By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
What’s everybody talking about in Olympia? was our first question when we sat down to talk with our area’s two State House representatives after the first week of the new legislative session.
Water, replied Reps. Eileen Cody and Joe Fitzgibbon, both West Seattle residents who represent the 34th District, which also includes White Center, Vashon/Maury Islands, and part of Burien. (The 34th District’s State Senator Sharon Nelson, now Senate Majority Leader, couldn’t join our Friday afternoon chat at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor) because of extra business in Olympia.)
So back to the water issue.
Fitzgibbon, in his eighth year in the State House, explained that they’ve had to pick up where they left off, working on water-rights issues that Republicans insisted be settled –
related to the state Supreme Court‘s “Hirst decision” – before they would pass a capital budget. They’ve been “trying to negotiate an agreement allowing rural homeowners to dig wells protective of instream flows for fish,” a hot issue in turn for many others. This week, they reached an agreement, explained Fitzgibbon, who chairs the House Environment Committee.
And it passed out of committee, Cody – the longest-serving member of the State House (in her 24th year) – added. So once that’s finalized, it’s on to the capital budget, Fitzgibbon continued, “which is good news for our district” because of some projects it funds. Those projects include a clinic for Vashon Island, Cody points out; she chairs the House Health Care and Wellness Committee and works as a nurse.
Navos (which has a mental-health campus in West Seattle), Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, and a safety project in White Center are on that list too, Fitzgibbon adds. So watch for word on the capital budget, and funding of local projects, soon.
Also big: Governor Inslee’s State of the State address, “which was focused on climate change, as am I,” Fitzgibbon said, noting the governor’s carbon-tax proposal, which is going through the State Senate first, “so (Sen. Nelson) is working on that.”
How would that affect constituents (aside from the big picture)? Both state representatives note that gasoline prices would go up. A “small effect” on natural-gas prices, too; Seattle City Light electricity customers would probably not pay more as a result, they say, but Puget Sound Energy electricity customers on Vashon might notice. The revenue would bring “a lot of new resources for clean-energy projects, energy efficiency, stormwater, habitat,” and more, Fitzgibbon added.
The first year’s revenues, though, are proposed by Gov. Inslee to make up a shortfall in education funding to fulfill the McCleary mandate, the representatives pointed out.
Fitzgibbon mentioned that he’s working on House Bill 2338, also related to climate change, to require oil refineries to gradually decrease greenhouse gases. (Cody is a co-sponsor.)
On to her focus, health-care issues. The biggest one by far, Cody said, is the response to the opioid crisis. One proposal on which they’re somewhat butting heads with doctors and hospitals who “think we’ve done enough” is a limit on the first painkiller prescription after surgery or dental procedures. “They give you 30 days’ worth when you might need (as few as 3).” Seventeen states have passed limits, and Cody clarified that the health-care providers are “not arguing about limits so much as about controlling it themselves.”
It can be a huge problem, though, she said, relating an anecdote from her nursing work – which includes chronic-pain patients – involving the difficulty of weaning a patient off opioids.
Another big issue – “reinsurance” (unofficial definition here). Cody says the state Insurance Commissioner has been “working all summer to figure out what to do to stabilize” the insurance market, which should mean less of a rate rise next year, and will continue ensuring that everyone in the state has access to insurance.
Also on the agenda – working for better mental-health funding.
And on housing issues – which are also part of the capital budget – Fitzgibbon said legislators are working to remove the sunset on a document-recording fee that has gone toward helping local governments fund “shelter and services” for people in need.
At this point, we asked about Sound Transit funding, having seen a flurry of regional stories go by saying that legislators were on the brink of taking action that would reduce it, and knowing that ST is close to top of mind in West Seattle right now with the light-rail planning gearing up.
Fitzgibbon started by explaining that Democrats and Republicans disagreed last year about how to solve the issue of ST using a valuation table that was considered to have led to too-high license-tab surcharges. Republicans wanted to “overturn the whole thing,” he said, but Democrats recognized that ST had already issued bonds based on the higher valuations, so “what we said was… they could use it until bonds (were) retired. … What we’re trying to do now is make up as much of the (to-be-lost) money in other ways.”
They have a few ideas, he said, to cover what would be a $700 million reduction in funding over 10 years. “One idea is to have WSDOT charge less for Sound Transit to build in (its) right-of-way … it’s complicated … we’re trying to close the gap so it doesn’t blow a hole in the Sound Transit Budget.” They’re also talking, he said, about how to ensure that “if Sound Transit has to start cutting projects, that light rail would be the last cut” – that park-and-rides, or Sounder stations, or bus rapid transit would be cut first. He added that ST is now getting more sales-tax revenues because of repealed exemptions such as bottled water.
Speaking of transportation, Fitzgibbon said he’s working on a bill to allow camera enforcement for transit lanes. He mentions the C Line getting stuck behind violators all the time, especially in the Avalon vicinity. “And it’s not really safe to have police enforce it [in person] – so we would have a pilot project … only in Seattle … There’s no point in having a bus lane if you can’t enforce it.”
Other issues to watch, briefly mentioned by the representatives –
*Same-day voter registration
*Breakfast “after the bell” for students
*More remedies for the gender-based pay gap
*Mitigating the effects of the property-tax increase passed for school funding to address the McCleary situation
Because control of the Senate changed, many things “that had been held up … will get done,” Fitzgibbon declared, including a law to prohibit government keeping lists of people by their religious affiliation, and a “net neutrality” bill.
So, we asked in near-closing, if constituents want you to know something, what’s the best way for them to contact you?
Both reply – personal e-mail rather than form-letter-style.
Maybe even send a postal-mail letter, Cody adds – “we don’ get many of those any more.”
They insist they read everything they get, but it takes a while.
Last but not least – do they think this session is going to end on time, without the extensions/special sessions that seem to have become so common?
“Ending on time is goal number one,” they both insist.
Adds Cody, seeming to be only partly joking: “We’re all tired of each other.”