As I alluded to in my Friday Odds and Ends (Whatcom’s number one weekly column not named “The Gristle“!), I spoke with Rep. Jeff Morris recently about his efforts this legislative session. Although he is quite busy, he took a few minutes to talk to me about his priorities this year and his thoughts on Gov. Inslee, the Republican-controlled Senate and local politicians.
Rep. Morris, who has been representing the 40th legislative district for seventeen years, has seen just about everything in the state legislature. He has held roles in leadership, chaired committees, lived through legislative successes and failures. You would expect someone like that to acquire a certain level of biting cynicism, but Rep. Morris seems free of that sort of bitterness and instead buries himself in the details of policy. Within two minutes of being on the phone, he has already flooded me with the details of alternative energy tax credits.
“There are two or three key bills I’m working on. Two of them are big, complex pieces of legislation dealing with cost recovery credit for renewables. There’s a certain amount of streamlining to do when it comes to how energy companies interact with our incentives for renewable energy. For instance, we have a fund of thirty million dollars earmarked for solar panels – only one million has been utilized so far, and we’re one of the top ten states for solar panel adoptions. I’m restructuring the system so that there will be more incentives to get solar panels on the ground.” He pauses for a moment and admits sheepishly, “It’s really boring.”
But wading through these sort of legislative brambles on green energy is what Rep. Morris does. “I’ve been restructuring the statewide standards for the small solar systems so that they can be approved and built, as opposed to eighty-five cities developing their own standards and citizens having to navigate different sets of rules.” You can find his sponsored legislation here.
Morris also took time to praise the Inslee administration, noting that Gov. Inslee has been very engaged with the legislature for his first session. He also praised his choice of staff. “Inslee has been very deliberative with his appointment process, he is selecting people he wants as opposed to who is available. There is a delay, but the good part is that he is getting people he wants for the job.”
This year the big question is potential conflict with the Republican-controlled Senate (for a simple explanation of what happened, read this). I asked Morris which area of public policy would be affected most by the GOP takeover. He thought for a moment, “That’s a good question. This is the first time there has been an organized minority-majority, there has been lots of times where control has been fought back and forth, usually in the last couple of weeks of session, but this is a bit more formalized.” He lamented that the Republicans are pushing “a lot of the message bills – bills that put an agenda out. The worker’s compensation bill, which is a lot of reforms that do draconian things to our worker’s comp, or bills that blast the state for being ‘too bureaucratic’.”
However, Morris is not too concerned about the situation. “Most of the people in the House aren’t worried about the Senate until more than halfway through the session. When they start dealing with social issues, that majority falls apart, so there might be a more day-to-day majority as the session stretches on, as opposed to being so organized.”
Aside from green energy, Morris touted a handful of local priorities that he is working on. “I am focused on getting money for the third ferry that is crucial for the San Juan’s, the speaker adopted my approach to funding the ferry but I have a back-up bill in place in case the funding gets cut from the transportation package.”
He also highlighted his efforts to secure funding for Western Washington University. “Western has a relatively low cost per student and a high graduation rate, which means that in the funding department, they get penalized for their efficiency I’ve made some moves to try to equalize that.”
Finally, Morris praised some of the new local leaders. “Kelli Linville is doing a great job in Bellingham and is a pleasure to work with. Mt. Vernon has a new mayor (Jill Boudreau), which has led to a much better relationship there.”
Session will be wrapping up by the end of March and finishing by mid-April. The only legislator’s I have not featured yet are Rep. Overstreet and Buys, and I will be covering them this week and next week respectively.