What your state representatives are saying as the Legislature gets ready for a new round

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Next week, as many West Seattleites grapple with downtown-bound Viadoom, at least three will be heading the other way:

The state Legislature convenes on Monday, so your 34th District state legislators (all of whom live in West Seattle) will be going south, to Olympia.

Before then – State Reps. Eileen Cody and Joe Fitzgibbon and Sen.-elect Joe Nguyen are offering you a briefing and Q&A this Saturday morning (10 am January 12th, Delridge Community Center, 4501 Delridge Way SW).

We checked in with Sen.-elect Nguyen for this December story – and then sat down to talk with Reps. Cody and Fitzgibbon recently to get their take on what’ll be big this year.

(WSB photos from January 2019 34th District Democrats meeting)

Cody – who’s now the longest-serving House member – has just retired from her nursing career; she told the 34th District Democrats tonight that this was her last day of work at Kaiser Permanente. But health issues remain her focus and passion.

This year, for starters, she expects the Legislature to raise the smoking (and vaping, etc.) age to 21. “It’s going to be one of the first bills” passed, she said, after several years of Governor Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson pushing it.

It even has a Republican sponsor, she notes.

Also expected early on – long-term-care trust, so you can “pay in like a payroll tax.” Washington would be the first state to have it, Cody says. Last year the bill stalled on the floor but this year is expected to be different.

Over to Rep. Fitzgibbon – he thinks bills to be passed relatively early are likely to include the presidential-primary bill, moving Washington’s primary to March.

As for other hot topics: Opioid addiction and mental-health treatment will be addressed again, says Cody, along with a requirement that people who are prescribed opioids are told about the risk of addiction.

The endangered orcas that finally got a long-overdue spotlight last year will stay in it, Fitzgibbon says. Environmental issues are his focus. So which of the task-force recommendations are likely to become reality? we asked. He is hoping for habitat protection, to help them in the long term. He says he’s most involved in addressing the construction-permit process and how habitat is handled – “adding some teeth” to a law that’s been on the books for more than 70 years. Also, he wants to allow fishers to catch more non-native fish that compete with salmon. (This is mostly in the Columbia River, he notes.)

Restricting whale-watching vessels is controversial, so he’s not sure how that’s going to go, although reduced speeds are likely to be approved. There’ll be legislation targeting “some toxic chemicals,” he says. And while the dam removal demanded by some may not be feasible – though the governor’s budget has “some money” to look at the Snake River dams – Fitzgibbon thinks culvert problems can be addressed. He also expects discussion of what are ultimately federal issues, such as killing more seals and sea lions. In all, he expects to see “probably eight different orca bills. … One thing about the orca issue – things we’d known we needed to do anyway” are now finally likely to get done. The orcas’ plight has “focused people’s attention, increasing the urgency.”

Another urgent environmental issue, climate change, remains front-burner, except for one way of tackling it: “We’re taking a big step back on carbon taxes,” says Fitzgibbon, “since we had two ballot measures go down in two years.” One of the highest-profile measures that’ll be pursued, he says, would require all electric utilities to move toward fossil-fuel-free sources by 2045. Not a big issue for Seattle City Light, because most of its power already is hydro-generated, but it will be for Puget Sound Energy – which provides electricity for many other areas around the region.

In addition to low-carbon-footprint fuel standards – addressing transportation, the sector responsible for the largest share of emissions – Fitzgibbon expects legislation to move toward “cleaner” buildings in terms of heating and cooling.

At that point, talk veers toward future hopes for technology that might move daily lives toward that goal, say water heaters connected to a grid so they could be turned down a degree if energy use was starting to spike, but that’s aspirational. Fitzgibbon observes, “Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Washingtonians and Americans want cleaner energy … people are starting to wake up (to climate change).”

Back in Cody’s court, change is potentially coming to health care. She doesn’t see “single payer” as achievable yet, with so much that “has to be done at the federal level,” but has higher hopes for a “public option” for the individual market. (Days after our conversation, Rep. Cody joined the governor at an announcement of legislation to make that happen.) Among the key points – insurance companies would bid to offer the option, which would have a standardized benefits package. She’s hoping it will be available to more people, even those who aren’t low-income. Also regarding health insurance, she thinks “balanced billing” will pass this year – regarding what happens if you get health care out of network (see the bill here) – “I don’t want the doctors and insurers to be happy,” she said, “I want the patient to be happy.”

Rep. Fitzgibbon is hopeful of passing a bill we discussed in our January chat with your state reps last year – authorizing enforcement cameras for transit lanes. A bigger Democratic majority in the Legislature means a bigger chance this will pass, among other things, he says. Since last year, it’s become even more of a priority for city and Metro support. (Legislators have not yet decided where money from the fines would go, he adds.)

In other transportation issues, they hope to alleviate some frustration for their Vashon and Maury Islands ferry-riding constituents by adding “fully loading boats” to measures on which the system’s performance is evaluated. They believe some of the problems with boats leaving only partly filled, even with long lineups waiting at the dock, is the heavy emphasis on on-time performance.

Cody also makes the point that they represent Fauntleroy as well as Vashon, so when it comes to the ferries, they have to balance priorities.

Also in view ahead: Education funding, property taxes, mental-health funding. The latter mention leads Rep. Cody to explain that the mental-health field is short-staffed – “not enough psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses going into mental health.” Not something the Legislature can fix, but something to be aware of.

Six years after Fitzgibbon first introduced a bill to vacate low-level cannabis-related convictions, it appears to be on its way to becoming reality, with the governor’s support.

The Legislature will deal with unusual issues, too, like “human composting” … and will spend a lot of time budgeting, since this year is a “long session.”

That means a June 30th deadline.

“I think we’ll get done on time,” declares Fitzgibbon.

One more thing we asked about – other local priorities? They were about to meet with City Councilmember Lisa Herbold to hear her suggestions. They also are watching to see whether WSDOT funds the Highland Park roundabout, because if not, they could push for funding.

And we asked if they had advice for their new colleague, Sen.-elect Nguyen. “To succeed, you have to listen a lot.”

All three of your 34th District legislators plan to do that at their Saturday morning town hall – your chance to share your priorities before they get going for the year. So be at Delridge Community Center at 10 am Saturday.

You of course also can reach them other ways: Cody here, Fitzgibbon here, Nguyen here (until his official page is up).

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