12th-District representatives Keith Goehner and Mike Steele held a virtual town meeting to reflect on which bills progressed or died in the House committee Thursday.

Constituents who reside in Chelan County, or parts of Douglas County, Snohomish County, and King County, were able to participate.

This year, lawmakers have been tasked with drafting the biennial budget, with approximately $70 billion in spending.

Steele shared that the House of Representatives will release their budget shortly after the Senate releases their budget on Monday.

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Wenatchee resident Lori Nitchals and East Wenatchee resident Jaime Krish from the Sunnyslope Church asked representatives on where they were at with securing healthcare coverage for undocumented residents.

“I saw the toll that the lack of access to affordable medical care took on individuals and families that are in our undocumented community,” Krish said. “I personally was aware of families that lost loved ones to COVID-19 because they didn't have access to health care and they didn't want to burden their families with huge medical bills.”

Steele said that they will find no other legislator more committed to access to healthcare like him and his colleague, with Goehner adding that the topic of immigration is complex.

“When we address the whole immigrant issue, we have to have a serious conversation of how are we funding, [and] to what degree,” Goehner said. “I know that some people would say everyone should be covered, and yet we know that it's the private carriers that do pick up the bulk of that financial responsibility for those that are not able to pay.”

Some residents wanted an update on HB 1333, a bill that discusses civil liberty and government overreach. Goehner responded that it died in committee.

Regarding the vehicle pursuit bill, both Steele and Goehner believe that this bill, although not restoring the previous vehicle pursuit policy, restores some authority back to law enforcement.

“Understand that law enforcement only uses this tool in the most dire of circumstances and they will back off when it is not appropriate to pursue,” Steele said. “We have to give them the flexibility to make that judgment in the moment.”

Goehner shared that the restriction on vehicle pursuits has resulted in an increase in crime.

“We have countless stories from law enforcement saying that people just drove off and they didn't have the right to pursue them,” Goehner said. “Unfortunately, we've had stories and anecdotal information, [saying] that were not pursued or weren't apprehended, they went on to offend in another way.”

When asked about the Blake case, in which Washington State Supreme Court ruled the felony drug possession law unconstitutional, representatives believe this decision created a ripple effect for law enforcement.

“What we're finding is that less people are willing to go the drug court route,” Goehner said. “It's a lose-lose in that respect where they don't get the help they need because the penalty isn't that great, so they'll just continue in the lifestyle that they've been in and it's not good for them and it's not good for society.”

Although both legislators support increasing funding for special education, Steele said that initiative has had difficulty getting included into the final budget.

“It's really sad to see these kids begging the legislature to fully fund what should be a basic priority of K-12 education,” Steele said. “We're working on it, but we just cannot seem to get the traction that is necessary to get that over the hump and included in the final budget.”

On the discussion of housing issues, Goehner says there are a few bills moving out of committee that may be radical in their methods of increasing housing availability.

“Three bills that come to mind is the lot-splitting bill that allows you to split your lot, and that did pass out of the house,” Goehner said. “We also had another bill that would allow for ADU, accessory dwelling units, in the urban growth areas of the cities, that also passed. Then we had the one other bill that basically did away with single-family zoning.”

Goehner clarified that all proposals will be controlled through the Growth Management Act, in order to ensure that they are not creating more of a problem than the one that currently exists.

“I think it's really important that we take a good look at what we're doing, how we're doing it, and make sure that we're not overburdening [or] creating more of a problem than what already exists,” Goehner said. 

The 2023 Legislative Session concludes on April 23, 2023.

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