This legislative session, Southwest Washington lawmakers were determined to meet regularly, work cohesively and move past personality conflicts, which in previous years hindered what they could deliver for the region.
The effort looks like it could be paying off.
Both the Senate and House capital budgets — money for land, buildings and equipment — were recently unveiled and for the first time in a while, the region fares well. The House passed the capital budget out of committee last week.
“By us having our meetings, we did absolutely phenomenal,” Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said. “I want to let you know, I’m shocked.”
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, echoed his sentiments.
“This is the power of us working together and singing with one voice,” Rivers said. “We did really well, and I do believe it’s a result of the larger delegation cooperation and working together.”
Last legislative session, lawmakers from the region couldn’t recall when they met as a group on their own accord. They have gathered nearly every week of this session.
“Look at our (2015) transportation package and how much we got there,” Rivers said, implying it wasn’t much. “It’s not like our influence and power has doubled, I think it’s increased manifold and I think we’re reaping the benefits.”
The capital budgets carve out money for construction of the Bridgeview Education and Employment Resources, money for a recovery center for Daybreak Youth Services, money to make upgrades at the Clark County Historical Museum and a half-million dollars for a life science building at Washington State University.
Neither the House nor Senate capital budgets have received final approval.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said she joined forces with Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, to secure money for a parking lot at the Harmony Sports Complex.
Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, called the budget “excellent” for Clark County.
Also, in Olympia last week, negotiations continued on the state’s most pressing problem: how to adequately fund the state’s public school system. Lawmakers continue to meet behind closed doors to meet a pressing deadline.
“All I can tell you is we’re doing extremely well,” said Harris, who is on the negotiating team. “We’ve increased our meetings this week to three meetings a week and from two hours to three hours. We’re making great strides and I think people are willing to give-and-take.”
The delegation secured a big win Thursday when their measure addressing the Interstate 5 Bridge cleared the last major hurdle before landing on the governor’s desk. The bill’s goal is to revive conversations on how to replace the chronically congested bridge.
And in the midst of ongoing budget and education bill negotiations, local lawmakers have been scrambling to see their personal priorities become law.
Rep. Brandon Vick’s measure dubbed “right to try,” which would allow terminally ill patients the option of using experimental drugs not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is heading to the governor’s desk.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, stood up on the Senate floor last week to remind her colleagues there isn’t a state in the nation that doesn’t have a pay gap between what men and women earn. Cleveland is pushing equal pay legislation.
Rivers continues to build momentum for a measure to curb distracted driving. Harris is still holding out hope he can change the smoking age from age 18 to 21 years old.
The official adjournment date of the session is April 23, but the Washington state Legislature has a tendency to call for overtime sessions to finish their negotiations.