Readying for the Legislature

Washington state legislators (left to right) Joe Schmick, Mark Schoesler and Mary Dye participate in a legislative preview Wednesday at the Thomas S. Foley Institute in Pullman.

PULLMAN — Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler isn’t convinced the Washington Legislature really needs to meet in 2020, given the state’s recent revenue forecasts.

Speaking at Washington State University’s Foley Institute on Wednesday, the Ritzville Republican noted that the 2019-21 revenue forecast is now $850 million higher than it was when the Legislature adjourned last April.

That’s more than enough to cover any necessary budget adjustments related to changes in school enrollment, prison population or program utilization rates, Schoesler said.

“Until 40 years ago, we didn’t even have a short session,” he said. “We passed a budget in the (odd-numbered) years, and unless there were any big problems, we didn’t have a second session. Objectively, we could probably do without a session (in 2020).”

The 2020 session will convene Jan. 13. It’s scheduled to last 60 days, compared to 105 days in odd-numbered years.

About 50 people attended the Foley Institute talk, which featured Schoesler and his 9th Legislative District colleagues, Reps. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy.

Topics covered during the meeting included gun control, homelessness, taxes and mental health services.

Schoesler noted that voters in November once again supported a $30 car tab initiative. They also supported repealing nine of the 12 new or increased tax bills passed during the 2019 session, although those were just advisory votes.

“At some point, we need to listen to the electorate,” he said.

Dye agreed, saying Washington’s tax burden is hurting families and making it difficult for them to “age in place,” as higher property taxes drive them out of their homes.

“Voters (in November) really asked us to be more frugal,” she said.

Schmick, the ranking Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, said his focus in the coming session will be on mental health issues and health care in rural areas.

“We have six critical access hospitals in our district, and they’re struggling,” he said. “We have to figure out a model so we can provide health care in rural areas.”

Bond levies for Pullman Regional Hospital and the Garfield County Hospital both failed in November. In each case a majority of voters favored the measures, but they fell short of the required 60 percent margin by 14 votes and 17 votes, respectively.

Ensuring there are enough psychiatrists and other providers to address the state’s mental health needs is another major issue, Schmick said. During the 2019 session, legislation was passed authorizing a new behavioral health campus at the University of Washington, as well as more community-based treatment facilities. However, rural areas haven’t seen an immediate impact from that.

Dye said she’d like to see a task force created to evaluate the kinds of tools school administrators have for identifying and helping students who are having mental health issues. The goal would be to help students before they spiral out of control, rather than after something bad happens.

“What kind of flexibility can we give (administrators)?” she said.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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