After week one in Olympia, here’s what your State Representatives are up to, from water to Sound Transit to bus-lane cameras

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 –

*Higher-education scholarships
*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.

(Cody’s contact info is here; Fitzgibbon’s contact info is here. And Sen. Nelson’s is here.)

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.”

8 Replies to "After week one in Olympia, here's what your State Representatives are up to, from water to Sound Transit to bus-lane cameras"

  • CarDriver January 14, 2018 (3:25 pm)

    What I saw on the news was that gas & diesel would go up 18 cents a gallon to start and 3% a year after that. Not just car drivers will pay. Any business that delivers or get’s good’s delivered will pass the increase on to ALL of us. Although I won’t give up driving, if we all did it would be fun to hear ST cry!

    • WSB January 14, 2018 (4:05 pm)

      There is no final package – the Times story is linked in ours.

    • KM January 14, 2018 (6:09 pm)

      I hope gas taxes rise substantially and the money is used to fund more infrastructure and offset the environmental impact of car culture. Yes, I drive almost daily.

  • Mark Schletty January 14, 2018 (4:38 pm)

    A carbon tax won’t stop production of carbon pollution, just continue allowing it but with a tax for doing it. The tax will be passed on to us, forcing low income people to pay more for what they need.  More regressive taxing. 

    The ST3 car tab taxes based on overvaluation of vehicles are nothing short of theft by fraud.

    The Democrats (I’m one) should be ashamed of themselves for both taxes. They are both simply money grabs.

    • Nolan January 14, 2018 (8:45 pm)

      You should be ashamed for referring to an exceedingly transparent change in taxation as “fraud”. Sound Transit went above and beyond in communicating the valuation method, 58% of King County voted for it, it’s done. That the Democrats are trying to undermine an ethically and legally conducted public vote is absolutely sickening.

  • MJ January 14, 2018 (5:37 pm)

    A modest carbon tax would be ok with me if the proceeds were used to lower property taxes and not grow government.

  • Tom January 14, 2018 (8:19 pm)

    So… you’re working on a bill to fund cameras to catch drivers that are slowing your commute on a bus line that is prioritized by you to be defunded to make up for a misjudged valuation table? I guess the cameras will stay then?

    We need more progressive candidates in here, I know WC/Vashon has a bunch of qualified ones with real issues and a sense of urgency. Joe doesn’t get it- this isn’t your high school Key Club, guy. Looking forward to the next cycle.

  • T January 15, 2018 (12:36 am)

    I would support bus lane cameras. I hope they put one on the bridge. Maybe the Avalon area is justified but I sure see a lot of violations on the bridge at all hours. It’s dangerous cutting across the bus lane. Accidents with buses have already happened. I also see people use the bus lane to get to 99 north by cutting in that tiny area before your forced to exit at 1st ave. Too many dangerous actions, I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents. A camera at the illegal to cross double white lines area would be great too. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

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