Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Today marks the end of the fifth week of the 2022 legislative session. We have 27 days to go and a lot of things left to tackle. Before I get to legislative updates, however, I wanted to offer my deepest condolences to all who knew and loved Justin Krumbah. His senseless murder was a shock to me, as I know it was to all of you. I want to thank those of you who took the time yesterday to gather at Howard Amon Park to remember Justin and support his family. Please keep them in your prayers, as well as Mark Hill, who was shot by the perpetrator and is currently in critical condition.
While the police are still gathering details, one thing we know about the gunman is that he suffers from serious mental health issues. The Tri-City Herald editorial board put it perfectly yesterday when they wrote: “Our community needs to surround the families and friends of Krumbah and Hill with comfort and support. And then we need to work harder to ensure the Tri-Cities has the resources to help those at risk of hurting themselves and others.”
Mental and behavioral health care must become more of a priority here locally and around the state. A lot of people are in crisis and not able to get the help they need in a timely manner. That needs to change, and I am committed to doing everything I can to make sure that it does. I will work with anybody and everybody on this issue.
Town hall recap and an update on my bills
Last Monday's virtual town hall meeting was a success thanks to the strong participation we had. Rep. Klippert and I spent just over 90 minutes providing a session update and taking your questions. We tackled a lot of different topics, including tax relief, long-term care, public safety, emergency powers, and more. Hopefully we can hold an in-person town hall later this year. I'll keep you posted on that.
As far as session goes, February 3 marked policy committee cutoff and February 7 marked fiscal committee cutoff. Unless deemed necessary to implement the budget, bills that have not advanced out of their respective committees by now are considered “dead” for the session. Thankfully, two of my bills survived cutoff.
House Bill 2019, which was approved 94-2 by the House last week, is designed to grow Washington's workforce and strengthen the retail industry, which accounts for 42 percent of the state's revenue and is its third largest employer. The bill would require the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board to work with statewide retail employer organizations to identify existing gaps and then engage with stakeholders to make recommendations on:
- Strategies to develop additional courses, pathways, and apprenticeships to make retail certifications and credentials available for job seekers and current retail employees;
- Strategies to build a network for students and job seekers who complete retail certification courses to connect with potential employers;
- Options for engaging and partnering with retail employers to provide courses to incumbent frontline workers for the purpose of upskilling and promotions, including in-demand, higher paid, non-industry specific positions within the retail industry; and
- Options for increasing training and job opportunities in the retail industry for underserved communities and previously incarcerated individuals.
As we continue navigating an ever-changing landscape due to the pandemic, our focus must be on creating an economic environment that's favorable for business and job growth. House Bill 2019 would help us develop additional pathways for Washingtonians to find jobs in retail, while also developing the education and training necessary for employees to succeed and achieve greater upward mobility.
House Bill 2044 was unanimously approved by the House earlier tonight. It's focused on stopping ransomware attacks in our state. Ransomware is a unique type of malware (malicious software developed by cybercriminals) that holds data hostage in hopes of receiving a ransom payment from the breached entity. Last year, Washington businesses, agencies and other entities experienced more ransomware attacks than ever before. According to the Attorney General's 2021 Data Breach Report, which was released in November, ransomware attacks accounted for 61% of all cyberattacks (150 of 245) and more than half of all data breaches (150 of 280).
My bill would:
- Require the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to design, develop, and implement enterprise technology standards for malware and ransomware protection, backup, and recovery.
- Require the OCIO to establish a ransomware education and outreach program to educate employees of public agencies on the prevention, response, and remediation of ransomware.
- Require certain state agencies to perform an assessment of their applications and resources containing data and provide the OCIO with a confidential list of prioritized applications based on mission criticality and impact to constituents in the event of system failure or data loss.
- Require various reporting by the OCIO on information relating to mission critical applications, business essential applications, the status of immutable backups for each application, and the breadth of threat landscape.
This is a crisis that requires immediate action and effective solutions, which is why I'm glad House Bill 2044 is advancing. We must do a better job thwarting cybercriminals and safeguarding Washingtonians' personal data.
