Author Archives: kimberlywirtz

Senate Republicans Announce 2019 Leadership

By kimberlywirtz | Published on November 17, 2018

OLYMPIA…The Washington State Senate Republican Caucus announces its 2019 leadership, which it elected today:


Leader:   Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville

Caucus Chair:   Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville

Floor Leader:   Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy

Whip:   Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center

Deputy Leader:   Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick

Caucus Vice Chair:   Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake

Deputy Floor Leader:   Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee

Deputy Whip:   Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor

Families across Washington win with deal on water-rights, capital budget

By kimberlywirtz | Published on January 19, 2018

OLYMPIA…Marking the end of long and arduous negotiations, the Legislature today passed a bipartisan, bicameral solution to the Hirst water-rights decision, clearing the way for families to get permits to dig household wells and gain access to water. It also passed a capital budget worth more than $4 billion, including the bonds necessary to pay for it.


“This was a heavy lift. The Hirst fix and the capital budget affect thousands of Washington jobs and billions of dollars for Washington’s economy,” said Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “Families across our state deserve access to water and they deserve the projects in the capital budget. We were able to give them both.”


Substitute Senate Bill 6091, referred to as the “Hirst Fix,” passed the Senate 35-14 and the House 66-30, and now heads to the governor’s office to be signed into law.


“Everyone worked some very late nights to come to the compromise we passed tonight,” explained Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, caucus chair. “The expectations in this legislation are reasonable and I’m thankful for the legislators who stood up for the people of Washington. This is a win for Washington’s families.”


The new legislation:


  • Authorizes the use of new wells throughout the state – some new conditions may apply depending on the watershed.


  • Clarifies the relationship between local permitting authorities and the Department of Ecology to help provide for greater certainty for permit applicants going forward.


  • Establishes local planning committees to recommend stream-enhancement projects and other local standards in certain watersheds.


  • Creates a task force to make recommendations about finding ways to make water available for growth in municipalities and authorizes some pilot projects that will allow water rights to be granted


The capital budget for the 2017-19 biennium, worth $4.2 billion, passed the Senate unanimously and the House 95-1. Substitute Senate Bill 6090, includes more than $1 billion for K-12 school construction, renovation and modernization.


SSB 6090 also provides $300 million for the implementation of the fix for the Hirst decision and funds other Republican priorities such as mental health, clean water programs, and health care facilities. It also includes $860 million in appropriations for higher-education.


The bond bill, HB 1080, which is necessary to fund the capital budget, also passed both the House and the Senate, which also now awaits the governor’s signature.




Four times during the 2017 Legislative Session, the Senate passed a fix for the highly contentious Hirst court decision that gave responsibility for granting water rights on household wells to counties rather than the Department of Ecology. Since the counties were not prepared to handle the task, some stopped giving building permits that would have required a well for water access.


As a result, many families saw the value of their land plummet and lost everything as they waited in vain for a permit. Republicans recognized the effect the Hirst decision was having on suburban and rural families statewide and wanted a solution before voting on the capital budget, especially because hundreds of millions of dollars were earmarked in the capital budget for a Hirst fix. It had to be “Hirst first.”


Democrats in the House of Representatives ignored the problem at first and later refused to allow a vote on the legislation in their chamber. Only after Republicans announced they would not pass the bonds for a capital budget until a Hirst solution was signed by the governor did the House Democrats give the issue the attention it required.


Negotiations continued into the 2018 Legislative Session, which started Jan. 8.


Senate Republican Caucus announces 2018 committee appointments

By kimberlywirtz | Published on November 28, 2017

 The Senate Republican Caucus today announced its appointments to the 2018 Senate committees.


“Our members are anxious to get the session started and will continue to serve everyone in Washington with dedication and integrity,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.


“I’m always proud and impressed by their level of commitment when tackling important issues. The 2018 legislative session will be no different.”


Senators are listed with the ranking member first and then in alphabetical order. Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, continues to caucus with the Senate Republicans and is included below.


  • Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks: Judy Warnick and Sen. Jim Honeyford
  • Economic Development & Trade: Sharon Brown and the successor in 39th Legislative District
  • Early Learning & K-12 Education: Hans Zeiger, Sen. Brad Hawkins, Sen. Mike Padden and Sen. Ann Rivers
  • Energy, Environment, Technology: Doug Ericksen, Sen. Sharon Brown, Sen. Brad Hawkins and Sen. Tim Sheldon
  • Financial Institutions & Insurance: Jan Angel, Sen. Michael Baumgartner and Sen. Phil Fortunato
  • Health & Long Term Care: Ann Rivers, Sen. Barbara Bailey, Sen. Randi Becker and Sen. Joe Fain
  • Higher Education & Workforce Development: Brad Hawkins, Sen. Doug Ericksen, Sen. Mark Miloscia and Sen. Shelly Short
  • Human Services & Corrections: Steve O’Ban, Sen. Mark Miloscia and Sen. Maureen Walsh
  • Labor & Commerce: Michael Baumgartner, Sen. John Braun, Sen. Curtis King and Sen. Lynda Wilson
  • Law & Justice: Mike Padden, Sen. Jan Angel and Sen. Lynda Wilson
  • Local Government: Shelly Short and Sen. Jan Angel
  • State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections: Mark Miloscia and Sen. Hans Zeiger
  • Transportation: Curtis King, Sen. Phil Fortunato, Sen. Steve O’Ban, Sen. Tim Sheldon, Sen. Maureen Walsh and Sen. Hans Zeiger
  • Ways & Means: John Braun, Sen. Jim Honeyford, Sen. Barbara Bailey, Sen. Randi Becker, Sen. Sharon Brown, Sen. Joe Fain, Sen. Ann Rivers, Sen. Mark Schoesler, Sen. Judy Warnick and the successor in the 39th Legislative District
  • Rules: Mark Schoesler, Sen. Barbara Bailey, Sen. Randi Becker, Sen. Joe Fain, Sen. Curtis King and Sen. Tim Sheldon



The 2018 leadership team for the Senate Republican Caucus is:


  • Leader: Sen. Mark Schoesler
  • Deputy Leader: Sen. Sharon Brown
  • Caucus Chair: Sen. Randi Becker
  • Vice Caucus Chair: Sen. Judy Warnick
  • Floor Leader: Sen. Joe Fain
  • Assistant Floor Leader: Sen. Brad Hawkins
  • Whip: Sen. Barbara Bailey
  • Assistant Whip: Sen. Maureen Walsh




Bipartisan coalition returns to roots as ‘Senate Republican Caucus’

By kimberlywirtz | Published on November 15, 2017

The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus today returned to being the Senate Republican Caucus, although it remains bipartisan.


Five years ago the 23-member Senate Republican Caucus and two Democrat senators joined to take the majority in the Senate. They took the Majority Coalition Caucus name to reflect the new bipartisan collaboration.


Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, is still a member of the caucus and supports its return to the previous caucus name.


“I’m not going anywhere,” said Sheldon. “I am still a strong Democrat, but I also remain committed to the work we are doing in our caucus like protecting taxpayers and promoting jobs, education and a responsible budget.


“People around Washington, especially out on the coast and east of the mountains, need to feel that someone in Olympia is looking out for them – someone who realizes that policies that are a priority in Seattle aren’t necessarily good for all of Washington.


“The other members of the SRC respect my opinion and my feedback and I think Olympia needs more of that bipartisanship.”


The change in control of the Senate resulting from the Nov. 8 election of a Democrat senator in the 45th Legislative District prompted the name change, but the shift in the balance of power is not dampening the mood in the SRC.


“I’ve been bucked off a horse before,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “You just get back on and ride it out.


“Majorities change hands and, in the meantime, families in Washington should guard their wallets.” Schoesler will continue as the caucus leader.


During its tenure the MCC made historic achievements. These include:


  • Funding education first in the budget
  • Levy reform
  • Maintaining a 4-year balanced budget, as required by law
  • Making a fourth DUI a felony
  • Expanding access to higher education through the Real HOPE Act
  • Reducing in-state resident tuition at the state’s higher education institutions
  • Prioritizing the needs of disabled Washingtonians with the VIP Act
  • Writing the two most bipartisan operating budgets in the past 60-70 years
  • Passing a $16 billion transportation budget
  • Building up and protecting the “Rainy Day Fund” to protect Washington in the event of an economic downturn



Addressing ‘unconscionable’ agency actions that threaten public safety

By kimberlywirtz | Published on February 16, 2017

My bill advocates stricter oversight for ‘unconscionable’ agency actions

The effectiveness of court-ordered drug and alcohol counseling for those convicted of driving under the influence has been compromised by the mismanagement of complaints and the settlement process for license violations by those trusted to hold counseling providers accountable.

