The Current asked district legislators what their top three legislative or budget priorities were for the upcoming session, limiting their responses to no more than 600 words. The results:
42nd Legislative District
Sen. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham)
First, we need to be working to address substance use, addiction and the fentanyl epidemic.
I’m also working to make the water rights adjudication process run more smoothly. Adding an additional judicial position and statutory commissioner will ensure that our courts are prepared to handle this complicated process.
Finally, we need to continue to address housing affordability.
Rep. Alicia Rule (D-Blaine)
Mental health for everyone
Since I was elected to the legislature in 2020, I’ve had a clear mission to represent the most vulnerable among us — our children, youth and struggling young adults. I am proud that my tenure as your state representative has included supporting legislation to help children experiencing homelessness, get kids learning outside, support youth mental health and to be an uplifting voice to provide resources to those most affected by hardship. In 2024, my commitment in these areas will only deepen. It is my firm belief that working on youth mental health is the only way to get our kids to thrive and is the ticket for the up-and-coming generations to be successful when they leave school and enter the workforce. In schools that support mental health, it’s been shown that not only do kids feel a sense of belonging, but their test scores improve, too!
This year, I’ll be working on legislation that will create a statewide department in our public schools that implements behavioral health best practices. I’ll also continue my work in outdoor education with enhancements to my popular House Bill 1466, with a follow-up bill to support our popular outdoor learning program’s use in parks. Being outside is, in my eyes, an especially effective investment because it improves both physical and mental health.
Investing in our youth
Investing in our youth is a direct investment in our future. Last year, I introduced House Bill 1386, a piece of legislation concerning youth development grants to support mentoring, expanded learning opportunities, after-school or summer programs, and school-aged childcare. It is one of six bills of mine that will still be considered in 2024, as the Legislature works on a two-year cycle. Kids in our state who have the means are involved in a plethora of enrichment activities, but those who don’t come from advantaged backgrounds often miss out, whether it’s dance, art, sports, or music, when our kids are discovering and engaging in such activities it provides a huge level of protection from falling into criminal activity, drug addiction and future problems.
This year, I’ll be introducing two bills to foster our public schools: one is a bill to prioritize funding for libraries and another is to address school attendance issues. Washington has enrollment declines that are so significant that we’re now at a critical juncture to re-engage youth in our schools. Our students have complex needs and barriers that are contributing to their lack of attendance — it’s more than simply not wanting to go to school. It’s time we dig in and be all in to getting to the core of this issue and having kids return to school feeling safe, engaged, and connected so they can learn.
Protecting reproductive rights
I’ve heard so many stories from women who told me how they were experiencing barriers to their reproductive choices. I particularly heard from women who wanted to have a tubal litigation but were often met with questions or comments from their medical providers, such as, “Have you checked with your husband about this?” or “What if you change your mind later — you are so young.” I find this inexcusable in 2024 and will be introducing a bill that will enable women to have full bodily autonomy and know that they can be trusted with their own bodies. An additional bonus of this piece of legislation is that it will apply to both women and men. The protections offered in this bill will permit access to all kinds of contraception or surgical procedures available on the market to both genders.
Rep. Joe Timmons (D-Bellingham)
It is an honor serving the 42nd Legislative District in Olympia, and I remain committed to serving our community to the best of my ability on critical issues related to housing, education and workforce development, mental and behavioral health, as well as public safety. I serve as vice chair of the Transportation Committee, as well as on the Postsecondary Education and Workforce and Education committees. This year, the transportation committee will be working on solutions to keeping costs down on vital transportation projects (ferries, road maintenance, new highway projects) and meet our obligations for delivering projects, including correcting fish passages around the state. Below are some of the themes I am supporting in 2024.
Continuing to support seniors
Rising costs impact everyone, including working families, and I am especially concerned about rising costs on seniors dependent on fixed incomes. That’s why last year I introduced House Bill 1431 to remove sales tax on prepared meals for residents of senior living communities. I am proud that this bill passed the legislature and is now law, and in 2024 I am committed to building upon this tax relief for our seniors.
