Author Archives: kimberlywirtz

Senate Republicans to all of Washington: We hear you

By kimberlywirtz | Published on January 08, 2020

Voter frustration with high-handed response to I-976 carries over to legislative agenda 

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OLYMPIA – Senate Republicans say they share the frustrations of Washington voters with a political establishment that has done all it can to thwart their vote last November to reduce car-tab taxes, and they are responding with an agenda for the 2020 legislative session that responds directly to their discontent.

The 2020 Legislature opens Monday in Olympia for a scheduled 60-day session.

In last year’s general election, Washington voters approved Initiative 976 by margins that exceeded 70 percent in some counties, slashing license-tab renewal fees to $30 statewide. The governor’s response was to halt road projects unaffected by the vote, while political leaders in Seattle and King County have sued to overturn the initiative, claiming a ballot title written by the state’s attorney general misrepresented the measure.

Adding insult to injury, statewide-elected school superintendent Chris Reykdal tweeted, “If certain counties want transportation taxes cut, then they don’t get the projects.”

Outraged voters have flooded lawmakers’ offices with complaints. Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler says the furor illustrates a pervasive lack of trust and confidence in state and local government. Voters’ suspicions that their voices do not matter appear to have been confirmed.

“As well-intentioned as government can be, it can alienate people if it always acts as if it knows better than the people,” said Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “You can’t run the entire state as if it all fits in the Puget Sound region, and you can’t run the Puget Sound region like it’s the rest of Washington. You also can’t ignore or insult the people because their will makes your job more challenging. We hear our constituents loud and clear, and we know that what they want to see is a legislature that acts as if they work for the people – all the people.”

The people have been disheartened by the dismissal of their decision, said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Randi Becker, R-Olympia.

“What I hear a lot right now is that people feel like government doesn’t really care about their wishes – that what they want doesn’t matter,” Becker said. “They feel attacked and belittled. That’s a problem we are addressing by proposing a whole host of bills designed to do right by Washingtonians across the state,” Becker said. “We have a lot of great legislation that can really make a difference for everyone, while also keeping an eye on the state’s bottom line.”

In addition to bills that would implement the people’s will on I-976, Senate Republicans have introduced or are planning legislation to deal with the public’s top policy priorities, including mental health, homelessness, affordable housing and public safety.

Meanwhile, one element of the Senate Republican Caucus agenda requires no legislation, The caucus is creating an internal Tax Watchdog Committee to monitor efforts to raise taxes, as well as decisions that could force tax increases in the future.  Senate Republicans maintain spending should be kept in check in anticipation of an economic downturn, to ensure taxation remains stable and reasonable, and to head off efforts to spend the state’s ‘rainy day fund’ for anything less than a genuine emergency.

Schoesler explained, “The rainy-day fund is meant to shore up the state’s budget in a recession and to help cover the cost of disaster response, like after an earthquake or a heavy wildfire season. Other needs, while certainly serious, don’t justify tapping into a fund that, while growing, is still far short of what would be needed to keep the state afloat in an economic downturn. And tugging at people’s heartstrings to get access to the state’s emergency fund is just wrong.”

Areas to be examined by the committee include spending for homelessness programs. For several years, Republicans have called for an audit of the organizations that receive state funds to provide shelter and services to the homeless population in what some refer to as the ‘billion-dollar housing industrial complex.’ Recently, the former Pierce County Housing Authority finance director was discovered to have stolen roughly $7 million in taxpayer money that should have gone toward homelessness response.

“We really need to get a handle on where money is already going, how it’s being spent and what kind of results we’re getting because mismanagement of the taxpayers’ money could be one reason why homelessness is getting worse,” said Schoesler. “That’s our responsibility to taxpayers and those who depend on services.”

The Tax Watchdog Committee will consist of the following members of the Senate Republican Caucus:

  • Sen. Randi Becker (2nd LD)
  • Sen. John Braun (20th LD)
  • Sen. Steve O’Ban (28th LD)
  • Sen. Phil Fortunato (31st LD)

Three of the committee members represent areas that were targeted with exorbitant car-tab fees for Sound Transit’s ST3 project. Sen. O’Ban, R-Pierce County, led the charge for three years for legislation that would have revised the valuation method for car-tabs, while warning that the failure to pass meaningful legislation could result in a citizen initiative that the Legislature would regret.

