Hello Loyal Readers,
As promised, I’m going to be providing coverage of our representatives in Olympia this legislative session. Last year, I had a fantastic inside source who handled my Olympia beat but alas, he is no longer dictating blog posts in darkened parking garages, so you will have to rely on my not-quite-as-insider view.
The big story this year is the Republican takeover of the state Senate. I explained what happened here, but basically a couple Democratic turncoats decided to put the Republicans in charge of half our legislature. They still have to negotiate with a Democratic house and Democratic governor, but for the first time in many years they get to pass their legislative agenda . . . even if it dies before it hits the governor’s desk.
For the last decade, Doug Ericksen has legislated from the minority. He was first elected into the Republican state house majority in 1998 but they quickly loss control of the body and by 2002, he was back in the minority. Which seemed to suit his rather flashy political style quite well. He could rail against “snobby Bellingham liberals” or cozy up to Glenn Beck’s rather extreme think tank, but he would never have to actually get any laws passed since he was in the minority.
For example in the last two years, he was the primary sponsor for fifteen bills. Precisely one of those bills actually got signed into law and only after it had been heavily amended. What was this epic piece of legislation that took all of Ericksen’s skill and prowess to get passed? Changing the maximum vehicle length on highways from 40 ft. to 42 ft. Yes. I’m serious. By comparison, when former Rep Kelli Linville (D) was in the minority, she was the primary sponsor for fifty bills and got eight of them signed into law. When former Sen. Dale Brandland (R) was in the minority in 2005-2006, he introduced eighteen bills and got six signed into law. So Ericksen has not been a particularly effective legislator so far.
But this year, in the majority, Ericksen finally has a chance to show us what he’s got. He has decided to hit the ground running by sponsoring six bills. What are these ideas he has been holding on to for so long? Let’s take a look:
SB 5003 – Transportation Projects. As far as ideas go, this one isn’t too bad. Basically, if a city wants to fix a bridge, they sell some bonds to fund it. Those sales are taxed, so why should the construction of the bridge itself be taxed as well? It wouldn’t be my top legislative priority, but encouraging investment in infrastructure isn’t a bad idea. What else has he got?
SB 5004 – Restricting gubernatorial appointment. This is in response to last year’s sneaky political move. After the state Senate’s tense battle of marriage equality that came down to just a few votes, Gov. Gregoire decided to tip the scales by offering one of the popular moderate Republicans, Cheryl Pflug, a plum administrative job. She took the job, which created an open seat, which turned into one of the state’s hottest races. When the dust had settled, Democrat Mark Mullet had won. This bill would prevent the governor from appointing a legislator to certain boards and commissions within thirty days of the election filing deadline. Absurdly specific? Yup.
A fun bit of trivia, Mullet’s campaign was managed by former Dan Pike campaign manager Isabel Vanderslice, who has since returned to town to work for the Non-GMO Project. Pike was supported by many local environmentalists whose main goal has been to bring the county into compliance with the Growth Management Act. What was the plum administrative job that Cheryl Pflug took? A seat on the Growth Management Hearings Board. Did I just blow your mind? I think so.
SB 5032 – Rural electricity tax credits. This is a rather technically complex piece of legislation but the gist of it is that it extends tax credits to rural utility districts to continue making upgrades. The tax credits were going to expire, Ericksen is trying to keep them in place a few more years.
SB 5052 – More Superior court judges. This bi-partisan bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Ranker (D) and Ericksen, would increase the number of Whatcom County Superior Court judges. I know the Whatcom County judicial system has a serious case backlog and this seems to be an attempt to fix that.
Okay, at this point you are saying, “This isn’t so bad. What’s Riley so concerned about?” Believe me, the last two are worth the wait.
SB 5005 – Concerning Fiscal Relief. This bill would allow any city or county that is taking in less revenue than the previous year to raid earmarked funds coming in from the state. State money for hiring new police officers? Up for grabs. Funds coming in for women’s reproductive health services? Let’s take those first. This is a conservative politician’s dream legislation. In one fell swoop, Ericksen can defund Planned Parenthood, environmental energy projects and social services on a state-wide level by giving local politicians the keys to the treasury. All these mayors or county executives would have to do is cut property taxes, and then say, “Look, we aren’t taking in enough money to cover our general fund! Let’s take these flood insurance dollars, I’m sure Ferndale will never miss them.”
SB 5012 – Citizenship and Driver’s Licenses. This one would require anyone obtaining or renewing their driver’s license to prove their U.S. citizenship, and all that information would be immediately shared with immigration and any relevant social services. Right now, all you need to do to get a driver’s license is prove residence, provide insurance and pass the test because we want to ensure that we keep track of all drivers on the road. This reactionary anti-immigrant bill would discourage undocumented workers from getting driver’s licenses, leading to more unlicensed (and untraceable) drivers. Bad news my friends.
Well that is it so far. I will continue to follow these bills and the work of our other five representatives in Olympia over the next couple of months. Stay tuned!