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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The first fully in-person session in almost three years adjourned on Sunday, April 23. While it was great to see constituents and the public back in Olympia in legislative offices and rallying on the Capitol Campus, there was plenty to dislike about this session. In the following update, I’ll focus on some of the highs and lows this session.

Rep. Schmick confers with Rep. Joel Kretz on the House floor during the final days of the 2023 legislative session

Public Safety
The two most important issues for the Legislature to address this year were allowing police to pursue criminals again and addressing the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision which essentially legalized the use of drugs in our state. Perhaps no issue has shown such stark contrast between Democrats and Republicans than public safety. The Democrat shift toward defunding, distrust, and de-arming our police while favoring criminal rights over victim rights is startling. Even in light of increases in property theft, violent crime, and auto theft, the majority party in our state continued its reluctance to pass policies to help keep our families and communities safe.

Police Pursuits: In the end, I voted against the final policy addressing police pursuits (Senate Bill 5352) because it was too watered down. My fear is that lawmakers will say “We’ve dealt with this issue, let’s move on,” when the reality is, their solution continues to handcuff our law enforcement. Under this new legislation, police would only be allowed to initiate a vehicular pursuit under the previous “reasonable suspicion” standard if the crime is:

  • a violent offense
  • a sex offense
  • a vehicular assault offense
  • a domestic offense
  • an escape from custody
  • a DUI

Law enforcement would still be prohibited from pursuing for crimes such as auto theft, residential burglary, stalking, reckless and aggressive driving, and others. I will continue to work next session to address this issue so police have all the tools necessary to hold criminals accountable and keep our communities and families safe.

Drug possession (The Blake Decision): Drug use in our state is rampant, deaths from overdoses are skyrocketing, and our children are seeing drug addiction and the crimes that go along with it as a normal part of our society. This is wrong.

When the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington state’s felony drug possession law was unconstitutional, the Legislature passed a stopgap measure that still allowed for some arrests until July of this year. We’ve known about this problem for two years! Unfortunately, House Democrats again watered down a compromise bill that passed the Senate. I voted against this bill (Senate Bill 5536) because of the lack of accountability for drug users and the potential to “game the system” by deferring prosecution over and over again with no real threat of consequences.

Mayors from 28 cities around the state sent a letter to the Legislature asking for their assistance to fix this issue, but not in the way SB 5536 would. If it had passed, it would have hindered local governments from providing their own solutions that fit their community best. If Seattle wants to legalize all drug use with no legal consequences, fine. But perhaps Spokane County or other local jurisdictions will pass their own ordinances to get people the help they need while also holding them accountable for their actions. An acknowledge of the problem must be part of the solution.

While the Speaker of the House and other Democrat legislators tried to blame House Republicans for the failure of this bill, the stark reality is that there are 58 Democrats and 40 Republicans in the state House and 29 Democrats and 20 Republicans in the state Senate. With a Democrat governor. There is one party in power in Olympia and they can pass or defeat any bill at any time. The failure lies with them.

As liberal Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat said in his recent column titled “WA Democrats, you had one job!”:

“The failure for state lawmakers to do anything about the surging drug crisis is one of the worst policy face-plants I’ve seen in local politics going back 30 years.”

And when Democrats tried to blame Republicans, he said this:

“Sorry, no. Regular readers know I am fine castigating Republicans for all manner of political misdeeds. But Democrats have an 18-seat majority in the state House, a nine-seat majority in the state Senate, and the governorship. There’s no filibuster here. State Rep. J.T. Wilcox called it right when he said that Democrats ‘got caught up in an unfortunate ideological conflict and didn’t have a way out of it.”

Operating budget
As I’ve previously stated, spending in our state has more than doubled over the past 10 years. This is absolutely unsustainable. Certainly the nearly $70 billion two-year budget spends money on important and worthwhile things, but Democrat budget writers have continually increased spending on new programs and entitlements, spending every budget surplus over the years instead of giving some back to taxpayers. As Washington families and individuals struggle with inflation and the high cost of food and fuel, a property or sale tax reduction would have been welcome. Despite offering legislation for both, Democrat budget writers refused.

In the end, I could not vote for this continuation of unsustainable spending. The inability for budget writers to say no to their special interests, and their inability to recognize the financial struggles of many Washington taxpayers, is an unfortunate reality. One which has the potential for drastic consequences should our state economy take a turn.

Tax increases
Despite talk of an increase in the real estate excise tax (REET) and a potential increase in the local property tax lid from a 1% yearly increase to a 3% yearly increase, no taxes were raised this year. This is good news and goes against what we’ve seen in the past. You can see all the taxes increased by the majority party in Olympia since 2019 here. It is important to note that during this time (2022) the state had a historically high $15 billion budget surplus!

For more information on our state’s budget and the discussions around Democrat proposed tax increases, you can read my recent column titled “Olympia needs a dose of fiscal reality.”

Good bills and bipartisan work
Not all was doom and gloom this session. There were several good bills passed by the Legislature, some sponsored by Democrats and some sponsored by Republicans. Here is a list:

Good House Republican bills that passed the Legislature

  • Establish regional apprenticeship programs (Running Start for the trades). | HB 1013 
  • Require light mitigation technology on new and existing utility scale wind farms to limit flashing red nighttime lights. | HB 1173
  • Require the Department of Children, Youth and Families to establish a child malnutrition field guide. | HB 1274
  • Make it easier to build new housing by eliminating burdensome red-tape requirements. | HB 1293
  • Prohibit a person from selling, offering for sale, or otherwise making available over-the-counter sexual assault kits that may be used to collect sexual assault evidence. | HB 1564
  • Increase funding for preventing, investigating and prosecuting auto theft. | HB 1682
  • Require courts to develop and issue wallet sized laminated cards (Hope Cards) that contain certain information about a protection order. | HB 1766
  • Allow an employee 18 years of age or older to work at a 21+ establishment as long as work performed is unrelated to the sale or service or alcohol. | HB 1730

Bipartisan successes (bills prime sponsored by Democrats, supported by House Republicans)

  • Extend military service credit for pensions to veterans in certain circumstances. | HB 1007
  • Increase the threshold to qualify for the senior property tax exemption and making more frequent adjustments to the thresholds to account for inflation. | HB 1355
  • Increase special education funding. | HB 1436
  • Amend definition of serious traffic offense to include negligent driving and reckless endangerment where impairment is present. | HB 1493
  • Provide incentives to help with recruiting state troopers. | HB 1638
  • Reduce requirements for licensure or certification for certain behavioral health professionals. | HB 1724
  • Eliminate College in the High School fees. | SB 5048 
  • Allow the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) to provide planning grants to qualifying projects to achieve site readiness. | SB 5229 
  • Direct the Department of Commerce to create a statewide small works roster for public procurement to help minority, women-owned and small businesses. | SB 5268

While the legislative session is over, I am your state legislator year round. Please feel free to contact my office with questions or concerns about state government. There is also talk of a potential special session if Democrats can come up with an agreement on a solution to the Blake decision. I’ll keep you informed on this and other state government issues periodically throughout the year.

Thank you for staying involved in your state government and for reading my email update. It is an honor to serve you in the state House of Representatives.


Joe Schmick

State Representative Joe Schmick, 9th Legislative District
426B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7844 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000