for library improvements in Shelton.
Thanks for reading! It is an honor serving you,
Senator, 35th Legislative District
My most important duty is to serve you. I hope you will contact me or my legislative assistant, Rob Barnes, if you have any concerns about state government, or a problem with a state agency.
Phone: (360) 786-7668
Mail: P.O. Box 40435, Olympia, Wash. 98501
Leave a message on the Legislative Hotline: 1-800-562-6000