9th District Legislators | Despite some bipartisan successes, public safety failures will be the legacy of the 2023 session
This session saw some bipartisan successes as lawmakers and citizens were in Olympia together for the first time in nearly three years. That in-person interaction is always key for working relationships and good workable solutions to our state's problems.
The transportation budget and capital budget were both very bipartisan. Republicans were allowed to give input and Democrat budget writers worked to fund projects important to legislators on both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Schoesler was the lead negotiator for Senate Republicans on the capital budget. With his leadership in the Senate, and with Reps. Schmick and Dye working together in the House, we were able to secure critical funding for local infrastructure projects throughout the 9th District. These include two athletic projects in Pomeroy, a project for the Dayton School District, and nearly $33 million for the Odessa Ground Water Replacement Project, among others.
It took seven years, but the Legislature finally approved Rep. Dye's wildfire aviation suppression bill. House Bill 1498 will give local fire districts the ability to be reimbursed by the state when they call in helicopters and airplanes to attack and douse a fire when it initially breaks out. This will prevent the destruction of timber and range land, protect air quality, and save the state millions of dollars.
Rep. Schmick had two constituent request bills signed into law. House Bill 1577 was at the request of the city of Rockford and will help smaller municipalities by raising the contract limit in which municipal officers can have a vested interest. And House Bill 1100 was at the request of the Asotin County Commissioners. It will allow county commissioners to provide for the disposition of remains of an indigent resident of the county who dies in a neighboring county outside of Washington. Both of these bills passed with unanimous bipartisan support.
Republicans sponsored legislation to reduce property and sale taxes, and to eliminate the long-term care act and payroll tax (which goes into effect on July 1). We had legislation to expand the Working Families Tax Credit, help students recover from learning loss, and to provide school choice.
We also had bills to put more officers in our communities, close and clean up illegal homeless encampments, and to confront drug addicts to get them the help they need.
Unfortunately, there was little-to-no bipartisan support for any of these proposals and they failed to move through the legislative process.
But perhaps the biggest failure this session came in the public safety arena.
Heading into the new year, legislators from both sides of the aisle knew that public safety was going to be one of the defining issues for the 2023 legislative session. Specifically, allowing police to pursue criminals again and fixing our state's felony drug possession law, which was ruled unconstitutional in 2021 by the state Supreme Court.
Communities throughout the state have seen increases in violent crime, property theft, drug use, and auto theft. Criminals have become so brazen as to call 911 to complain when being pursued by police. As a result, several people – including children – have died because law enforcement was not allowed to initiate vehicular pursuits of criminals.
Senate Bill 5352 was the final compromise on the police pursuit issue. This bill divided both Democrats and Republicans with bipartisan votes for and against. It is a very small step in the right direction and perhaps better than nothing. But just barely. It will allow vehicular police pursuits under the “reasonable suspicion” standard for:
- a violent offense;
- a sex offense;
- a vehicular assault offense;
- a domestic offense;
- an escape from custody; and
- a DUI.
Police would still not be able to pursue for crimes such as auto theft, residential burglary, stalking, reckless and aggressive driving, and much more.
While different proposals went back and forth between the Senate and House, in the end, Senate Bill 5536 was the compromise bill. There was agreement between three of the four caucuses. However, House Democrats were divided with a significant number of their members wanting no criminal accountability associated with drug use. They watered down the bill and it failed to pass on the final day.
To make matters worse, the majority party passed some of the most stringent gun-control measures in the nation. At a time when violent crime is increasing and Washington struggles to hire enough law-enforcement officers, Democrats made it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights to protect themselves and their loved ones. Lawsuits have already been filed as these bills most definitely violate our state and national constitutions.
Democrats in Olympia had the chance to listen to families and individuals around the state who want to see safety returned to their communities. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. This session will be remembered for that failure. Hopefully, as their voices grow louder over the next several months, the 2024 session can rectify some of these mistakes.
(Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Reps. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, represent the 9th Legislative District.)
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