John Braun: Legislature adjourns with big wins for the people, big losses for Democrats


Four years ago, I introduced a bill to ban an income tax at any level in our state.

It was ignored.

Three years ago, Sen. Perry Dozier, the Republican senator who serves Walla Walla County and parts of Benton and Franklin counties, introduced legislation to create a parent’s bill of rights related to their child’s public education.

It received only a committee hearing and then died.

That same year, Republicans opposed the majority Democrats’ reactionary crackdown on law-enforcement pursuits of suspected criminals. In 2022, as auto thefts soared, Democrats blocked our efforts to undo the criminal-friendly restrictions. In 2023 we fought hard to get a few modest changes that still wouldn’t deter car thieves or smash-and-grabbers.

Then the people of Washington, frustrated by what they were seeing, stepped in and used their constitutional power to propose laws through the initiative process. That set the stage for what happened on March 4, when enough Democrats joined with every Republican legislator in the Senate and House to pass Initiative 2111, banning any income tax in Washington; Initiative 2081, to reinforce parental rights related to public education; and Initiative 2113, to repeal the pursuit limits that have encouraged lawlessness across our state.

In a matter of hours, on a single day, the will of the people overcame years of Democrat resistance. It was an honor to be a part of something so historic and meaningful. These new laws are great wins for the people of our state. They also line up with our priorities, which are to make life in Washington safer and more affordable, and to make the lives of our children better. Now that they are law, the initiatives will take effect on June 6.

It would have been even better if the majority party had followed Washington’s constitution and at least held public hearings on the other three initiatives. I know people who wanted to testify in favor of Initiative 2117, which would repeal the state’s costly cap-and-trade policy; Initiative 2109, to repeal the state tax on income from capital gains; and Initiative 2124, which would let Washington workers opt out of the mandatory payroll tax for the state-run long-term care program called “WA Cares.”

Republicans would have supported these measures as well, if the majority had allowed us to vote. The policies they would repeal are costing the people of Washington billions of dollars. Unfortunately, that money is very important to several powerful special interests, and the disinformation campaign about these three initiatives has already begun.

When the majority Democrats are on the wrong side of an issue, a setback for them is also a win for the people. Here are several examples from this just-concluded session. Each is important in its way.

In mid-February, Democrats in the House approved what they called a “housing stability” bill. It would have been more honest to say House Bill 2114 was about rent control. I don’t know if the supporters of this policy truly can’t grasp how and why it would reduce the supply of rental properties — or maybe they do know and think exacerbating the lack of affordable housing would pave the way for another government-housing scheme like the $4 billion boondoggle proposed by the governor in 2023.

Either way, the rent-control bill was dead two weeks later in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, after I and other Republicans on the committee put together a philosophical majority to block it. No rent control means no disincentive for rental owners, and it supports our priority on making Washington affordable.

The House Democrats also passed a bill that would allow for the retroactive resentencing of criminals who are serving a longer sentence due to crimes they committed as juveniles. That’s code for letting people out of prison sooner. Fortunately, House Bill 2065 died in the same fashion as the rent-control bill. That is in keeping with our priority on making Washington safer.

Although five out of six workers in Washington are not members of a labor union, I have no problem with workers organizing and having the right to strike over employment conditions. I and other Republicans do have a problem with the idea of allowing workers who go out on strike to collect unemployment-insurance benefits. That system should only benefit people who become unemployed through no fault or choice of their own.

We learned during the pandemic that people who essentially are paid to stay home may not be in a rush to rejoin the workforce. If the policy in House Bill 1893 were to become law, striking workers would probably not be in a rush to go to the bargaining table. That isn’t right.

The Democrats in the House pushed their bill to the Senate, where the Democrats who control the Labor and Commerce Committee moved it forward. Once again, Republicans took a strong defensive position, and HB 1893 died on the Senate voting calendar.

The big setbacks for the majority were not confined to House Democrat bills that failed in the face of Senate Republican opposition. Senate Bill 5241, which Senate Democrats pushed through as a “health care marketplace” bill, would put rural health-care facilities at risk. The bill would have let the attorney general rule whether – for example – a failing hospital could be acquired by a health-care system with a religious affiliation.

There’s a far-left agenda behind that proposed policy, as you might guess. However, thanks to a strong defense put up by our House Republican colleagues, it has been derailed at least until next year. That’s another win for the people.

While the majority got some of its priority bills through – as one would expect – Republicans fought hard and well over this 60-day session. Our record confirms the old saying that sometimes the best offense is a good defense. The people of Washington deserved better from their Legislature. They’ll decide if that happened, but I think the Republicans delivered.


Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.