January 7, 2022
For the people: what local legislators plan for the 2022 session
40th and 42nd District Legislators

Concerns including children’s mental health, Nooksack River Basin water rights, shelter for the unhoused and flood mitigation top the priority lists for local elected officials preparing for the start next week of the 2022 legislative session. (Salish Current photo)

January 7, 2022
For the people: what local legislators plan for the 2022 session
40th and 42nd District Legislators

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The Washington State Legislature convenes its 90-day session on Jan. 10. Salish Current asked our elected representatives a few questions about what they plan to do for the people; the responses follow. [42nd District Sen. Doug Ericksen died on Dec. 17 and the replacement for his position had not been chosen by publication time.]

Rep. Alicia Rule, 42nd District

Alicia Rule
Alicia Rule

Salish Current: The district has experienced heat domes and flooding attributed to climate change. We can’t do everything but what is your top priority this session to address any one of these areas — heat waves, flooding or climate change?

Rep. Rule: Our community has had a really hard year with extreme weather patterns, from the flooding that destroyed homes to the heat that destroyed raspberry crops. We need solutions across the board, short- and long-term, to sustain our families, homes and livelihoods. My focus in the legislature has always been on our most vulnerable. I’m proud of the upstream solutions I’ve advocated for, including three grants to get kids learning outside and a bill to ensure nature-based preschool is an option for more kids in our state. When our kids can learn math from tidal charts and biology from berry fields, then they learn the value of the land and how to care for it. I’ll be fighting this session to ensure kids can learn in and from nature throughout their entire education.

SC: The Nooksack River water allocation issue has entered the adjudication process but what role legislatively do you see playing in resolving allocation issues in the watershed?

Rule: Last session, I fought for funding for the Nooksack River adjudication process so that everyone could come to the table on equal footing. When we set the table for fair and thoughtful conversations, then we’re setting us all up for success. I plan to follow these discussions closely and adhere to any recommendations they develop, together.

SC: The district has suffered through nearly two years of the COVID pandemic. We can’t do everything but what is your top priority to address economic relief and recovery?

Rule: Our economy is built on small businesses and in the pandemic they’ve faced the brunt of the pandemic’s effects. My top priority to address economic relief is to ensure that small business owners have the resources they need to keep their doors open for years to come. Last session, I fought for an expansion of the Main Street program so that small businesses in rural areas could benefit from development staffing, coordination and promotion. I also voted for hundreds of million in Working Washington grants to help cover the cost of rent and overhead throughout closures and reopenings. This year, I was very excited to see the launch of the Small Business Flex Fund which is a forward-thinking, public-private partnership aimed at helping small businesses and nonprofits recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and grow their business again. In in its first few months alone, the Small Business Flex Fund has provided low-interest loans of up to $150,000 to over 110 small businesses and nonprofits in need of economic assistance. Commerce has also partnered with the Washington Small Business Development Center to fund a small business survey, run by Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center. The survey will launch soon to assess the current challenges that these stakeholders are experiencing right now so we can shape our programs to best reflect the current economic environment.

SC: What other legislative priority will you be working on for your district this session?

Rule: As we saw from the U.S. Surgeon General’s report released in early December, children’s mental health has been declining for years and the pandemic really exacerbated the issue. The report states that emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51% for adolescent girls and 4% for boys in early 2021 as compared to the same period in 2019. Teachers, parents, and counselors have made heroic efforts to support kids in these challenging times. But there’s only so much we can do when our daily lives don’t look the same as they did two years ago. I’m committed to helping us find hopeful ways forward. I’m proud of the upstream solutions I’ve advocated for, including three grants to get kids learning outside and a bill to ensure nature-based pre-school is an option for more kids in our state. I’ve seen the relief and happiness that comes with learning in the sun, or more likely in the Northwest, in the puddles! As I mentioned above, I’ll be championing efforts to ensure resources for children to learn outside and to improve children’s mental health across the board.

SC: Please write a headline you would like to see over a news story in the Salish Current during or at the end of this coming legislative session.

Rule: “Legislators listen to constituents from across the state and put their words into action”

Rep. Sharon Shewmake, 42nd District

Sharon Shewmake
Sharon Shewmake

Salish Current: The district has experienced heat domes and flooding attributed to climate change. We can’t do everything but what is your top priority this session to address any one of these areas — heat waves, flooding or climate change.

Rep. Shewmake: Resiliency needs to become more than a nice-to-have but a must-have. We saw this with the heat waves, with flooding, with climate and with supply chain disruptions from COVID. A comprehensive policy to better protect Whatcom County from future floods is one of my top priorities. My role as a state legislator will be to work with other elected officials to secure funding and make sure Whatcom County has the resources it needs to keep both upstream and downstream communities safe.

