Other Views: Republicans enter legislative session with high hopes, big plans


The 2024 special session of the Washington Legislature starts in a little over a week, and from the looks of the state Republican Party's to-do list, it'll be a busy 60 days.

GOP senators already have two dozen bills in the works, addressing various components of the party's familiar three-pronged long-term agenda: securing public safety, fighting for affordability and building a better future for children.

Since Central Washington is represented exclusively by Republicans, their plans are of particular interest around here. And a number of those plans could have direct effects on the Yakima Valley, Senate Republican Leader John Braun and House Republican Leader Drew Stokesbary told the YH-R's Editorial Board recently.

It's an ambitious agenda, but a handful of items on the list stand out.

For starters, Republican Sen. Nikki Torres of the 15th District is behind five of those pre-filed legislative proposals. Those draft bills address the multifaceted problem of underfunded and understaffed public defense services for adults and juveniles.

As we see in Yakima County and the rest of the state, however, prosecutors' offices are struggling, too. Yakima's prosecuting attorney, Joe Brusic, says his attorneys routinely juggle 140-150 cases at a time, which forces him to make hard choices about which cases to prosecute. Torres said she also plans to address the prosecutor shortages.

Whichever party it comes from, additional state funding for criminal prosecutions could provide some welcome relief — especially considering Republicans' goals of toughening penalties for fentanyl distribution, DUI, retail theft, and possessing or distributing "deep fake" pornography.

Beefed-up prosecution capabilities would also come in handy if Republicans prevail in their goal of easing recent restrictions on police pursuits.

In support of their objective to improve affordability, Braun and Stokesbary pointed to their hopes of winning some form of rebates for Washington motorists. Republicans believe drivers are overburdened by the state's 49-cent-per-gallon gas tax and the state's new cap and trade carbon tax, which has added about 50 cents to the cost of each gallon of gas.

The carbon tax has brought in more than $1.5 billion in new revenue — money that can be used to address many of the GOP's stated priorities. Republicans will face an uphill battle getting concessions from Democrats, who hold the majority in both houses in Olympia.

On the other hand, though, mention a word like "rebates" and you've likely got the immediate support of most voters.

Besides their push to shore up the juvenile justice system, Braun and Stokesbary's party is emphasizing greater support for young people with legislation aimed at improving success at school.

Among the priorities: establishing academic achievement grants to help kids overcome post-pandemic learning loss, extending the school year and clarifying parents' say in how and what their children are taught.

Like we said, it's an ambitious agenda.

Still, party leaders are clearly listening to local constituents' concerns and are preparing to respond to them.

Whether you agree with him or not, Stokesbary echoed a sentiment that will no doubt resonate with many in our area:

"Despite everything the state has going for it, we're just headed in the wrong direction," he told the YH-R.

Can Republicans change that direction? And if they do, will it improve the lives of their Central Washington constituents?

The answers will be forthcoming starting Jan. 8.