5 New Year’s resolutions for Washington state lawmakers
A New Year is upon us! A chance to reset our priorities and commit ourselves to new goals – or recommit ourselves to old ones.
The New Year also brings a new legislative session in Olympia. As the rest of us consider our 2023 resolutions, perhaps state lawmakers would consider adopting a few of their own?
Here are some ideas to get them started.
Put aside performative politics
Look, I get it – naming a state dinosaur is a lot of fun. I love fun! I do! While no one is saying legislators can’t have fun now and then, now is not the time for needless distractions. Every minute spent on performative bills is a minute not spent tackling our state’s urgent crises – from homelessness to mental health to crime.
While I’m sure paleontologists and preschoolers alike were thrilled to see yet another proposal to make Suciasaurus rex the official dinosaur of Washington state (HB 1020), do we really need to codify that into law?
Lawmakers should commit themselves to better time management this legislative session. That means letting go of proposals that might give them warm fuzzies but do little to move our state forward.
Make good on those election-year promises
After pushing through questionable police reform policies in 2021, some Democrats had a sudden change of heart in 2022 (an election year can have that effect). Everyone from Governor Jay Inslee to Attorney General Bob Ferguson to Democrats in Olympia suddenly started caring about the crime crisis.
After staying silent on police defunding for two years, Inslee announced plans in July to help with training and recruitment of new law enforcement officers. After failing to speak out about widespread looting in the summer of 2020, Ferguson launched a retail theft task force back in June. Swing-district Democrats in close reelection contests, like State Senator Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), pledged to fix broken policies like the Blake decision, which nullified our state’s felony drug possession law.
“I look forward to finding a solution next session that certainly treats substance-use disorder like a public health crisis, but also has real accountability … so our officers are not dealing with the same folks over and over again,” Randall said at a candidate forum in September.
Curiously, now that the November election is behind us, those sentiments don’t seem to be carrying through to the New Year.
Of the nearly 200 bills pre-filed thus far, not a single proposal reflects a serious commitment from the majority party to tackle the crime crisis – or undo damage done by laws passed in 2021 (like the disastrous police pursuit policy).
It’s almost as if they were just telling voters what they wanted to hear. Imagine that.
Thankfully, it’s not too late for Democrats in Olympia to live up to their election-year promises.
Reward good behavior
The past few years have been tough for everyone. From a devastating pandemic, to rising crime, to inflation and soaring gas prices. Washingtonians have sacrificed a lot – and put up with a lot. Maybe they deserve a little break?
This year, as state lawmakers consider a budget for the next biennium, perhaps they could sneak in a little something for the taxpayers? A break in the gas tax? A little dip in the sales tax perhaps?
Considering Democrats are already pushing a proposal to raise pay for prison inmates (HB 1024), maybe we can balance that out with a bill that lets law-abiding citizens keep a little more of their money? It only seems fair.
In an interview on TVW earlier this month, Governor Inslee was pressed about why he has resisted middle-class tax cuts while other Democratic governors have put forth proposals to do just that.
“We don’t have an income tax … it’s a very different scenario,” Inslee said.
He went on to blame challenges like homelessness, which has gotten significantly worse under his leadership over the past 10 years.
“We have a homelessness crisis, and we must respond in our state to this homelessness crisis because we care about this. We are not satisfied with having squalor in our comminutes.”
You don’t say.
And finally, the governor said broad-based tax cuts aren’t palatable because they would also help the rich.
“With all due respect, our billionaires don’t need a tax cut right now in the state of Washington and when you give a general tax cut, you’re giving tax cuts to billionaires.”
Never mind that Washington has about a dozen billionaires amongst its roughly 7,500,000 residents.
Prioritize checks and balances
Now that the pandemic is behind us and the 975-day state of emergency is over, there is no remaining excuse not to take a serious look at putting reasonable checks on the governor’s emergency power.
In Washington state, the legislature is given relatively little oversight in the event we have a leader who is abusing his executive authority.
Thankfully, there is a bipartisan proposal to change that.
Senate Bill 5063, co-sponsored by Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver) and Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) would add reasonable steps to ensure legislative oversight during a time of emergency.
The bill would allow the legislature to terminate a state of emergency through a concurrent resolution or, if the legislature is not in session, leaders of the House and Senate could terminate the emergency in writing.
Both steps would require some level of bipartisan agreement that an emergency should end.
“I think if everyone is being intellectually honest with themselves, they would all support this bill,” Senator Mullet said of his Democratic colleagues. “If the shoe were on the other foot, we would want this bill in place.”
And that brings me to my final recommended New Year’s resolution for our fearless leaders in Olympia…
Reach across the aisle
‘Tis the season of goodwill!
As our state faces historic challenges, legislators from both sides would be wise to remember that the best ideas are never made in an echo chamber.
From homelessness to the environment, crime to education, 2023 is a perfect time for our lawmakers to commit themselves to working across the aisle. The aforementioned emergency power reform bill is a wonderful example of the kind of common-sense policy that can come together with a little bit of cooperation.
Besides, things are toxic enough at the national level. Washington state can and should set the bar for bipartisanship.
I can’t think of a better New Year’s resolution than that.
Brandi Kruse is a Future 42 Ambassador and host of the [un]Divided Podcast.