By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
It might have been the last time we’d talk to them as your 34th Legislative District trio: State Sen. Sharon Nelson and Reps. Eileen Cody and Joe Fitzgibbon sat down with us for a coffeehouse chat on how the session went, and what’s ahead next time.
Otherwise, “we don’t get together that often!” they laughed – and certainly there had been big news in the meantime, with Nelson deciding to retire from the Legislature.
So, we asked, what did they see as the biggest successes of this year’s session?
“We were happy to get done on time,” Fitzgibbon offered. “And glad we were able to do a property tax cut – for the 2019 calendar year, couldn’t constitutionally do it for this year. And the capital budget was done, finally.”
“Voting rights,” said Cody.
“Equal pay for equal work,” added Nelson. She also was glad to see several gun-safety bills get passed.
But not everyone thinks the Legislature did enough, Fitzgibbon acknowledged.”After the Parkland shooting, a lot of people wanted us to hurry up and ban assault weapons, but there were not enough votes.” Of the bills that did pass, he said the domestic-violence bill will be particularly impactful: “If there’s an order against you, you can’t get a gun.”
The prosecutorial experience of Sen. Manka Dhingra made a big difference, Nelson noted.
Overall, she said, legislators “got a lot of work done” – 310 bills, and a “robust list at that.” Not so much on environmental issues, though. Fitzgibbon, who chairs the House Environment Committee, elaborated: “We got some decent stuff done but not on climate change. We banned some chemicals from food packaging and from firefighting foam – the first state to ban them.” And there was action on oil-spill-prevention funding and banning net pens.
“That was a big one,” Nelson agreed.
Also along those lines: Funding to enforce the wildlife-trafficking initiative, which they said had long been blocked by Senate Republicans, and the orca task force. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife will have more staff to enforce whale-protecting laws such as the required distance for whale-watching vessels.
One big topic back when we talked with Cody and Fitzgibbon four months ago: Sound Transit car-tab taxes, and what the Legislature would do about them.
“Basically everybody agrees we’re using the wrong formula,” Fitzgibbon began. But because there was no agreement on what to do about it, nothing was finalized, and “we’ll keep talking about it next year.”
That aside, he said, constituents should be aware that “in the first year of Democratic control, we cut taxes! The Republicans voted against the property-tax cut (and they) were the ones who insisted on the increase in the first place. We’re working toward fair taxes, we’re not working toward higher taxes.”
On a smaller tax/fee issue, but one related to a big ongoing issue, the legislators mentioned that a fee on real-estate transactions, paying for emergency housing services, was made permanent this year and increased. Fitzgibbon said the capital budget contained $100 million for affordable housing, too.
Cody, who chairs the Health Care Committee in the House, talked about expanded access to mental-health care, and about the movement of non-forensic services out of Western State Hospital (which the governor spotlighted last Friday, the day after our chat with the legislators), into community-based facilities. “A lot more interest now, a lot of beds are under construction,” she said. “We really want to get the smaller facilities spread out across the state so people don’t have to leave their communities.”
Nelson noted that the “conversion therapy” bill was finally passed “with overwhelming support” after it had been held up for years. They worked through a “backlog,” she said, coordinating with the House early on, though that posed some challenges when the flu hit hard.
“We didn’t used to consider 60 days a full session, but it was the most grueling session I can remember,” Fitzgibbon recalled.
“I always say, it’s like childbirth – you try to forget about it!” Cody joked.
But what’s ahead next session remains top of mind, even for Nelson, who won’t be there. “We have to put a lot more work into mental health and homelessness. The more encampments we have, the less empathy.” And she’s worried about an issue on which she scored a major breakthrough years ago, payday lending – with consumer protection eroding in DC, vigilance here will be very important.
As a Maury Island resident, Nelson touts some island legacies too – more public access soon as a fence comes down at the Glacier site; gaps filled in police assistance to keep traffic moving at the Fauntleroy ferry dock.
Looking ahead to next year, Cody foresees a focus on health-insurance affordability, depending on what happens in the “other Washington.” She’s been told next year’s rate increases “will be worse than I want but not as bad as last year – we’ll do better than some other states.”
Fitzgibbon says one of his big projects will be low-carbon fuel standards.
Nelson says, “One thing I hope for my replacement … we have worked as a legislative team.
it really benefits the district – we work so well together and that doesn’t happen in every district.” She says you also have to be “practical” and “work across the aisle” as needed.
“You’re not running for king, you’re running to be one of 147 legislators,” Fitzgibbon notes.
As of this writing, he and Cody both have filed to run for re-election, and neither has an opponent yet. Four have filed for Nelson’s seat, with at least two more expected.