“When your message to people who are upset about car tabs for three years is to ‘just deal with it,’ they will do exactly that,” Becker said. “With I-976, they definitely dealt with it. Now it’s the Legislature’s duty to deal with it, and to make it work. This year, the Senate Republican Caucus will make it clear through legislation that we are listening and responding to the people of the state. And with our Tax Watchdog Committee, we’re saying: ‘We hear you. We’re listening. We’ve got your backs.’”

 

 

O’Ban: Early returns on I-976 send strong message to Sound Transit

By kimberlywirtz | Published on November 06, 2019

Car-tab relief legislation could have satisfied voters before they turned to initiative process

 

OLYMPIASen. Steve O’Ban issued the following statement regarding the early returns on Initiative-976, which lowers car-tab fees statewide to $30.

For the past three years, Sen. O’Ban, R-Pierce County, has led the effort to bring car-tab relief to the counties that were subjected to the exorbitant fees levied on behalf of the Sound Transit’s ST3 light rail project. During that time, O’Ban warned his colleagues in the Legislature that if they didn’t do their job, voters would take action through the initiative process. He predicted such a response would result in a bigger impact to state revenue than the 55-percent cut to the Sound Transit portion of car-tabs in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties that his legislation would have done.

“The early election results showing passage of I-976 send a very strong message to Sound Transit. Car-tab fees are too high. People can’t afford them and they are angry no one has been listening to their calls for relief.

“My bill would have cut the Sound Transit portion of the car-tab fees by 55 percent. I-976 will have a much larger impact since it applies statewide and cuts all car-tab fees. This could have been avoided.

“It was the legislature’s job to show leadership. I warned my colleagues in the legislature for three years that the voters would step up to lower the fees if the Legislature ignored them. And they have done exactly that.”

As of this morning, election results show that I-976 is passing by an 11-point margin statewide. Results also show the margin is even larger in Pierce County (35 points) and Snohomish County (23 points).

Schoesler welcomes new Senator from 10th Legislative District

By kimberlywirtz | Published on October 21, 2019

OLYMPIA…Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, released the following statement welcoming Ron Muzzall, R- to the Senate as the new senator from the 10th Legislative District.

 

The 10th District includes all of Island County, as well as part of northwest Snohomish County and southwest Skagit County. The seat became available when Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, retired at the end of September.

 

“The new Senator has an impressive and admirable record of public service. Fire and rescue, business, agriculture, county governance…all experience that make Ron Muzzall a valuable addition to the Senate Republican Caucus. His wealth of experience and willingness to learn will benefit all of us and the 10th District.

 

“Time and again, Ron has looked for ways he could serve his community in a deeper way than many — through various industry associations, county boards and committees. That kind of ‘boots-on-the-ground’ experience will really benefit him in working with other legislators and stakeholders at the state level. He may be new to the Senate, but he’s got know-how that’ll be an asset to his constituents who will continue to have a strong voice in the state Legislature.

 

“Agriculture is a tough business, but it’s critical to Washington state and the world food supply. As a farmer, business owner and leader in the agricultural community, Ron has certainly adapted to the changing landscape of agribusiness. Likely his education at Washington State University, a land-grant university, was key in that. I’m a fifth-generation farmer myself, and I couldn’t be happier to welcome him to the Senate – especially since he’s a third-generation Coug. We’ll do whatever we can to make sure he hits the ground running in Olympia.”

 

Ron Muzzall’s biography:

 

Ron Muzzall a fourth-generation resident of Whidbey Island is a husband, father, grandfather and farmer. After graduating from Washington State University (the third generation to do so) he returned with his wife Shelly to farm with his parents. From the beginning he became involved in industry associations as well as county boards and committees. He was involved in North Whidbey Fire and Rescue for twenty years. He served as firefighter, officer and 11 years as fire commissioner. He has served on committees for the Darigold and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. He served 15 years on the board of Skagit Farmers Supply, 5 years as chairman. He served 8 years on the corporate board of Land O’Lakes cooperative where he served on governance, board performance, audit and political action committees. He is the managing partner at 3 Sisters Family Farm. Ron, his wife Shelly and two daughters, Jennifer and Roshel own and operate their family’s grass fed beef and lamb, barley fed hogs and free range eggs and fryers for 3 Sisters Market and other grocery stores on Whidbey. A lifelong member of Oak Harbor Lutheran Church he currently serves on council as president.

Senate Republican leadership: Illegal veto sets dangerous precedent, must not be allowed to stand

By kimberlywirtz | Published on August 29, 2019

OLYMPIA…Senate Republican leadership issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit announced by the Washington State Legislature against Gov. Jay Inslee for an illegal veto of six single-sentence provisions in the state’s 2019-21 transportation budget (House Bill 1160).

