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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The 2023 legislative session adjourned, sine die, on April 23, but not before a last-minute, failed attempt by the majority party to pass a bill to criminalize drug possession before the current law expires on July 1. We’re now scheduled to convene for a special session to address this issue on May 16.

Background: In February 2021, the state Supreme Court ruled in State v. Blake that Washington’s felony drug-possession statute was unconstitutional because it criminalized possession even when a person did not knowingly have drugs.

Two months later, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5476, a temporary measure reducing the penalty for possessing illegal drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine from a felony to a misdemeanor, which is set to expire on July 1. Unless the Legislature acts in time, there will be no statewide criminal penalty for possession of these drugs. Local governments could, however, adopt their own criminal penalties.

Fixing the Blake decision

The majority party brought up Senate Bill 5536 for a vote on the final day of the 2023 legislative session. While the measure would have established drug possession as a gross misdemeanor, it created opportunities for violators to avoid substance abuse treatment; prevented local governments from restricting the distribution of dangerous drug paraphernalia; housed recovering addicts with active drug users; established injection sites open to all ages, including children; and eliminated the public notice requirement for siting opioid treatment facilities.

With so many glaring problems with this bill, all 40 Republicans in the House voted no, along with 15 Democrats. The measure fell seven votes short of a majority, 43-55.  

During the upcoming special session, we’re hopeful that we can work with House Democrats and the Senate to pass a reasonable compromise that will curb illegal drug use in our state.

Restoring law and order  

The Legislature approved a controversial bill this year that allows police to engage in vehicular pursuits of criminal suspects on a limited basis. It was sent to the governor for his signature on April 20.

In 2021, sweeping law enforcement reform, that included a higher threshold for when officers could engage in vehicular pursuits, was approved by legislative Democrats. Rather than “reasonable suspicion,” officers must meet a higher legal standard of “probable cause.” That change has resulted in an increase in stolen vehicles, reckless driving, and additional efforts to flee from police, among other crimes.

Senate Bill 5352 would lower the “probable cause” standard, but only in specific instances. Police could only pursue in limited cases involving those suspected of a violent crime, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offenses, driving while under the influence, and trying to escape arrest.

I ultimately voted in favor of this measure because – while it does not go far enough – it’s a step in the right direction and will help our cities address the surging criminal activity, including car thefts, reckless driving, and fleeing police. Next session, we need to come back to the table and fully restore the ability of law enforcement officers to pursue criminal suspects.   

Capital budget

The Tri-Cities area will see more than $46 million for local projects under the approved 2023-25 state capital budget, Senate Bill 5200, including:

  • $7.5 million for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; 
  • $ 6.437 million for infrastructure maintenance and repair at Columbia Basin College;
  • $5.05 million for Process Water Reuse Facility in Pasco;
  • $5 million for Three Rivers Behavioral Health Center in Kennewick;
  • $4 million for Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Kennewick;
  • $3 million for Gesa Stadium in Pasco;
  • $3 million for National Guard Tri-Cities Vehicle Storage Building;
  • $2.944 million for National Guard Tri-Cities Readiness Center;
  • $1.25 million for the White Bluffs rail replacement;
  • $1.122 million for south urban growth area water and sewer extensions in Kennewick;
  • $840,000 for Pasco Clubhouse safety modernization;
  • $798,000 for a Habitat for Humanity 20-home building project;
  • $773,000 for B5 Community Learning Center in Kennewick;
  • $750,000 for Pasco Boulevard soccer field;
  • $748,000 for Military Department facilities minor works program;
  • $700,000 for Department of Corrections roof replacement in Kennewick;
  • $350,000 for The Richland Players community theater;
  • $350,000 for the renovation and addition to The Richland Players theater building;
  • $300,000 for Safe Harbor Support Center in Kennewick;
  • $258,000 for Kennewick Kiwanis Playground;
  • $250,000 for the MLK Jr. Resources and Technology Center in Pasco;
  • $200,000 for myTRI Agricultural Innovation Center in Pasco;
  • $155,000 for downtown Pasco North Plaza; and
  • $54,000 for Tri-Tech Skills Center.

*The list includes all projects in the Tri-Cities area, which encompasses district 8 and parts of districts 9, 15, and 16.

I am proud of the investments we were able to secure for the Tri-Cities area. The capital budget was the result of a collaborative effort to put tax dollars to work in our local communities. These dollars will provide jobs, finance needed repairs and maintenance of buildings, and help fuel our local economy. As a huge supporter of the arts, I am particularly happy about the funding for the historic Richland Players building.