One bill I introduced this session that did not advance is House Bill 1864, the Advanced Technology Leadership and Security Act. The bill is designed to help Washington achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions future through technological innovation and research and development tax credits. If we're going to reach our greenhouse gas reduction goals and achieve net-zero climate pollution by 2050, we're going to need to speed up the innovation cycle. Starting businesses, launching strategic initiatives, and taking risks all require a strong business climate that encourages innovation and development. My bill seeks to position Washington as a leader in the clean technology sector, not through mandates, but incentives. I want to help bring the best research talent to our state, keep that talent here, and help train up the next generation of innovators, all while cutting taxes for small businesses so they can create the technology and jobs of the future. Unfortunately, this just wasn't the year for HB 1864.
Democrats shutting down Republican solutions this session
One of the biggest disappointments of session so far has been the lack of willingness by Democrats to work with Republicans to fix the major problems facing our state. These problems include:
- A homelessness crisis that has only gotten worse.
- A child care affordability and accessibility crisis.
- A bottom 10 ranking in housing affordability.
- Drug overdose deaths at an all-time high.
- Violent crime at a 25-year high.
- Heartbreaking outcomes for children in our foster care system.
- 2.7 million acres of unhealthy forests, which contribute to catastrophic wildfires.
- Significant cost overruns for transportation projects.
In my last update, I provided an overview of the bills we sponsored this session to provide tax relief and make life more affordable, strengthen public safety in our communities, hold government accountable, and empower parents. Most of these bills did not make it out of their respective committees.
Unfortunately, it appears there won't be any significant tax relief this session despite our massive budget surplus. In fact, Democrats are going in the opposite direction. The $16.8 billion transportation plan they introduced earlier this week would raise 14 licensing taxes and fees. The plan includes:
- increasing fees for an enhanced driver's license by 75%;
- increasing fees for a state identification card by 75%;
- increasing fees for vehicle license plates by 500%;
- increasing fees for motorcycle plates by 500%;
- increasing fees for a new photo for a driver's license or ID card by 100%;
- a potential 2% tax increase on heating homes with natural gas;
- a potential 2% tax increase on telephone landlines; and,
- a potential increase in the state sales tax by another tenth of a cent.
With regard to public safety, Democrats have not made it a major focal point so far. Earlier this year, Republicans unveiled the Safe Washington Plan, which contains a suite of bills focused on stopping crime, supporting law enforcement, and putting victims first. Of the following bills in the plan, only HB 1788 is still making its way through the legislative process.
- House Bill 1737 would roll back the harmful provisions in last year's police reform legislation that created confusion and made volatile situations more dangerous.
- House Bill 1788 would allow law enforcement to engage in vehicular pursuits when there is reasonable suspicion someone has committed, or is committing, a criminal offense.
- House Bill 1656, would amend the definition of theft to include concealment. Last year, Washington lost $2.7 billion due to retail theft. This bill would make a major difference going forward.
- House Bill 1787 would provide funding for the recruitment, retention, and support of law enforcement. For the past 11 years, Washington has ranked dead last in terms of the number of police officers per thousand people.
- House Bill 1873 would address the growing problem of catalytic converter theft.
As far as government accountability goes, it remains to be seen whether Democrats will advance a bill to curb the governor's emergency powers and restore the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches. Even if they do send a bill to the governor's desk, I'm not sure he won't veto it. I talked about that and more during a radio interview I had on KONA earlier this week.
Leading the Supply Chain Legislative Caucus
One of the most critical issues facing our state and nation is the ongoing supply chain crisis. In December, I helped form the Supply Chain Legislative Caucus (SCLC), of which I'm currently serving as chair. The SCLC, which is bipartisan and bicameral, is working in conjunction with the Department of Transportation, Department of Licensing, local governments, and supply chain stakeholder groups, such as growers, manufacturers/processors, transporters (e.g., trucking, rail, air, and waterborne cargo interests), retailers, ports, labor organizations, and other supply chain-impacted associations. There are a lot of bright people working hard to develop solutions that would bring more resilience to Washington's supply chain. We will continue meeting throughout the year.
Please continue contacting me with your comments, questions and concerns. My email address is Matt.Boehnke@leg.wa.gov, and my office number is (509) 315-2315. I look forward to hearing from you!