 

The Senate Facilities & Operations Committee, along with the House Executive Rules Committee, voted unanimously to file suit against Inslee to challenge these single-sentence vetoes.

 

“The state constitution provides the executive branch with the power to veto sections of legislation or specific appropriation items. It does not give the governor the power to veto individual sentences. The text of the statement isn’t the issue. It’s the fact that the governor can’t be allowed to overstep his constitutional authority. This is why we have separate branches of the government. If this is allowed to stand, it would further damage the dwindling trust the legislature has in the governor.” – Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

 

“The legislative process is undermined when the executive branch decides on its own to ignore the constitution and legal precedent. These constitutional provisions exist to protect the integrity of the process. As legislators, we have a responsibility to check and balance the governor’s misstep.” – Senate Republican Caucus Chair Randi Becker, R-Olympia.

 

The Washington State Legislature has twice filed suit against the executive branch. It sued Gov. Mike Lowry in 1997 and Gov. Gary Locke in 1999. In the case against Lowry, the justices included in their opinion, “We do not believe an ‘appropriations item’ may be a sentence, phrase, letter, digit, or anything less than a whole proviso.”

Supreme Court accepts O’Ban amicus brief in Sound Transit case

By kimberlywirtz | Published on August 07, 2019

OLYMPIA…The Supreme Court notified Sen. Steve O’Ban that it has accepted an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief filed by O’Ban and Sen. Mike Padden in a class-action lawsuit against Sound Transit.

 

The brief adds to the information that will be considered by the Court in Black v. Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, which contends that Sound Transit has been unconstitutionally overcharging taxpayers in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties since the passage of ST3 in 2016.

 

O’Ban, R-Pierce County, and Padden, R-Spokane Valley, led a 2017 Senate investigation into Sound Transit and how it acquired its $54-billion taxing authority. As a result of the investigation, O’Ban has repeatedly sponsored legislation to restructure the valuation system for car-tab fees and to hold Sound Transit accountable for the inflated fees that are based on Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price of a vehicles and not actual cash value.

 

The brief argues that the statue authorizing Sound Transit to seek additional motor-vehicle excise taxes violated Article II, section 37 of the state Constitution. It also notes that Sound Transit could come back to the Legislature with a lawful and fairer approach to determining vehicle values and tab fees.

 

“I’m pleased that the Court accepted the brief,” said O’Ban, whose constituents rejected the ST3 project but are being hit hard by inflated car-tab fees. “The unconstitutional nature of the ST3 revenue scheme needs to be fixed. Taxpayers need car-tab relief. Sound Transit should be held accountable for its actions. And public trust needs to be restored.”

Becker telemedicine bills pass House, move forward for governor’s signature

By kimberlywirtz | Published on April 08, 2019

OLYMPIA…Sen. Randi Becker’s fight to improve access to health care through telemedicine got a boost when the Washington State House of Representatives passed two of her bills, which means that they now go to the governor for a signature so they can become law.

 

Senate Bill 5386 aims to develop more consistency in training standards for those providing telemedicine services.

 

Senate Bill 5387 would allow a hospital where a telemedicine visit is occurring to rely on the telemedicine credentials of a physician from a distant hospital.

 

“I’m so pleased that the House recognizes the importance of telemedicine and passed this legislation unanimously, as did the Senate,” said Becker, R-Olympia. “These bills are two pieces of the bigger effort to make health-care as accessible as possible.”

 

“It’s a challenge for people who live in areas to get adequate health and mental health care where there isn’t easy access to care providers, particularly specialists. This includes many of my constituents because there isn’t a hospital in my district. The last thing you want to do when you are sick or suffering from mental illness is travel hours to see someone qualified to treat you. Telemedicine closes that distance and allows the health care system to do a better job making patients well.

 

“Demand is very high for telemedicine and has the potential to save $6 billion a year in health care costs for insurance companies. In fact, 93 percent of patients who have used telemedicine say it lowered their health care costs,” said Becker. “We should be doing everything we can to expand services and improve access.”

Statement: Sen. Mark Schoesler on today’s World Trade Organization ruling regarding Washington State subsidies for Boeing

By kimberlywirtz | Published on March 28, 2019

OLYMPIA…Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, offered the following statement in response to the ruling issued by the World Trade Organization that the tax breaks Washington State provided to Boeing unfairly benefited the company against its competitors.

