Those are the three people who will be representing you and the rest of the 34th District (including West Seattle, White Center, Vashon/Maury Islands, part of Burien) when the Washington State Legislature starts its new session tomorrow in Olympia. From left are Reps. Eileen Cody and Joe Fitzgibbon, re-elected unopposed in November, which is also when about-to-be-sworn-in Sen. Joe Nguyen was elected. Before the session starts, the trio held an hour-plus Town Hall-style gathering Saturday morning at Delridge Community Center. Each began with a short introduction and summary – along the lines of the conversations we’ve already published (Cody and Fitzgibbon here, Nguyen here). After a few minutes, they opened the floor to comments/questions. We have it all on video, plus part of the introductions:
If you don’t have time to watch, here are our topline notes:
Local activist Ann Martin stood up first with a question (some were asked from the audience, some written on cards). She brings up I-735, an advisory measure passed by state voters with the intent of overturning Citizens United, and wonders if the Legislature can “memorialize it” to send a message to Congress. Fitzgibbon said, “I think you’ll see support from the three of us …” He veered into other “democracy issues” as she had put it, saying one thing to focus on is the ballot-signature verification issue, with too many people having their ballots disqualified, and he expects to “make headway” on that. Otherwise, Washington is the “single best state for access to democracy.”
Cody answered a question about Western State Hospital and what will be done about that troubled facility. “We’re not going to continue pouring money” into its decrepit building, so there’s a renewed focus on decentralizing mental-health hospitalizations, four 16-bed facilities and then a 150-bed hospital in the north end. It’ll help factor into the need for training, too. Overall, they’re hoping to get more hospitals open more psychiatric beds. Western’s long-term focus will be on forensic (criminal-justice-related) cases, at least in the existing facility.
What sort of youth/community support? Nguyen answered that, saying he’s working on maximizing access to his office, meeting with schools and other community partners, and working on a bill related to referring juveniles to accountability programs such as West Seattle-based SafeFutures.
Fitzgibbon fielded a question about his climate-change-related priorities. “I’m hoping this is going to be our breakthrough year on climate change,” he began. He noted the clean-energy bill he’d talked about in our recent interview. He said the Legislature wants to discourage the push for building natural-gas-powered plants to replace coal, and encourage renewable, clean sources instead. He also noted that transportation is responsible for close to half of our state’s emissions, so low-carbon fuel standards can help with that, to tell fuel producers like refineries that they have to start to reduce the emissions of what they produce. He said he’s optimistic of getting that through the state House, but the Senate is not as much of a sure thing. That bill has a hearing on Tuesday.
Cody tackled two questions, one about single-payer health-care – “the cost is prohibitive and that’s why we haven’t moved it” – and the “public option” (showcased last week by Gov. Inslee). She explained more about how the latter could help people on the “individual market.” The state would set the rates and that hopefully would bring the cost dowm somewhat, with a package of standard benefits, and deductibles better than the high ones currently faced by many on that market. She then hears from someone in the front row who says she can’t afford some medical procedures she needs because she “has insurance but I can’t use it” due to high deductibles – and “if we switch to universal health care, it’s cheaper for us all in the long run.” Cody further elaborated that federal waivers would be needed for various things to make something like “Medicare for All” become a reality. She then dove into history – the health-care-reform push led by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton 25 years ago. “We gotta move forward and I agree that’s where we need to go, but we can’t afford to do it as a state without that money from the federal government.”
A followup question came from an attendee who said she is “underinsured” even with her husband working for the federal government.
Fitzgibbon picked up a question about alleviating homelessness, and said there’s been increasing commitment in recent years to helping fund emergency services to help prevent it. Affordable housing remains a big issue pushing many people into homelessness, he said, and the state has made investments in increasing its availability. The state also has made strides in funding short-term services to help disabled people avoid falling into homelessness, which is more cost-effective than trying to get people out of it.
Education-funding fix? Fitzgibbon replied to that next. While acknowledging the issue itself “is not fixed,” the McCleary lawsuit issue is settled, he noted. The biggest issue right now is financial education for children with special needs, he said. Getting a capital-gains tax on the wealthy could help with that.
How realistic IS the capital-gains tax? was the next question, from someone who said she’s “pessimistic.” The three all thought there’s a good chance. “We’ve never been this close to getting it done,” said Fitzgibbon.
Nguyen was asked what he’s discovered since getting elected. “There are a lot of lobbyists who live in West Seattle!” he exclaimed. He was also asked if there’s a way to speed up Sound Transit light rail to West Seattle (now slated for 2030). He said the issues were more relevant to local jurisdictions whose permit processes (etc.) affect the timeline.
Rep. Cody was asked about youth vaping and noted, as she said during our interview, that the smoking/vaping age-21 bill would have a hearing on Tuesday.
What about gun violence? Fitzgibbon mentioned the recently passed state initiative XXX but said there are still a few things the Legislature will work on, with background-check rules among them, and suicide prevention, given that firearm-involved suicide attempts are far less-often survived than other types of attempts.
Cody was asked about abortion access, mentioning that state law requires covering it the same as it covers maternity services. They’re dealing with a lot of federal laws, she noted, including one that’s currently being reviewed regarding whether to fight it.
Fitzgibbon picked up one last question about protecting Southern Resident Killer Whales. We’re not going to ban cruise ships, he began in response to a concern voiced about them, but vessels will likely be required to slow to reduce the noise affecting orcas – a “slow zone” for all vessels, among other actions.
Nguyen concluded by thanking everyone (by the event’s end, the crowd was up to almost 50, by our count) for taking time on Saturday morning to turn out to talk with them.