WashingtonVotes NEWS: Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Spotlight on new members as state legislature opens 2019 Session. Governor’s State of the State address highlights his legislative agenda.
State lawmakers returned to Olympia Monday to begin the 105-day regular session of the 66th Washington Legislature. Among those taking their seats were six new senators and 23 new House members, including Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Quincy), who was just appointed to replace Rep. Matt Mannweller (R-Cle Elum) in the 13th Legislative District Monday.
Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) resigned abruptly over the weekend, leaving the 40th District Senate seat open for now. Likely candidates to replace him include former state Rep. Kris Lytton, an Anacortes Democrat who served three terms in the House, but chose not to run again in November 2018. The seat will be filled by appointment by the Counties involved, and the appointee will have to run for election in 2019, as well as 2020, when Sen. Ranker’s original term expires.
In his opening remarks, Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) pointed out that the 2019 Legislature is the most diverse in the state’s history, including the first Native American woman, Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-La Conner) and My-Linh Thai (D-Bellevue), a Vietnamese American woman who is the first elected legislator who came to this country as a refugee and became a naturalized citizen. Overall, there are now 40 women in the House and 19 in the Senate. The 30 women Democrats in the House constitute a majority of the 57-member Democratic majority.
House Republican Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm) remarked that while the Legislature may be more diverse in some respects, it is much less diverse geographically. Most Democrats are from Puget Sound and Western Washington, and Eastern Washington districts are almost entirely represented by Republicans. Only central Spokane’s 3rd District is held by Democrats. ?Leader Wilcox added that although all parts of Washington may have the same kind of human problems, there may be different solutions for different areas, and Republicans are ready to offer constructive ideas.
In his annual State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday, Governor Inslee urged lawmakers to make “bold moves” to combat climate change. Democrats have expanded their legislative majorities, but in the recent past, Inslee’s carbon-reduction proposals, including new carbon fuel taxes, stalled in the legislature. State voters also soundly rejected carbon-tax ballot measures in 2016 and 2018.
This year, the governor is advocating passage of bills that include new clean-fuel standards for automobiles, the eventual elimination of refrigerants currently used in air conditioning, stricter energy-efficiency regulations for buildings, and more subsidies to promote electric vehicles.
Republicans described Inslee’s priorities as an “extreme environmental agenda” that is too expensive for citizens and damaging to business and economic growth. They also spoke out about the governor’s $54.4 billion state spending plan for 2019-20, pointing out that he failed to mention the $3.7 billion in new taxes he wants, including a capital gains income tax, which would certainly face a constitutional challenge.
Inslee also touched on other issues, including race, workers’ rights, and women’s reproductive rights, that are part of a broader agenda designed to appeal to Democratic voters, fueling speculation that Washington’s governor is positioning himself for a presidential run.
Inslee praised the state’s new restrictions on firearm purchases and ownership, some of which have been approved by state voters in ballot measures. Democratic Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib refused to attend the joint session because he objected to the House policy of allowing the lawful carrying of concealed weapons in the visitors’ gallery. He cited his concerns about the security of state elected officials, although no other officials, including the governor, supreme court judges, department heads, and legislators expressed any concern for their safety.
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