“The WTO previously ruled that Airbus benefited from $22 billion in illegal subsidies. Today, the WTO ruled that Boeing benefited from $100 million in subsidies, meaning that the WTO has ruled that Airbus benefited from subsidies at a 220-1 rate. 

“We should not overreact to this ruling. We should not do anything to harm the competitiveness of the aerospace industry in Washington State. Aerospace is a vitally important employer to an enormous number of hard-working Washingtonians. It’s essential to our local economy.

“If we just drop the manufacturing business and occupation rate for all manufacturers to the aerospace rate, we could address the WTO’s concern and create a terrific jobs environment for all manufacturers in the state. We proposed this very solution previously, which the Legislature passed with bipartisan support. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee.”

Senate Republicans warn bill to move up state primary would undo 25 years of campaign finance reform

By kimberlywirtz | Published on February 28, 2019

Senate Bill 5270 a step backward to the dark days of campaigns sullying Legislative ethics

 

OLYMPIA…A bill sponsored by Senate Democrats to move the state primary election to earlier in the year reminds many at the Capitol of the dark days when campaigns and Legislative ethics were blatantly ignored, leading to scandal and sweeping changes to ethics rules.

Senate Bill 5270 would move the state primary election to the third Tuesday in May, which moves the candidate-filing period to the fourth Monday in February. In doing so, it extends the length of the campaign season, prolonging the time campaign signs are posted and campaign mailers are clogging up mailboxes.

It also opens up members of the Legislature to solicit and accept money from some stakeholders while still voting on bills affecting those stakeholders.

“This bill creates the potential for a conflict of interest. A Legislator could accept a contribution from a member of an organization in a house across the street from the Capitol and then walk back to Senate chambers and vote to pass a bill that directly affects that organization,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Randi Becker, R-Olympia.

“We’ve come a long way in separating campaign work from Legislative work. Let’s not move backward,” said Becker.

“Does no one remember 1992 when some were setting up phone banks in their offices and money was changing hands for votes? The Legislative ethics rules that resulted from scandal were a leap forward in enforcing the strict line between campaigns and legislative work. This bill would destroy that in one stroke,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

“We’re already seeing some Senate Democrats facilitating the illegal use of state resources by Emerge Washington — an orgnization whose purpose is to recruit and train political candidates. Emerge was even honored on the Senate floor, which is entirely inappropriate and resulted in two ethics complaints against their members,” said Schoesler. “The Democrats already think they can do whatever they want. This bill would embolden them even further.”

SB 5270 would also end what is referred to as the “campaign freeze,” which is the time during the legislative session when those members who will be up for re-election are prohibited from sending out e-newsletters and mailers so legislative communications won’t be confused with campaign messaging.

SB 5270 passed out of the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee and is likely to be voted on by the Senate.

State resources illegally used for Democrat campaign training, says Schoesler

By kimberlywirtz | Published on February 25, 2019

Demands in letter to Democrat leader campaign group’s reservations be canceled

OLYMPIA…It is illegal for state resources to be used for campaign purposes, including training, but that is what Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville says is happening at the Legislative Building in Olympia this session. Schoesler sent a letter to Sen. Democrat Leader Billig calling attention to the issue and demanding that the reservations be canceled.

Emerge Washington, which bills itself as an organization dedicated to recruiting and training women to run for Democrat political offices, has twice used state meeting space on the Legislative campus from Feb. 23 – 24. The group is scheduled to use state facilities a third time today, Feb. 25.

“This is not only highly inappropriate and unethical, it is illegal,” said Schoesler. “Campaign activity of any kind, including training future political candidates, is strictly prohibited under state law. It does not matter that they are not running for office yet. It is campaign activity.

“Those training to run for public office should not start their careers learning how to use facilities paid for with taxpayer dollars in order to advance their political careers.”

The reservation bookings were made by staff from the offices of Sen. Claire Wilson and Sen. Sam Hunt. The reservations also violate Washington state legislative ethics rules.

Wilson also discussed the activities of Emerge Washington during a point of personal privilege when she introduced the group on the Senate Floor on Feb. 25, which is a violation of Senate Rule 33.

 

RCW 42.52.180

Use of public resources for political campaigns.

