20th District Lawmakers Detail Their Legislative Game Plans for Upcoming Session

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The 2022 Washington state legislative session is set to begin on Jan. 10. The 60-day “short” session will again be conducted with modifications related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local lawmakers across the board expressed concerns over the modified procedure, which will now be in place for a second session.

The Reflector, sister newspaper of The Chronicle, reached out to local legislators ahead of the session’s start to see what they would do to address the pandemic, as lawmakers also detailed their other priorities during a budgeting year.

 

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia

Committees and leadership positions: Senate Republican Leader, Ways and Means, Labor and Commerce.

Key priorities in 2022: What I’m hearing from people in Clark County generally matches the concerns of their neighbors in other parts of the 20th District, and it all mirrors what the members of the Senate Republican Caucus are being told by their constituents around the state. People feel less safe, and less able to keep up with the cost of living, and have less trust that state government truly cares about their interests. If you look at what came out of the 2021 legislative session and actions taken by the governor’s office and certain agencies in the past two years, it’s not hard to understand why our constituents feel like they do. That’s why the Senate Republican priorities are to reestablish public safety, restore affordability, and rebuild public trust. I don’t think anyone can argue with those goals.

How has COVID-19 changed your procedure? The people of Washington have been living under a state of emergency longer than anyone else in our country. It’ll be past 680 days by the time the 2022 session starts, with no end in sight. State law doesn’t allow the Legislature to end the state of emergency, but during the upcoming session, we will have opportunities to respond to the pandemic through legislation, as we did in 2021 with bills to help businesses reopen and get children back into school.  The “usual” approach to lawmaking is some distance off because the Senate administration is restricting the public’s access to the legislative process again in 2022, almost as severely as it did in 2021. It’s amazing that people can shop and gather elsewhere in Olympia but will again be locked out of Senate and House committee hearings, even though we all know about taking precautions, and in spite of so many people being vaccinated and boosted. This is one of the most obvious examples of how government has broken the public’s trust and the place to start rebuilding that trust is by reforming the state emergency powers law.

Outside of COVID-19, what should be addressed by 2022 legislation? The first thing the Legislature should do is repeal the big new payroll tax tied to the controversial long term care program. That should have happened before the new tax kicked in Jan. 1, but the governor and the majority side have been slow to even admit the program is seriously flawed. Republicans wanted to hit “pause” before the tax collection began, but we were alone on that.

Dealing with the payroll tax is only one example of how Republicans want to restore affordability. We’re also looking at property tax relief and addressing the cost of energy. I and other Republican senators have also proposed a way to afford new transportation projects without new taxes, but our colleagues in the majority seem stuck in old thinking.

Another priority is reform of the majority’s new restrictions on law enforcement that have clearly backfired. Those errors need to be addressed, along with the efforts to decriminalize hard drugs. This is what it means when Republicans say we want to reestablish public safety.

Legislative boundary redistricting: The new boundaries of the 20th District will take in more of Clark County. I’m looking forward to engaging with more people in this area.

 

Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia

Position 1

Committees/leadership positions: Assistant Ranking Member for Capital Budget, Civil Rights and Judiciary, Environment and Energy, House Republican Caucus representative on the Office of Civil Legal Aid Oversight Committee and Statute Law Committee.

Key priorities in 2022: Several 2022 priorities for legislation include repealing the long term care payroll tax with House Bill 1594, helping military families and businesses with House Bill 1677 that expands B&O tax credits for businesses hiring military members and their spouses, raising awareness for cold water shock drownings with “Zack’s Law” through House Bill 1595, and several bills that address infrastructure improvements. A good portion of the legislative session will also be spent on the capital budget bill that invests in many communities throughout Southwest Washington.

How has COVID-19 changed your procedure? COVID-19 and the state’s response has magnified many issues in our community, including lack of housing inventory, inadequate behavioral health investments, disparity in education funding, poverty, etc. My focus for the upcoming session remains the same as the last session, which is to help my colleagues understand that the best solutions are local. One-size fits all, cookie cutter programs don’t work. My focus will remain on working with local leaders on solutions for their unique issues that also reflect their values. Last year was my first year in the Legislature serving the 20th Legislative District. The 2021 Legislative Session was virtual despite my first vote last year in opposition to a virtual session. The 2022 session will again be virtual. I still believe the session can be conducted safely with all members present and I will continue to support a more open and transparent process with all members present. The governor has monopolized government for too long. There is an inherent checks and balances built in the Washington State Constitution that has been ignored and abdicated by the legislative majority. In 2021, I voted several times, unsuccessfully, for the House and Senate to regain its authority granted by the constitution. I will again advocate and vote for the Legislature to end and reform the executive emergency powers.

Outside of COVID-19, what should be addressed by 2022 legislation? I agree with 63% of Washington voters who opposed the long term payroll tax program when it was passed in 2019. I believe the long term care payroll tax and program must be repealed with HB 1594. “Fixes” to the program address concerns but do not address the program’s solvency.

In 2021, the legislative majorities passed numerous “police reform” bills that make our communities less safe. There appears to be more bills on the agenda, such as recently introduced House Bill 1692, that reduces the penalties for drive-by shooting murders. I believe we need to reverse the dangerous trend to defund and disarm police, support victims of crimes, invest in law enforcement, and bring back fairness and accountability to our judicial system.

The state of Washington needs greater investment in coordinated infrastructure. As a former Centralia city councilmember, I recognize the importance of a “dig once” philosophy to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life in communities. On the House Capital Budget Committee, I will again emphasize the need for our state to focus on water, wastewater, electrical grid security and stability, and broadband. Before the state can build above ground, it must plan better and ensure communities are prepared for smart and effective growth.

Legislative boundary redistricting: I was elected to serve my community in the 20th Legislative District. The movement of district lines has not changed my approach to issues and my commitment to the residents of Southwest Washington.

 

Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama

Position 2

Committees/leadership positions: Finance, ranking minority member, Transportation, Rural Economic Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee member, Executive Committee member

Key priorities in 2022: Tax relief, specifically, property tax relief. Restoring order, reversing poorly crafted legislation restricting police officers’ ability to apprehend those committing crimes in our communities. Also, to provide for the safety of first responders and crisis care teams when responding to those in crisis. Repealing tax increases such as capital gains income tax and the tax on employees’ income via the long term care insurance mandate. Protecting personal freedoms and constitutional rights. Protecting jobs and the employers who provide those jobs.

How has COVID-19 changed your procedure? Most of my policy objectives are unchanged from previous years. I oppose tax increases, protect citizens’ rights, provide for public safety, and want to keep businesses open and employees working, quality and accountability in education, and working to make government accountable to the citizens. The limits on in-person meetings with constituents and fellow legislators has had a negative effect on legislating and led to poorer policy outcomes for the citizens of our state. Changes in House procedures result in only a minor improvement over last year’s procedures and likely will still result in policy falling short of truly serving the citizens we represent.

We need to restore employment for those terminated by the governor’s mandates, finding or developing ways for them to participate in the workplace while keeping them, their co-workers, and the public safe from COVID-19.

Outside of COVID-19, what should be addressed by 2022 legislation? Reducing property taxes, restoring order and community safety, repealing recently passed taxes, protecting personal freedoms and constitutional rights, protecting jobs and those who provide jobs.

Legislative boundary redistricting: There is no shift for me. I have remained engaged with officials in some of the areas which will again be part of my district. Ridgefield and La Center were in my district before I was redistricted out of the 18th in 2013. Furthermore, I have worked with legislative colleagues from Clark County to address a variety of issues affecting citizens in Clark County and I intend to continue that work.