This year I’m introducing House Bill 1985, a bill to provide a cost-of-living adjustment to retired Washingtonians on Plan 1 of our state’s public employees’ retirement system (commonly known as PERS1) and Plan 1 of the teachers’ retirement system (commonly known as TRS1). By providing a 3% increase in monthly benefits for Plan 1 recipients, HB 1985 will help seniors throughout the state keep up with inflation and the rising costs of living and be better equipped to age with dignity.
Helping Washington respond to disasters
The treacherous flooding that Whatcom County experienced in late 2021 is prompting me to introduce a bill that will create a public infrastructure assistance program within the state’s Emergency Management Division. This is an important step to ensure that Washington is equipped to help communities rebuild after disasters, whether flooding, wildfires or earthquakes. Our state should assist local governments in rebuilding critical infrastructure that we depend upon so that our communities can rebuild when we don’t meet federal government thresholds through FEMA.
Preparing Whatcom County for water rights adjudication in the Nooksack watershed
Last year, my bill concerning water rights (House Bill 1792) in Whatcom County also became law and provides clarity and transparency for people filing water rights claims as part of the Department of Ecology’s adjudication process in the Nooksack watershed. In 2024, I will further my work to support Whatcom County residents in the water rights adjudication process with pre-filed House Bill 1992 and House Bill 1993. These bills, which have companion counterparts in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Shewmake, will add an additional superior court judge in Whatcom County and give proper support to water rights adjudication commissioners and referees, respectively. Our county has a backlog in judicial court cases, and together these bills will make Whatcom County more prepared for the adjudication process, making our local judicial system more efficient and helping ensure that water rights are processed in a timely manner.
40th Legislative District
Rep. Alex Ramel (D-Bellingham)
The housing crisis
In recent years, we’ve taken big steps to address the housing crisis by increasing the supply of market-rate housing, but we still have more to do. Too many people in Washington are experiencing extreme rent increases. Stabilizing rent by limiting the rent increases for existing tenants to 5% per year is one of the best things we can do to increase housing affordability and prevent homelessness.
Unfortunately, seniors, folks with disabilities and those in recovery may never be served by the private market, and we need to build more homes for these vulnerable people. By rebalancing taxes on sale of real estate, we can ask those selling the most expensive properties to pay a little more, give the overwhelming majority of people a tax break and still have a dedicated source of funding for affordable housing. Our housing crisis calls for new housing supply, stabilized rents, and more supportive housing. We’ll keep pushing to support all three strategies together.
Climate change remains one of the most pressing challenges of our time, and Washington state must continue to lead the way in implementing solutions. In the 2024 session, we will continue to make important investments in priorities like our ferry system, electrifying school buses, heat pumps, energy efficiency and transit. The Climate Commitment Act is enabling our communities to invest in renewable infrastructure, expand incentives for electric vehicles, support green job initiatives and protect natural resources. This year I hope to pass several bills to keep making climate progress. One will create a statewide program to navigate the various federal, state and local incentives for energy efficiency and electrification upgrades so that homeowner, renters and small businesses are all able to access these resources and improve their buildings. Another will encourage geothermal electricity exploration. And a third will create a path for gas utilities to begin to distributing energy through efficient, carbon-free thermal energy network, creating a cost effective way to begin to use the skills and talents in that industry’s workforce in the clean energy transition.
The supplemental transportation budget is going to be a difficult challenge this year. Inflation and workforce shortages have driven up the cost of many anticipated projects. Some expenses and projects will have to be delayed; but we know the ferries cannot wait, especially for those in the San Juans who have no way to “drive around” to get to work, to medical appointments, school or many other priorities. Because of investment in training, recruitment and employee development programs, Washington State Ferries has begun to see improvement in their workforce shortages that have been at the heart of so many canceled sailings; I hope to see this trend continue.
However, we also face a vessel shortage. This year we need to get the new vessels out to bid, select a contractor, and get new vessels under contract with one or more shipyards. We can’t solve the problem overnight, but we can’t afford to wait to get started on construction. Unfortunately, new ferries will be in competition for limited transportation funds with bridges and highways, and we need to make sure ferries are not put at the back of the line again.
Ed.: Sen. Liz Lovelett and Rep. Debra Lekanoff had not responded to Salish Current’s request by deadline.
— Compiled by Salish Current Editorial Staff