This week brings a new session of the Washington Legislature, and if the hearts of the general public aren’t stirred, at least those of politicians and journalists beat a little faster.
A legislative session brings with it the potential to boost the economy, right social wrongs and perhaps even provide enough money to fix those nettlesome potholes on Interstate 5 near the Highway 500 exit. You know the ones.
The 2020 Legislature, which convened Monday, offers more potential than most 60-day sessions because the regional economy is strong, unemployment is low and legislators have plenty of tax money to do with as they please. It’s also the first year in a while that legislators won’t be overwhelmed with the school funding crisis brought on by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.
Before those first days of optimism at the start of the session turn to political gridlock and finally to midnight compromise, we here at The Columbian would like to offer some of our hopes for this year’s Legislature:
• Homelessness. Gov. Jay Inslee proposes to raid the state treasury’s rainy day fund of $300 million to fund 2,100 shelter beds, but the idea appears to be a nonstarter among legislators from both parties. Still, something must be done to address the problem. Despite having by some measurements the strongest state economy in the U.S., we have the fifth-highest per capita rate of homelessness. A December poll found 31 percent of registered voters see this as the state’s top issue, more than any other.
• Domestic violence. The murder of a Vancouver mother of three in November brings this issue to the forefront. The victim’s husband was out on bail, but subject to a restraining order, when he killed her. Possible remedies include looking at bail reform, or possibly increasing the use of real-time electronic monitoring to warn victims if someone subject to a restraining order approaches them.
• Title-only bills. This legislative trick, used by both parties in the past, is essentially a blank sheet of paper that can be filled in in the short hours before the Legislature adjourns with anything that suits the majority’s fancy. It can then be passed without any further ado, since “the bill was filed weeks ago.”
• Transportation funding solution. Voters loved Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 to cap auto license fees at $30, although the courts apparently don’t. What needs to be done in this tricky situation is to find some way to respect the public’s wishes while not gutting funding for much needed transportation projects. The Interstate 5 Bridge is not going to last for another 100 years, nor can you build a third bridge with leftover I-976 yard signs.
• Child abuse hotline. Rightfully so, state law requires certain professionals, such as health care providers and teachers, to report suspected child abuse cases to state investigators. But the hotline for doing so is swamped, leaving these busy professionals hanging on the line, unable to report abuse in a timely fashion. More funding is needed for the hotline, and to develop an online portal that can be used to report child abuse.
Doubtless, there are many other worthwhile causes worth legislators’ time. We’ve said nothing about sex education or climate change, for example, or the regulation of vaping products. And our local delegation offers some intriguing bills we want to learn more about, such as Sen. Ann Rivers’ proposal to create a public-private partnership system for fish hatcheries.
Yes, it’s good to see representative government at work. At least in these first few days of the session.