Wenatchee Lawmaker Discusses Homeless Funding, Drugs and Criminal Justice Reforms From Olympia
State Senator Brad Hawkins (R-12 WA) has weighed in on a number of the key issues before the Washington State legislature. Lawmakers have returned to Olympia for the 105 day session for the first in-person meetings in two years because of the pandemic. Some hearings will be conducted virtually, a holdover from the COVID pandemic but a process that some constituents found helpful, especially in Eastern Washington for obvious travel considerations.
HOMELESSNESS and AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Gov. Inslee wants lawmakers to ramp up the pace of providing for housing solutions for the homeless by proposing the legislature approve $4 billion in state bonds. Hawkins agrees there are housing challenges all throughout the state, but it's not exactly the same in all areas. Western Washington and the urban areas of Seattle and other communities are really struggling with homelessness. "In in our area, we certainly have challenges with homelessness, too. But when it comes to housing, one of the main challenges we have is workforce housing" helping people afford to live where they work like the Leavenworth or Lake Chelan area. Hawkins passed a bill last legislative session to provide additional options to counties within their existing revenue streams. "And that's obviously one of the things I'd like to see"
Hawkins says he won't say no right now on the governor's proposal to raise the debt but it appears ambitious and perhaps not the right approach. The key to more affordable is to increase supply but Hawkins says it must be done with the most prudent use of taxpayer dollars.
The Governor is proposing a $70 billion budget, up from $64 billion. Hawkins says with Republican minorities in both the House and Senate, "my colleagues can talk about tax cuts, but that is not going to happen in this in this legislature". Hawkins says the goal will be to make sure that the next two year budget demonstrates the most reasonable expenditure of funds. "And hopefully we can do all of that without raising taxes. But it's not just about not raising taxes. It's also about protecting our reserve account"
Will the legislature address criminal pursuit laws that were changed in the aftermath of George Floyd protests? Hawkins says lawmakers have heard from communities and law enforcement entities all throughout the district about this issue but the legislature is approximately the same that approved those police reforms. "I voted against them. But we tried to make some adjustments last year in particular to police pursuits. But we were unsuccessful" Hawkins says any changes will be dependent on a willingness to compromise based on the feedback that they've heard from law enforcement.
The legislature must address a stopgap measure it enacted when the Blake decision in 2021 struck down felony drug possession laws. The law classifies possession as a misdemeanor and refers people into treatment before charges are filed. It expires in July so Hawkins says there will be a great deal of discussion.
"One option could be to elevate it from a simple misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor and try to add the word knowingly into the existing statute, which many people believe that would resolve the issue of the Blake decision". Hawkins concedes proving that someone knowingly possessed drugs may be a big challenge. Hawkins points to successes in Washington's therapeutic court system or drug court. That has been very effective to helping some but not all people get treatment. "I do believe we need options in the legal justice system"
Gov. Inslee said the Legislature should act on a Democrat proposed Constitutional Amendment to protect abortion. Supporters say it would strengthen abortion access that voters approved with Initiative 120 in 1991 because repealing a statute is easier than an amendment to the state constitution. Will it get the necessary votes in Olympia to come before voters for their approval?
"I think it's hard to say as especially this early on, although I think passing any constitutional amendment, through both chambers of the legislature is is a heavy lift" The Senate has 29 Democrats and 20 Republicans requiring at least 4 GOP members to join every Democrat and 7 Republicans to join all 58 Democrats in the House to reach the two-thirds (66%) majority to pass and be placed before the public for an up or down vote statewide. Hawkins does not anticipate anything changing in our state, even with the US Supreme Court's recent decision.
Listen for the KPQ Legislative Hotline live from Olympia on Thursday and Friday at 8:05am with 12th and 7th District lawmakers throughout the session