Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Lawmakers passed more than 450 bills during the regular 2023 session this year, and one during the additional “special session” called by the governor to address our state’s drug possession law. This email update includes information on that new law — aka the “Blake Fix” — my thoughts on the policy debate; capital budget projects approved this session; and my bills recently signed into law.
The Blake Fix, Senate Bill 5536
Coming from across the state, lawmakers gathered a week ago to vote on just one bill: Senate Bill 5536. The bill replaces a temporary statute that was set to expire in a few weeks, on July 1, that would have left our state without a drug possession law.
Background: More than two years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled in State v. Blake that Washington’s felony drug possession statute was unconstitutional because it criminalized possession even when the accused did not knowingly have drugs. At that time, the Legislature could have immediately revised the statute; instead, they delayed by putting a temporary measure in place which dramatically lessened the criminal penalties for drug possession.
Lawmakers knew at the start of the 2023 session that addressing the state’s drug possession law was a top priority. Debate on the issue has been long and intense, primarily because so many of us have been affected personally — whether through a family member, friend, or neighbor — by the use of illegal substances.
- Read a Seattle Times article quoting my floor speech during the House floor debate on the Blake fix or watch the video here.
Unfortunately, the majority party delayed a vote on a “solution” until the final day of the regular session. That delay was costly. Senate Bill 5536 failed to pass with a vote of 43-55 just hours prior to adjournment.
- Read my opinion editorial on the original “Blake Fix” published immediately after the bill’s failure in April here.
Revised Blake Fix: Thankfully, a special 30-day session was called, and the bill was renegotiated. The new and much-improved version is far better than the original. Here’s why: it combines criminal penalties with rehabilitation services — accountability and compassion. We need both to help people break free of drug addiction and save lives.
The newly approved bill does the following:
- Crimes of knowing possession and knowing use in a public place of a controlled or counterfeit substance will now be gross misdemeanors. This is stronger than the current criminal penalties of a misdemeanor.
- Requires prosecutor consent on motions for a pretrial diversion.
- Establishes new treatment and recovery programs and services, modifying the scope of existing programs and services.
- Does not preempt local governments from enacting laws/ordinances related to the establishment or regulation of harm reduction services concerning drug paraphernalia.
- Gives law enforcement a better path to stop criminal drug behavior and help people facing addiction.
I voted yes on Senate Bill 5536. Those battling addiction have an uphill battle — but so do the communities, individuals, and families their behavior impacts. I was encouraged to see Democrats reaching across the aisle to negotiate a better outcome. Drug addiction is not partisan. Real solutions require us to work together. House and Senate Republicans took an active part in the bill’s improvements. Is the new bill perfect policy? No. It will require work in the future. But it’s a far better start than what we were presented with at the end of the regular session in April.
Read more about the Blake fix here:
- WA raises penalties for drug possession, criminalizes public use of drugs (The Seattle Times)
- Inslee signs drug policy overhaul into law (Washington State Standard)
- Washington lawmakers make drug possession a gross misdemeanor (Crosscut)
- Inslee signs drug possession bill that pairs treatment with punishment into law (The Spokesman-Review)
- WA Legislature passes drug law with modified gross misdemeanor (MyNorthwest)
The capital budget contains funding for 8th District projects. Working together as a team Sen. Matt Boehnke, Rep. April Conners, and I applied for and won significant funding for the 8th District in this year’s capital budget, with $46 million in local projects.
- Why it matters: Although the operating budget draws a great deal of attention and partisan debate, in my opinion, the capital budget is a better reflection of the priorities and thinking of lawmakers — negotiated the right way, in a productive bipartisan process. Unlike the operating budget, which depends on tax revenue, the capital budget relies primarily on bonds for the funding of projects. Those infrastructure and construction investments will fuel our local economy, improve our way of life, and help create new jobs.
Approved projects include:
- $7.5 million for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory;
- $ 6.437 million for infrastructure maintenance and repair at Columbia Basin College;
- $5.05 million for Process Water Reuse Facility in Pasco;
- $5 million for Three Rivers Behavioral Health Center in Kennewick;
- $4 million for Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Kennewick;
- $3 million for Gesa Stadium in Pasco;
- $3 million for National Guard Tri-Cities Vehicle Storage Building;
- $2.944 million for National Guard Tri-Cities Readiness Center;
- $1.25 million for the White Bluffs rail replacement;
- $1.122 million for south urban growth area water and sewer extensions in Kennewick;
- $840,000 for Pasco Clubhouse safety modernization;
- $798,000 for a Habitat for Humanity 20-home building project;
- $773,000 for B5 Community Learning Center in Kennewick;
- $750,000 for Pasco Boulevard soccer field;
- $748,000 for Military Department facilities minor works program;
- $700,000 for Department of Corrections roof replacement in Kennewick;
- $350,000 for The Richland Players community theater;
- $350,000 for the renovation and addition to The Richland Players theater building;
- $300,000 for Safe Harbor Support Center in Kennewick;
- $258,000 for Kennewick Kiwanis Playground;
- $250,000 for the MLK Jr. Resources and Technology Center in Pasco;
- $200,000 for myTRI Agricultural Innovation Center in Pasco;
- $155,000 for downtown Pasco North Plaza; and
- $54,000 for Tri-Tech Skills Center.
*The list above includes projects in the Tri-Cities area, which encompasses the 8th District and parts of Districts 9, 15, and 16. For a comprehensive list of projects included in the capital budget, click here.
Two of my bills were recently signed into law. It’s difficult for a first-year legislator to get even one bill passed. I’m thrilled that as a freshman legislator, I’ve gotten two across the finish line.
House Bill 1645 will give more people the opportunity to attend county-level meetings.
- Why it matters: Under the measure, counties may hold regular meetings outside of their county seat once per calendar month or quarter. By holding meetings in more populated areas, more people can attend. The measure goes into effect on July 23.
House Bill 1683 requires stand-alone dental plans to bring denturists into their networks.
- Why it matters: Many of the larger dental plans recognize denturists and pay them. As more managed dental plans enter the state, they are not including denturists in their networks, creating significant concerns for enrollees. A solution has been requested for several years. My bill provides a common-sense path to expanding dental access while reducing the burden of the current shortage of dental providers. The measure goes into effect on July 23.
Although the session is over, I work for you year-round. Contact me if you have questions about state-government-related policies or issues. You can also follow what is happening in Olympia with these links:
- The Ledger | A legislative news aggregator.
- Capitol Buzz – Daily news clips | Daily news clips.
- The Current | An online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans.
It is an honor to serve you!