Operating budget          

The state’s operating budget, Senate Bill 5187, totaled approximately $69.8 billion in near general fund outlook (NGF-O) spending. These are the funds and accounts that the Legislature primarily focuses on as part of the operating budget development process.

After paying the bills, there remains a four-year budget surplus of about $6.6 billion. The 2023-25 budget increases spending $5.6 billion over current spending levels.

It’s concerning to me that the state’s operating budget has doubled over the past 10 years. And, despite strong revenue collections, this year’s budget does not provide any broad-based tax relief.  We need to make sure spending is sustainable and look for ways to reduce the tax burden on working families.  

Anti-gun bill update

Governor Inslee last Tuesday signed all three anti-firearm bills. I voted no on all three bills and urged my colleagues in the House and Senate to reject them:   

  • House Bill 1143 would impose training, permitting, and waiting period requirements on gun owners and firearm dealers with large fines and possible jail time.
  • House Bill 1240 would outlaw the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, or offer for sale of any so-called “assault weapon” with an emergency clause to go into effect once signed.
  • Senate Bill 5078 would hold gun manufacturers legally responsible for how individuals misuse their products.

Parental rights under attack

One of the most controversial bills to pass the Legislature this year was Senate Bill 5599, a measure to allow youth shelters and similar organizations to not notify parents if their children are at a shelter for the purpose of receiving gender care or reproductive services. I voted no, along with every Republican in the House. The bill passed and made it to Governor Inslee’s desk for his consideration. As of today, May 5th, he has not acted on it.

I opposed this measure because I believe the state should not remove parental rights except under extreme circumstances, such as abuse and neglect, which is already the case under current law. We need to keep families together.

Mitigating light pollution

I am excited to report that House Bill 1173, my bill to reduce light pollution from wind turbines, was sent to Governor Inslee’s desk on April 19. The governor signed seven energy-related bills in the Tri-Cities this week; unfortunately, House Bill 1173 was not one of them. He said the measure is still being vetted by his office. I was grateful for the overwhelming support the bill received in the House and Senate and remain hopeful that the governor will sign it into law because it will help preserve the beauty of our night skies in Eastern Washington.

The Wall Street Journal published an article recently on state efforts to mitigate light pollution: Lawmakers Crack Down on Wind-Turbine Lights That Flash All Night.

Background: Wind turbines are equipped with blinking red lights as a safety measure for nearby aircraft traveling at night. While the lights serve an important safety function, they are also an eyesore for local residents and cause light pollution. 

If signed, this new law will require the warning lights to turn on automatically only when they are needed by aircraft.   

Improving home leaseback agreement rules

House Bill 1070 – my measure to exempt three-month residential leaseback agreements – was signed into law by the governor on April 6! It will go into effect on July 23.

Background: A leaseback is an agreement between a buyer and seller of a property that allows the seller to continue living in and renting the property. Although leaseback agreements are a popular option in the real estate industry, they remain underutilized because they turn homebuyers into unwitting landlords regulated by the RLTA.

HB 1070 would remove the legal cloud of uncertainty many homebuyers feel when entering into these agreements.

As a residential real estate agent for over 20 years, I’ve seen, firsthand, how complicated and unnecessary these regulations can be for leaseback agreements. This new law will make it easier for buyers and sellers to take advantage of a popular tool that helps them both meet their needs and schedules.

Legislative Resources

  • My legislative website | Find my contact information, bio, news releases, email updates, videos, opinion pieces, bills, and other information.
  • My legislative Facebook page | hit “like” to get the latest news and information on your timeline about our efforts to achieve the best outcomes for the 8th District and Washington state.
  • The Capitol Buzz | A weekday roundup of online news stories.   
  • The Current | An online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans.
  • TVW | TVW broadcasts floor and committee action live online.
  • The Ledger | A legislative news aggregator.
  • Legislature’s website | Bill reports, committee agendas, and information about upcoming activities in the Legislature here.
  • State agencies | Lists of all state agencies, boards, and commissions here.
  • Participating in the process | Information about how you can participate in the legislative process

Thank you!

I work for you year-round, regardless of whether we’re in the session or interim. If you have any questions, concerns, comments, or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I will do my best to answer messages from constituents first, so please be sure to include your home address and phone number in your correspondence.

It’s an honor to serve you!

Sincerely,


April Connors

State Representative April Connors, 8th Legislative District
representativeaprilconnors.com
434 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
april.connors@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7882 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000