That is on top of the work I will continue to do to address building a resilient economy and the fundamental problem of reducing our carbon emissions and encourage innovation for a green economy. Because of strong advocacy and legislation passed last session, Washington state has the strongest carbon policy in the nation. We have a comprehensive price on carbon, as well as programs to decarbonize our electric grid, our transportation system and buildings. But there is still work to do, because for the last 300 years of industrialization we have been operating under the assumption that it’s OK to release unlimited amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. We need to start thinking about things like incentivizing sequestering carbon in forest, agricultural lands and our aquatic lands as well as coming up with more nimble ways to manage our big energy intensive systems, like our electricity grid.

This year, I’m working on three big policies:

  1. An incentive program for agriculture to enter carbon markets or invest in energy efficiency
  2. Improvements to our community solar programs so that low-income individuals can benefit from solar energy
  3. Support for the conservation of kelp and eelgrass to sequester carbon and restore habitats.

Some of my work is aimed at making it easier for more people to contribute to the green economy — like farmers, who are already doing much of this work. Other work is geared at adapting to the climate change that we’ve already seen in flooding and heat waves — like solar and storage projects which can build resilience in rural communities by creating places that have power even when the rest of the grid is down. It’s too late to only think about reducing emissions; we must also think about adaptation now. But as long as we work together and work quickly, we can build economics and communities that sustain each other and the planet.

SC: The Nooksack River water allocation issue has entered the adjudication process but what role legislatively do you see playing in resolving allocation issues in the watershed?

Shewmake: When it comes to Nooksack River water allocation, we need to look at new sources of water and how to incentivize innovative projects. This could be a combination of forestry practices that create more flow on the Nooksack, as well as water storage which can reduce flood risks while also storing water for the dry months. Knowing who has what water rights will create economic opportunities for projects like these, as well as greater certainty about the value of the benefits they produce.

SC: The district has suffered through nearly two years of the COVID pandemic. We can’t do everything but what is your top priority to address economic relief and recovery?

Shewmake: Last session, we voted for both immediate assistance through almost $300 million in grants to small businesses and $500 million in unemployment insurance tax rate cuts as well as the upstream solutions of lowering the cost of child care, expanding paid family and medical leave, and investing hundreds of millions of dollars to build better broadband. This session, we will continue to develop short and long-term solutions to ensure we recover together. However, we know the pandemic has hit some harder than others, so we must tailor our policy solutions to uplift those who face more barriers to recover. One thing that keeps coming up again and again is the need for more mental health resources. The 988 numbers will be online in 2022 and that will help, but we still know we don’t have enough therapists or access to those in crisis. When someone is in a mental health crisis they can’t go to work, they can barely go to school, and neither can the family members or others that are supporting them.

SC: What other legislative priority will you be working on for your district this session?

Shewmake: We need to work on affordable housing by allowing for more missing middle housing to be built. We need to reform the Long-Term Care Trust Act to make sure that we all have a helpful chunk of change to help us retire and age more comfortably, and make changes to our police reform bills to ensure they actually rebuild trust, boost accountability and keep us all safe. Lastly, we need to invest more in mental health to support all Washingtonians and I’m glad to have Rep. Rule, a social worker and mental health professional, as my seatmate and strong voice for mental health. 

SC: Please write a headline you would like to see over a news story in the Salish Current during or at the end of this coming legislative session.

Shewmake: “Washington state legislature and British Columbia allocate millions for flood mitigation package that will dramatically reduce flood risks to all communities along the Nooksack River and in British Columbia”

Rep. Alex Ramel, 40th District

Rep. Alex Ramel
Alex Ramel

Salish Current: The state ferry system has equipment and personnel problems. What is a top priority for you to work on this session to address improvements to the system?

Rep. Ramel: We have to solve multiple problems simultaneously. The workforce shortage we’re experiencing must be addressed by improving the competitiveness of jobs with Washington State Ferries, especially the scheduling system that makes it difficult for those with low seniority to start a career. This will steadily improve reliability in the near term, but that’s not enough. Right now, we’re cutting sailing because there aren’t enough workers; but without sustained investment, in a few years we could be cutting sailings because there aren’t enough ferries. We have to make sure that the next multi-year transportation investment package prioritizes new ferry construction at a pace faster than pending vessel retirements, about one new vessel every 18 months. This will improve not only reliability, but because the new vessels will be hybrid electric, the operating costs will be lower, we’ll make a major improvement in vessel emissions for air quality and climate, and we’ll reduce noise in the sound for the orcas.

SC: The district has experienced heat domes and flooding attributed to climate change. We can’t do everything but what is your top priority this session to address any one of these areas — heat waves, flooding or climate change.

Ramel: This year, I’m especially focused on reducing pollution from burning fossil fuels in buildings. Buildings are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution, and it’s the largest sector that’s still growing. With that in mind, I’ve worked through the summer and fall to develop a package of bills that will work together to advance real solutions in existing buildings, new buildings, electric utilities and gas utilities. By steadily switching more and more of our fossil fuel energy use to clean, efficient, electric sources, we can reduce emissions while expanding a reliable, clean electric grid. Making the transition steady and gradual is also key to minimizing the impacts and maximizing the benefits for the workforce, for small businesses and low-income energy users. 

