Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are coming to the end of the fourth week of the scheduled 105-day legislative session in Olympia. I wanted to provide this update.
A new look to the 16th District team
You may know that longtime Sen. Mike Hewitt has retired. Maureen Walsh, the senior 16th District representative, ran for and won Hewitt's Senate seat, and is now Sen. Walsh. That left an opening for her House seat which was filled by our newest member, Rep. Bill Jenkin.
Bill brings leadership experience in education, having served as president of the Prosser School Board — something that will be very important as we debate education funding and reforms this session. He also has an extensive business background in investments and viticulture. It is an honor for me to begin my eighth year in the House working with Sen. Walsh and Rep. Jenkin.
Education funding: the paramount issue of the session
In the last four years, the Legislature has provided an additional $4.6 billion for K-12 education. But under court order (McCleary decision), it still must decide this year how to end the overreliance of local levies to fund basic education.
Several days ago, Senate Republicans released an education funding reform plan. Their approach would implement a flat statewide property tax levy of $1.80 per $1,000 in assessed value, replacing the current system of varying levy rates from district to district. It would also replace the current school funding formula with a set minimum funding level of $12,500 per student. Districts whose tax base isn't big enough to reach that minimum would receive additional payments from the state to make up the difference. I'm concerned there may be winners and losers under this plan, even within our own district.
House Democrats have also come up with their own proposal that would reduce the local levy base and levy lid while having the state pick up a larger portion of the share. Their plan would rely on major tax increases, while the Senate Republican plan would provide the education funding within existing revenues. Like any plans in the Legislature, these will most likely be worked into a compromise agreement that may eventually become a hybrid from each. In any case, we are determined to address the final portion of McCleary this session.
When I first ran for state representative, one of my goals was to address problems with the state operating budget. For several years, I have served as ranking member of the House Finance Committee, which deals with tax issues that fund the state budget. This year, I was also assigned to the House Appropriations Committee, which deals with the spending side of the budget. In addition, I am once again serving on the House Technology and Economic Development Committee. This committee also addresses energy issues. I've long been an advocate for clean, sustainable baseload energy sources that supply constant low-cost power to the grid, including hydro and nuclear.
Bringing the Public Records Act into the modern world
We expect transparency in our government. Our state's Public Records Act (PRA) is an important tool to ensure this expectation is met and public officials are held accountable for their actions.
When the PRA was created in 1972, it allowed governments to charge 15 cents per photocopy page of paper records to help recover costs. However, 45 years ago, electronic records didn't exist.
We've had an evolution of technological advances since the PRA was first enacted, but the law hasn't kept up with current times and technology. As a result, there has been an explosion of electronic public records requests for free, including from “vexatious requestors” — people who have little or no legitimate interest in the records themselves, other than to force agencies to spend precious time and limited resources trying to fulfill the requests. The costs to state and local governments were more than $60 million in one year to fulfill 285,000 requests and more than $10 million from litigation fees. That's YOUR taxpayer money! These requests also gum up the system, making it harder for governments to timely respond to the other requests.
I worked through the summer with Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, citizens, open government advocates, representatives of the news media, and state and local government officials to seek a solution. As a result, we have introduced reform measures that would protect open access of public records, but reduce abusive requests.
House Bill 1595 would give agencies the authority to charge a nominal fee for electronic records for cost recovery, similar to the original law that allowed charges for paper documents. It also gives agencies the authority to deny multiple automated computer “bot” requests. Plus, it requires requests to be for specific identifiable records.
A second measure, House Bill 1594, would create a grant program to help local governments, particularly smaller agencies, pay for training to better manage records.
I encourage you to read more information about our legislation from an opinion editorial that will appear next week in some of our local newspapers. You can read it here.
You can also listen to a podcast on this issue with Rep. Joan McBride and me from SoundCloud here.
Please keep in touch!
Your involvement and input is vital to the job I do here to represent you. Please feel free to call my office any time you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and state government. My contact information is below. It is my honor to serve you!