I have responded with Senate Bill 5705, which would require stricter oversight of the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery within the state Department of Social and Health Services. DBHR is responsible for licensing, inspecting and certifying behavioral-health providers who manage outpatient drug and alcohol services.

SB 5705 was heard yesterday and was passed out of committee. I expect to see it moved to the Senate floor soon.

Evidence uncovered about this issue, referred to by an ongoing King-TV investigation as ‘Sobriety for Sale,’ shows that counseling providers solicited bribes from patients in the court-ordered drug and alcohol program. In exchange, providers reportedly falsified such documents as attendance records and urinalysis results. When DBHR received complaints about the activity, it conducted inspections that found, in many cases, many similar violations. On several occasions the agency, with the help of an assistant attorney general, entered into settlements that reduced the number of violations and the amount of the penalties, creating the appearance that the providers’ actions were not as serious or as widespread as they actually were.

I am dumbfounded that DBHR would look the other way and settle cases where there was clear evidence of license violations and illegal conduct. DBHR’s willingness to ignore criminal behavior is unconscionable.

Some patients who failed to comply with the recovery program’s requirements were reported to be in compliance, meaning people with serious substance abuse issues who were not adequately treated are driving despite DUI convictions.

I am most concerned about the patients in the drug and alcohol programs and the safety of the public. Are people getting the help they really need so they don’t continue to drive under the influence or are they being manipulated and turned back out on the street as a threat to the safety of everyone else?

SB 5705 would implement oversight of settlement agreements between DBHR and counseling providers by prohibiting settlements intended to reduce the number of violations in order to avoid litigation. Any proposed reductions would need to be substantiated by evidence showing compliance with a DBHR corrective-action plan and would need to sufficiently justify the request to reduce the violations.

The bill would also require DBHR to submit an annual report to the Legislature with a detailed overview of each settlement agreement and a copy of the actual agreement, including background information detailing the provider’s violations so that lawmakers have the context in which to evaluate the settlements.

The integrity of our behavioral-health system and our criminal justice system is at stake. Failure to oversee the settlements of these cases creates an environment that tolerates egregious behavior that is, at best, unethical and, at worst, criminal. We need to rein it in and follow the trail as high as it goes.

SB 5705 would go one step further by prohibiting “sham transfers,” which is when the owner of a counseling agency sells the agency to a family member to avoid liability. Family transfers will no longer reset the violation count and help “bad actor” providers avoid liability.

In its current form, this bill is just the beginning. We are adding more teeth to it because there is too much at stake and the citizens of Washington deserve better from their executive branch, including the Office of the Attorney General.

Leadership role provides new opportunities

In my first e-newsletter this session I talked about how I had been elected as Majority Caucus Chair and I explained how this new role would expand my knowledge of the legislative process and give me opportunities to serve my district and the state of Washington even better.

Recently, I attended a meeting between our caucus leadership and the governor. He asked about our ongoing work on mental health issues, which is a policy area of particular interest to me. I was able to share the intent behind several Senate bills on mental health introduced by my caucus. It was a productive meeting where I felt the governor gained a deeper understanding of bills he will likely need to sign soon.

It’s opportunities such as this that give me not only a stronger voice in the legislative process, but also more insight into how my colleagues and I can build stronger relationships with the governor and the senators across the aisle so that we can enact laws that protect Washington’s future.

Ruth Dowies third grade class at Fort Stevens Elementary School in Yelm, Washington.

Education Equality Act Update

The governor’s budget office recently stated that the Education Equality Act, which is our plan to fully fund education, ensures that every district receives more money. While the plan adjusts for inequities statewide, all of Washington’s children would benefit. Stay tuned for further updates!

Watch my video on the Education Equality Act.