Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2018 legislative session is nearing the homestretch! Last week was devoted to committee meetings in which we heard people testify on bills passed by the House earlier this session. Last Friday was the deadline for House bills to be passed by the Senate policy committees, and vice versa for Senate bills in the House policy committees. We will spend this week on the Senate floor debating and voting on House bills that cleared the Senate’s committee hurdle.
Last week, Senate Democratic budget writers unveiled their supplemental operating budget for this year. The Senate Friday voted virtually along party lines in passing the operating budget 25-23.
The Senate’s supplemental transportation budget also was unveiled last week. It contains a number of transportation improvement and congestion-relief projects in the 26th District, along with many ferry improvement and maintenance projects. I voted for the transportation budget, which was passed by the Senate 47-1.
One unique aspect of the 2018 session is the incredibly high number of bills that have been approved by the Senate so far this year. There had been 226 Senate bills passed off the Senate floor in only the first six weeks of this year’s session. Last year, we passed 183 Senate bills – and the 2017 session lasted much longer. No doubt, we have been very busy on the Senate floor these past few weeks. Whether the high quantity of bills passed also means high quality is up for debate!
The 2018 session is scheduled to end on March 8. There is still plenty for the Legislature to do between now and adjournment. I’ll keep you updated in my next e-newsletter.
Property tax relief for 2018?
As all of you likely know by now, there was an increase in property taxes this year. Part of this is due to the Legislature passing a major education-funding/reform bill last year.
The overall increase in property taxes this year is due to other factors as well, including local voter-approved levies, county or city fees and increasing home values.
Under the new school-financing plan passed last year by the Legislature, local school-district levies for basic education will be replaced by a flat-rate state levy. When the plan is fully implemented, most Washington residents will see a property-tax reduction. (The chart above shows the projected school levy rates for the Bremerton, Peninsula and South Kitsap school districts.)
There is good news. The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council recently projected that the state will have an additional $1.3 billion in tax revenue over the next four years. This is not due to higher tax rates (which Republicans worked to keep stable during our five years leading the Senate) but to our growing state economy. This amount is on top of the $1 billion in added tax collections that were projected last fall.
This means the state has about $2.3 billion in additional revenue. That means now is the right time to provide property-tax relief – for this year.
There are proposals on the table this session that would provide reductions in 2018 property taxes, including a bipartisan bill that I am co-sponsoring, SB 6525. I will keep you updated on this incredible opportunity to provide needed property-tax relief for this year.
Why I voted for public disclosure bill
You may have read newspaper stories last week about a controversial bill, SB 6617, passed by the Legislature last week that deals with public disclosure of legislative documents. Many newspapers have written editorials opposing this proposal.
I supported this bill because I feel it is very important to provide transparency within a reasonable process. I value the confidentiality of my constituents when I am helping them on very personal issues and I will not disclose their names or information to the public. Here is historical background that helps explain why this bill was necessary.
Since the Public Records Act passed in 1972, the Legislature has consistently maintained that the Legislature is an independent branch of government, not an “agency.” We have therefore made our own rules about what documents are public. The judicial branch also takes the position that it is not subject to the Public Records Act and has adopted its own rules. About a year ago, various media organizations sued, claiming that the Public Records Act should be interpreted to cover the Legislature. Just over four weeks ago, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Lanese ruled that although the Legislature is not an agency, individual legislators’ offices are agencies and are subject to the Public Records Act.
This ruling overturns settled law from the last 45 years in this area and produces ridiculous and unworkable results. For example, I have one full-time staff person, my legislative assistant. If the judge’s opinion stood, I would have to appoint my own public records officer, adopt rules for public disclosure in my office through the Washington Administrative Code, and be available at least 30 hours a week year-round for public inspection of records. As you likely would agree, my time would be much better spent seeing constituents, working on their issues and attending meetings than devoting at least 30 hours each week to inspecting records.
By passing SB 6617, the Legislature has done exactly what Attorney General Ferguson said we should do: change the law to clarify how legislative records should be treated. The bill does not merely codify the Legislature’s current interpretation of the Public Records Act. It adds substantial new categories of records (including legislators’ calendars and letters and e-mails from lobbyists) that will be subject to public disclosure. These documents have never been public before. The Legislature will also create a new public records office and has funded several positions in the supplemental budget to staff it. I view these changes as a significant step toward more transparency, not less.
The bill does continue to protect certain categories of documents, such as constituent correspondence and the location of meetings on our calendars. I think these exceptions are balanced and appropriate. I receive several thousand e-mails each session from constituents. Many are form e-mails from advocacy groups. Should a marketing firm be allowed to do a records request to my office for everyone who has e-mailed me about a specific topic? Folks often share very personal information and seek my help in resolving their problems. These range from government benefit issues to sensitive health information to challenging family situations. If constituents knew that their correspondence could wind up on the front page of a local newspaper, I believe that it would have an extremely negative effect on citizens’ First Amendment rights to petition the government for redress of grievances. It also would hurt my ability as a legislator to serve constituents effectively by keeping their private information confidential. With respect to the location of meetings, women legislators have shared concerning stories of being stalked. That would obviously be much earlier if anyone could find our locations at particular times well in advance.
I strongly encourage you to read the bill’s intent section, which is I think a very thoughtful statement about why it is appropriate to have a statute crafted specifically for the legislative branch. http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2017-18/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/6617.E.pdf
Local students serve as Senate pages
I was proud to sponsor three 26th District teenagers as Senate pages recently. They are Ashlyn Hansen (above), an eighth-grader at Goodman Middle School in Gig Harbor, and Tess Snyder (below right) and Skylah Brinkerhoff (below left), both eighth-graders at John Sedgwick Middle School in Port Orchard. I enjoyed interacting with all three girls, and it was especially joyful to have Skylah, my granddaughter, paging for the 26th District. She led the Pledge of Allegiance on the Senate floor at one of our morning’s opening sessions. I was so proud of all these amazing young women from home.
The Senate Page Program provides a chance for Washington students to spend a week working at the Legislature. Pages deliver documents, messages and mail to offices. They also work in the Senate chamber and attend page school to learn about parliamentary procedure and the legislative process. Students also draft their own bills and engage in a mock session.
We are down to the final weeks. I will keep you posted as we proceed.
Phone: (360) 786-7650 Email: Jan.Angel@leg.wa.gov