Monthly Updates From Legislators Is a New Chamber Member Benefit

Lawmakers Discuss Crime, Taxes and Other Issues During the Chamber of Commerce’s First Legislative Update Forum


The Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce held its first Legislative Update Forum for its members on Tuesday.

The forum, held over Zoom, was attended by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, and Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia.

Abbarno worked with the chamber to launch the legislative updates, which are scheduled to occur on a monthly basis as a benefit for being a member of the chamber. During the first forum, each legislator spoke briefly with attendees having a chance to ask questions at the end.

Orcutt was the first to speak and mainly discussed issues related to crime and taxes.

“There were some fixes to the 2021 law enforcement bills, I call them anti-law enforcement bills, but the fixes were not enough,” Orcutt said.

Orcutt added he believes the Legislature needs “to fix” the Washington Supreme Court’s 2021 Blake decision that ruled the state’s drug possession law was unconstitutional. He also discussed what he believes is a “need” for solutions on the issue of catalytic converter theft, mentioning 19th District Sen. Jeff Wilson’s bill on the issue. Orcutt opposes changes to gun possession laws that would change the sentences for being convicted of gun charges from being consecutive to being concurrent.

On the issue of taxes, Orcutt told the forum attendees about potential changes to the state business and occupation tax. According to Orcutt, the proposed changes are “looking more like an income tax.” He also said he is concerned because tax reform would have to be revenue neutral which could result in “raising taxes on somebody to lower taxes on somebody else.”

Abbarno was the second lawmaker to speak at the forum. He discussed his time on various committees and task forces in the Legislature, particularly the Legislature’s paid family leave task force.

According to Abbarno, there had been negotiations on the issue of paid leave which consists of two sides, medical leave and family leave. Discussing the issue of long term care, Abbarno said he called the current program a “short term care program,” which he is working to replace with a private solution.

Abbarno emphasized his work on the House Capital Budget Committee.

“My focus on the Capital Budget is always to work on infrastructure so we can create jobs and build affordable housing,” Abbarno said.

Abbarno discussed “Zach’s Law,” his bill to prevent cold water drownings. He argued the bill was an “inexpensive fix” that wasn’t able to make it to the House floor this year because of the short legislative session. The law is named after Zack Rager, a local teen who drowned in the Chehalis River in 2021. It would require state government agencies and local governments to erect signs addressing drowning hazards.

Braun told chamber members the top issue during the upcoming legislative session will be affordability and inflation. Braun also mentioned the importance of public safety, which he argued would “take years” to get back on track, and education, arguing helping children with COVID-19 pandemic related learning loss is a major priority.

Braun spoke about issues related to the budget, discussing what he described as record surpluses during the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent trend of revenues coming in below projections. Braun also mentioned challenges related to Medicaid rates as well as potential tax increases.

“We’ve already faced significant taxes over the last few years and adding to that would be an absolute disaster,” Braun said.

After Braun finished speaking, Harry Bhagwandin, a candidate for Lewis County commissioner, asked about property tax exemptions for seniors. Orcutt, who serves as the ranking Republican member on the House Finance Committee, responded to the question by explaining current state law on property tax exemptions.

According to Orcutt, property tax exemptions are based on the median income of a county and are adjusted every five years.

“It doesn’t take much of a raise in Social Security to kick people out of the program,” Orcutt said.

Braun added the current property tax exemption laws are a disadvantage for rural counties.

Another question addressed the source of rising tax revenue for the state government.

“We took in a lot more revenue than we expected,” Orcutt said. “Part of the increase in revenues we’ve been seeing are from inflation.”

According to Orcutt, other sources of higher revenue have been property taxes and real estate excise taxes. As real estate prices have increased, property tax bills have increased and the taxes associated with purchasing property have risen.

As the meeting came to a close, Braun added that as taxes rise Washington state could look more like California when it comes to taxation.   

The 2023 legislative session begins on Monday, Jan. 9.

Chamber of Commerce members interested in attending future legislative updates should contact Executive Director Cynthia Mudge by emailing for a Zoom link.