Fizzle on drug bill could force Legislature to return for special session
Note: The following e-newsletter was sent to Sen. Chris Gildon’s subscribers May 1, 2023. To subscribe to Sen. Gildon’s e-newsletters, click here.
Dear friends and neighbors,
Our 2023 legislative session ended April 23 after 105 days in Olympia. This year we saw major debates on public safety issues, and bipartisan successes on the budget and housing policy. Unfortunately, a big job was left undone – an urgent fix to our state’s drug laws – and the Legislature could be called back for a special legislative session to cover it. In this e-newsletter, let me tell you about what happened this year.
Bipartisanship builds a better budget – One good-news story out of the Legislature this year is the way Republicans and Democrats worked together to shape this year’s $70 billion operating budget. It was the first time in more than a decade that minority party members have been part of the full budget process. As assistant ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I was part of the painstaking work that goes into budgeting line-by-line. While the budget reflected the majoirty’s goals, it was the most responsible plan we have seen in the last six sessions, avoiding tax increases and big run-ups in spending, and leaving a healthy reserve in case of downturns.
Prisoner re-entry and rehabilitation – Two items in the operating budget are personal touches, reflecting my interest in ensuring that felons released from prison do not return to a life of crime. The budget includes $2.4 million to implement a bill I passed requiring substance abuse evaluation and treatment for prisoners due for future release. This bill, Senate Bill 5502, awaits the governor’s signature. Another $282,000 will be spent on a state study to determine the effectiveness of various rehabilitation programs offered by the state Department of Corrections. This will show us which programs work and which ones to curtail.
Housing policy – This was another of the year’s success stories, as members of both parties worked to alleviate the state’s shortage of affordable housing. As a member of the Senate Housing Committee, I worked across the aisle to pass laws that will streamline permit processes and increase high density development. Another new law will make it easier for homeowners to develop accessory dwelling units on their property, and reduce the burdens of the state’s land-use planning law on smaller cities. Unfortunately, other legislation enacted this year will increase housing costs, including a bill requiring state and local land-use policies to be designed around climate change. Government regulation currently adds $128,000 to the cost of new home construction, and we’re going to have to keep working on this issue in future sessions.
Local projects – Earlier this month, I presented a list of the major local projects in the 25th District likely to be funded in the capital budget. All of them made it through – parks, trails, shelters, schoolrooms and community gathering places. The final budget adds a few more, through the teamwork of the 25th District delegation – with credit to my seatmates, Reps. Cyndy Jacobsen and Kelly Chambers. Other projects funded this year are:
• The Heritage Center at Meeker Mansion, $496,000,
• Downtown Puyallup stormwater upgrades, $696,000,
• Thun Field, emergency response meeting space, $1 million.
Public safety is session’s biggest issue
Our most difficult debates this year centered on public safety. Crime and drug abuse have exploded over the last two years, due to deliberate relaxations of state laws. This year responsible Republicans and Democrats worked together to restore public safety, but we encountered much resistance.
On police pursuit, we made a half-step toward progress. Legislation two years ago banned most police pursuits, and this year we were able to restore pursuits for most violent crimes. However, police still must stand down in non-violent crimes, such as reckless driving and car theft. I voted for this bill because a half-solution is better than none, but we will need to revisit this issue next year.
On drug policy we saw the Legislature’s biggest misfire. Drug use and overdose deaths exploded after our colleagues insisted on relaxing our laws against hard drugs to a barely enforceable misdemeanor. I joined Republicans and Democrats in the Senate this year in supporting a tough, compassionate bill giving police and prosecutors the tools they need to get addicts into treatment.
Unfortunately, Democrats in the House insisted on a weaker and less-enforceable approach. Their proposal failed on the final day of the session, with an unusual 55-43 vote in the House. Our majority colleagues will need to reach agreement quickly, because our current law expires June 30. Inaction could leave Washington state without any laws against the possession of deadly drugs like heroin or fentanyl. Republicans, meanwhile, stand ready to support enforceable laws that will get addicts the help they need.
On Second Amendment rights, we saw some of the sharpest divisions of the session. While all of us deplore violence, the emotional responses we saw this session to recent tragedies sadly do not address root causes. Bills passed this session ban the sale of certain semiautomatics and modern sporting rifles, require firearms purchasers to complete state-approved gun safety classes, and allow the attorney general to sue manufacturers and dealers when firearms are used in crime. These bills were signed into law this week, and legal challenges were immediate. This blunt legislation unfortunately will have little effect on those determined to commit acts of violence. Effective solutions will require us to consider mental and behavioral health, and our responsibility to intervene before tragedy can occur.
Thanks for reading — it is an honor serving you!
Sen. Chris Gildon, 25th Legislative District
Deputy Leader, Senate Republican Caucus
PHONE: (360) 786-7648
MAILING ADDRESS: P.O. Box 40425/ Olympia, WA 98504
LEAVE A MESSAGE ON THE LEGISLATIVE HOTLINE: 1-800-562-6000
NOTE: Written communications are subject to disclosure under the Washington Public Records Act.