(1) No state officer or state employee may use or authorize the use of facilities of an agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of a person to an office or for the promotion of or opposition to a ballot proposition. Knowing acquiescence by a person with authority to direct, control, or influence the actions of the state officer or state employee using public resources in violation of this section constitutes a violation of this section. Facilities of an agency include, but are not limited to, use of stationery, postage, machines, and equipment, use of state employees of the agency during working hours, vehicles, office space, publications of the agency, and clientele lists of persons served by the agency.

(2) This section shall not apply to the following activities:

(a) Action taken at an open public meeting by members of an elected legislative body to express a collective decision, or to actually vote upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance, or to support or oppose a ballot proposition as long as (i) required notice of the meeting includes the title and number of the ballot proposition, and (ii) members of the legislative body or members of the public are afforded an approximately equal opportunity for the expression of an opposing view;

(b) A statement by an elected official in support of or in opposition to any ballot proposition at an open press conference or in response to a specific inquiry. For the purposes of this subsection, it is not a violation of this section for an elected official to respond to an inquiry regarding a ballot proposition, to make incidental remarks concerning a ballot proposition in an official communication, or otherwise comment on a ballot proposition without an actual, measurable expenditure of public funds. The ethics boards shall adopt by rule a definition of measurable expenditure;

(c) The maintenance of official legislative web sites throughout the year, regardless of pending elections. The web sites may contain any discretionary material which was also specifically prepared for the legislator in the course of his or her duties as a legislator, including newsletters and press releases. The official legislative web sites of legislators seeking reelection or election to any office shall not be altered, other than during a special legislative session, beginning on the first day of the declaration of candidacy filing period specified in RCW 29A.24.050 through the date of certification of the general election of the election year. The web site shall not be used for campaign purposes;

(d) Activities that are part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency; and

(e) De minimis use of public facilities by statewide elected officials and legislators incidental to the preparation or delivery of permissible communications, including written and verbal communications initiated by them of their views on ballot propositions that foreseeably may affect a matter that falls within their constitutional or statutory responsibilities.

(3) As to state officers and employees, this section operates to the exclusion of RCW 42.17A.555.

[ 2017 c 7 § 2; 2011 c 60 § 30; 2010 c 185 § 1; 1995 c 397 § 30; 1994 c 154 § 118.]

 

 

Senate Rule 33.

Any senator may rise to a question of privilege and explain a personal matter by leave of the president, but shall not discuss any pending question in such explanations, nor shall any question of personal privilege permit any senator to introduce any person or persons in the galleries. The president upon notice received may acknowledge the presence of any distinguished person or persons.

A question of privilege shall involve only subject matter which affects the particular senator personally and in a manner unique and peculiar to that senator.

 

Inslee nominee to Housing Finance Commission convicted of domestic violence

By kimberlywirtz | Published on February 14, 2019

Senate Democrats unanimously pass nomination out of committee despite knowing nominee lied about his record

OLYMPIA…Senate Republican leadership issued the following statement in response to a unanimous vote by Senate Democrats in the Senate Housing Stability and Affordability Committee to pass Noe Castillo’s gubernatorial nomination out of committee, despite a conviction for domestic violence and a second conviction for assault.

Castillo, nominated by Gov. Inslee for a spot on the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, only disclosed one of his assault convictions to the Public Disclosure Commission. Upon discovering the additional conviction and the inaccuracy on his application to the governor’s office, the chair of the Senate Housing Stability and Affordability Committee was notified. The only action taken was the unanimous Democrat vote for Mr. Castillo’s nomination to proceed.

“I have zero tolerance for someone who abuses his wife,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “Even though the chair of the committee was told of Mr. Castillo’s omission and the nature of his crime, the committee continued with the confirmation process. Absolutely unacceptable. His rap sheet and his deception should automatically disqualify him from a gubernatorial nomination. And I’m even more disappointed in the governor for his poor judgment.”

Mr. Castillo’s record was discovered upon review of his Washington State Patrol WATCH Rapsheet, which details two convictions for assault-4. The first was in 2001. The second was in 2005. It was the second conviction where the victim was Castillo’s wife and the nature of the assault was ‘domestic violence.’ According to police records, Castillo was given a year in jail, a year of community supervision and a $500 fine. The court also ordered him to have no contact with his wife.

However, on his application to the governor, Mr. Castillo only lists one assault conviction.

“If public officials are held to a higher standard, so too are the governor’s nominees for positions like a seat on the Housing Finance Commission,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Randi Becker, R-Olympia. “His nomination should have been withdrawn the second the domestic violence conviction came to light. How can the governor and the Senate Democrats claim to fight for women and victims when they elevate convicted abusers to higher office?”