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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

18th Legislative District lawmakers provide legislative update on crime, health care, guns, housing

Lawmakers answer questions at Battle Ground town hall

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 19, 2024, 6:28pm
3 Photos
Sen. Ann Rivers and Rep. Stephanie McClintock of the 18th Legislative District discuss issues such as crime and housing affordability at a Saturday town hall in Battle Ground.
Sen. Ann Rivers and Rep. Stephanie McClintock of the 18th Legislative District discuss issues such as crime and housing affordability at a Saturday town hall in Battle Ground. (Tommy Rhodes/for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

BATTLE GROUND — Crime, health care, gun rights and housing affordability — that’s what constituents wanted to discuss at Battle Ground City Hall on Saturday morning when state Sen. Ann Rivers and Reps. Stephanie McClintock and Greg Cheney from the 18th Legislative District gathered for a town hall.

About 20 constituents came to ask questions and voice their concerns. The lawmakers provided updates on their sponsored bills and discussed legislation that could impact Southwest Washington.

Feb. 13 was the last day for bills to be passed out of the chamber where they originated, either the House or Senate. Bills now have until Wednesday to make it out of policy committees in the opposite house, and budget bills have until Feb. 26 to make it out of fiscal committee.

The 60-day legislative session ends March 7, meaning bills that make it to the governor’s desk will soon be signed into law.

Town halls

Lawmakers from the 49th District will host a telephone town hall at 6 p.m. Tuesday to answer constituent questions. Constituents are invited to submit their questions at www.surveymonkey.com/r/NNQ639G. The town hall can be accessed by dialing 1-877-229-8493 and entering the PIN 116294.

Lawmakers from the 17th Legislative District will host a virtual town hall between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Those who wish to participate must register for the event online at http://tinyurl.com/LD17TownHall.

Crime

One audience member asked about the status of ballot Initiative 2113, which would provide police in Washington more leeway to pursue suspected criminals.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate announced Friday they will hold hearings on three citizen-backed initiatives, including Initiative 2113. A joint public hearing will be held between Feb. 27 and 28, but exact times are yet to be determined.

Rivers, R-La Center, said her constituents are frustrated by increased crime rates, and the initiative “cuts across partisan affiliation, across every demographic.”

Cheney, R-Battle Ground, referenced two failed bills introduced this session: House Bill 2030, which would effectively allow anyone incarcerated in a state prison to vote or sit on a jury; and House Bill 2196, which would lower the legal limit for drunken driving in Washington.

“There is this real sense in the Legislature that somehow the criminal is the victim,” Cheney said.

Rivers agreed.

“Why don’t we just enforce the laws we have instead of making new ones?” Rivers asked. “There’s a lot of craziness right now in terms of flipping the script, so that people who are committing these acts are now seen somehow as victims, and we have to protect them. Now, let me be clear: If someone goes to prison, I want a prison system that rehabilitates them, because we all benefit when someone contributes to the tax base, and they can care for themselves and their loved ones and so forth.”

Health care

Some of the most heated exchanges occurred when the lawmakers discussed multiple bills that could impact local health care systems.

One of those bills, Senate Bill 5241, Rivers called “the most insidious bill you’ll never hear about this legislative session.”

The bill, which passed the Senate last week, aims to increase regulation when hospitals and health systems combine, which supporters of the proposal argue can lead to more expensive and less accessible care.

Under the bill, the state attorney general would gain new power to block or oversee mergers, and hospitals would have new reporting requirements during mergers or purchases, such as providing documentation on how the leadership change would affect access to reproductive, gender-affirming, emergency, charity and end-of-life care.

Republicans argue the bill extends too much power to the attorney general, and it would burden small hospitals with unneeded bureaucracy and attorney’s fees. Rivers said the bill is ultimately trying to “force every health care provider to provide gender-affirming care and abortion at every facility,” and she led a floor fight against the bill, adding some 20 amendments.

“There’s a saying in Olympia,” she said. “The majority determines what will happen, the minority determines how long it will take.”

A merger between Oregon Health & Science University and Legacy Health, which operates a hospital in Clark County, could be threatened by the bill, Rivers warned.

“Our people in Southwestern Washington could have access to the best technology, the best research, all of that,” she said. “This bill imperils that.”

Gun safety

Another audience member asked about House Bill 2118, which would impose new rules on firearm dealers concerning security and surveillance systems.

The bill passed the House, and Cheney said it’s likely to pass the Senate.

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“There were a number of amendments added to try to make bad less bad,” he said. “My anticipation is that there will be a lawsuit filed immediately upon it being signed into law.”

Rivers said the gun safety debate is one of many “perennial battles” waged in Olympia.

“I think making it harder for gun shop owners to be in business just makes illegal gun dealers flourish,” Rivers said. “I think this is one of those times when we have to be very measured about what we’re doing and really think about the unintended consequences in advance. Why shut down gun shops when they’re the mechanism by which you are able to have an understanding of all the legal firearm sales?”

The lawmakers then circled back to the importance of holding criminals accountable.

“Nobody here wants gun violence, but we’re going after very complex solutions instead of the low hanging fruit,” Cheney said. “Hold the criminals accountable and give them sentences when they use firearms.”

Housing

Lastly, the lawmakers discussed two bills that will impact housing supply and affordability in Southwest Washington.

Cheney lambasted House Bill 1433, an environmental policy aimed at reducing the state’s total energy use. It would require the completion of a home energy audit before listing a home for sale. The bill passed the House and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate.

“All we’ve done is add an additional layer of cost at a time of unaffordability,” Cheney said. “Unfortunately, there seems to be a number of these bills that are divorced from economic reality.”

Additionally, Cheney argued that House Bill 2160, which would require most large cities to allow denser housing near train or bus stops, could threaten Clark County’s character by mandating the construction of high-density housing in areas where it is not wanted.

“(The majority) is trying to remove local control,” said McClintock, R-Vancouver. “We support local.”

Following the event, the lawmakers headed over to Washington State University Vancouver for another town hall. An additional town hall is being planned for the end of April, after the governor has signed bills into law.

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