March 20--With the legislative session over, Washington's 9th District Legislators said they are glad, at least for the time being, to be getting back to their lives outside of Olympia.
One accomplishment all three said they were grateful for was that, for the first time since 2008, the session actually ended after the 60 days scheduled.
"I'm really happy we don't have to go back. It's been a while since we haven't had a special session, so I'm very happy we got our work done on time," said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, who ironically said he has to go back to Olympia on Wednesday for a meeting.
On Tuesday, Schmick, along with Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, and Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, were all at Palouse Falls as Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill, written by elementary school students in Washtucna, establishing it as the official state waterfall.
"I'm really happy for those kids," said Schmick, who sponsored the bill on their behalf. "They really did their homework. I'm very proud of them."
Along with that bill, Schmick said he was also please to have passed a $155 million supplemental budget, which provided an additional $58 million for K-12 education books and supplies, and kept spending increases to a minimum.
"We just made tweaks to the existing budget -- I think the spending increase was only a quarter of 1 percent," he said. "It's important that we live within our means and only make small adjustments to the overlying budget. That's what a supplemental budget should do."
Fagan agreed, and pointed out this is also the second year in a row in which there have been no tuition increases for higher education.
"For a number of years before this we were seeing double-digit increases, so a couple years reprieve is really a great thing for students," she said.
Another bill she said she was pleased to see make it through, and which passed unanimously in both chambers, will provide more access to federal funding to support parents with intellectual or developmental disabilities who are at risk of losing their children.
"I heard from a number of parents, instructors and service providers who said this is the best year they can remember. I think if they're pleased about what we did, that means we got something right," Fagan said.
Schoesler pointed to two bills for veterans -- one which will allow veterans and active-duty members of the military to qualify for in-state tuition without having to first establish residency, and another that will ensure federal funding for a veterans home in Walla Walla -- as those he was most happy to see make it through.
"Those were the most important things for the senate right at the end of the session," he said. "Enabling the language for the vets home in Walla Walla and granting instate tuition for those who served our country is the right thing to do."
While he said he was pleased with the bipartisan effort for much that was accomplished during the session, with specific regard for the budget, Schoesler expressed disappointment that nothing could be done to address the workers compensation system in the state.
Labor and Industries "insurance rates here are among the highest in the country. That's unacceptable, or at least it should be," he said. "To attract workers to the state we need to change that."
Fagan said she was disappointed they couldn't get a transportation package together, which she blamed on the governor for not making a decision on whether he would impose, through an executive order, a low carbon fuel standard.
"We got a budget to maintain things the way they are, but we still need a package. Really though, to get that done in a short session is a bit unrealistic," she said.
A bill that would add new, stricter parameters for the release of sexually violent predators from prison, which got stuck in the fiscal committee over costs, along with another bill that would put limits on THC levels in marijuana, the chemical compound that causes the high, were both also on her list of disappointments.
Along with a couple of bills he said would have been a boon to small businesses, Schmick said he also had two marijuana-related bills on his list of disappointments -- one that would have created a study group to look into the medical marijuana industry and another that would have directed a share of the revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana to cities and counties.
"I'm disappointed that didn't make it through, since they're the ones who are going to be having to deal with the problems that will arise from the new industry," Schmick said.
Both he and Fagan are up for reelection later this year, and each said they will be remain busy during the next several months working on new bills they hope to bring forth during the next session as well as making the rounds to local agencies and businesses within the district.
Schoesler, who won't face the ballot again until 2016, said he, on the other hand, is taking a little time to enjoy decompressing from the session and getting back to his farming operation.
Bill McKee can be reached at (208) 883-4627, or by email to [email protected].
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