SC: The district has suffered through nearly two years of the COVID pandemic. We can’t do everything but what is your top priority to address economic relief and recovery?

Ramel: A top priority must be looking out for the care workers who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic from day one: healthcare workers, child care workers and eldercare workers. Folks in these fields are exhausted. They are leaving their jobs faster than they can be replaced. And despite how essential we all know these jobs are, they are often overlooked and underappreciated. We need to make sure their compensation matches how much we appreciate their service. We need to make sure that there’s a training pipeline to fill the vacancies. And, we have to expand the public health response to slow and overcome the pandemic that impacts these workers even more than the rest of us — that means continuing to vaccinate and boost everyone eligible in Washington, and continued contact tracing, masking, and social distancing.

SC: What other legislative priority will you be working on for your district this session?

Ramel: The pandemic has only made our housing crisis more acute. We need more homes people can afford, and that match the incomes in our communities.

For most of us, housing is the biggest line item in our budgets. So when housing prices rise, making ends meet gets much harder. And for those truly struggling, a $100 increase in rent may push them over the line into homelessness. I’ll be especially focused this year on expanding community land trusts around Washington state and expanding our investments in the Housing Trust Fund. Community land trusts are a fantastic solution that help families and individuals who don’t have a big down payment buy a home and keep it affordable permanently. Our Housing Trust Fund is how the state invests in supportive housing, shelters and community organizations that build housing like the local housing authorities and the Opportunity Council. We need to ramp these investments up. 

SC: Please write a headline you would like to see over a news story in the Salish Current during or at the end of this coming legislative session.

Ramel: “Washington Legislature passes supplemental budget with historic investments in housing, transportation, workforce and climate”

Sen. Liz Lovelett, 40th District

Sen. Liz Lovelett
Liz Lovelett

Salish Current: The state ferry system has equipment and personnel problems. What is a top priority for you to work on this session to address improvements to the system?

Lovelett: The issues facing Washington State Ferries are multifaceted and will require many different approaches to find solutions. I stand committed with my 40th District seatmates in solving both the short- and long-term issues. My priority for the session will be to work with our labor partners to modernize WSF’s hiring, retention and recruitment practices, which will help with staffing shortages and service disruptions. For the long term, I will work with our transportation leaders to fully fund our budget proposal- significantly increasing funding for WSF to deliver new vessels on biennial basis, electrify the fleet and modernize our terminals with onshore charging capabilities.

SC: The district has experienced heat domes and flooding attributed to climate change. We can’t do everything but what is your top priority this session to address any one of these areas — heat waves, flooding or climate change.

Lovelett: This session, I remain committed to meaningful action to address the climate crisis. Several bills that I will be introducing will aid in mitigating climate change. The first will remediate and help to restore habitat in nearshore areas, and support the cultivation of kelp and eelgrass, which are both major carbon sinks. Additionally, I will work to pass a bill that focuses on removing derelict vessels from the Salish Sea to prevent spewing toxins and waste into our waters. Another bill — Residential Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resilience (R-PACER) — will provide opportunities for homeowners to improve the efficiency of their homes, and promote pathways towards energy independence while simultaneously bringing down their energy costs. Lastly, I will look to introduce legislation that will support the offshore wind industry to unleash the promise of this renewable energy source and bring innovation and good-paying green jobs here to the Evergreen State. 

SC: The district has suffered through nearly two years of the COVID pandemic. We can’t do everything but what is your top priority to address economic relief and recovery?

Lovelett: My top priority is to continue to provide meaningful investments to those who are most adversely affected by the pandemic. That includes modernizing the way people access social services and streamlining the coordination between state agencies. With a budget proviso to fund integrated technologies, we can increase capacity to access state resources and deliver for people by providing one universal application to address multiple needs.

To complement last year’s historic investments in housing, homelessness and rental assistance, I will continue to champion expanding access and funding to support people struggling in our communities, especially our seniors and working families. Additionally, our middle class is hurting, and I will be introducing a bill to increase the personal property tax exemption for small businesses to support these crucial drivers of our economy and give them much needed relief. As always, I will keep fighting to fix our upside-down tax code and push for the wealthiest Washingtonians to pay their fair share and reduce the tax burden on working people.

SC: What other legislative priority will you be working on for your district this session?

Lovelett: My top priority for the upcoming session is securing funding and resources for our ferry system to ensure all our residents can travel freely throughout the district. After all, this is our state’s marine highway and residents, particularly out on the San Juan Islands, rely on this vital service. The importance of improving and maintaining the ferry system cannot be overstated. As the Senate chair of the Ferry Caucus, this will remain my main priority until we are successful in securing the significant increase in funding needed to keep our ferry system functioning the way it should. 

SC: Please write a headline you would like to see over a news story in the Salish Current during or at the end of this coming legislative session.

Lovelett: “Washington legislature approves historic investments in Washington State Ferries”

Rep. Debra Lekanoff, 40th District

Salish Current had not received a response from Rep. Lekanoff by publication time.

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