By Dena Martin
the Times 

State reps weigh in on legislative session

Reps. Jenkins and Rude express frustration with increased state spending but feel the 16th District was well-served


OLYMPIA—State representatives Bill Jenkin and Skyler Rude met with The Times last week to recap the 2019 regular legislative session, which ended April 28. Both agreed the session proved to be a frustrating experience.

Freshman representative Rude described the theme of the session as “basically tax and spend,” saying the session felt highly partisan.

“We came into Olympia with about a $4 billion-dollar surplus over the last biennium and through many conversations our caucus concluded that new revenue was not needed to fund the obligations, including some of the wants from the majority party. It was pretty discouraging to see the healthy financial state of our budget, going into session, and see such a strong push for new revenue,” Rude said.

“The one good thing is that the capital gains income tax didn’t make it. We did see increased real estate excise tax, a big jump in B&O tax, the closure of out-of-state sales tax, which I think is going to be damaging to border communities like ours. Fiscally, it was just disappointing to see the increased taxes and increased spending to $52.4 billion. I remember $39 billion when I started working there five years ago. So the size of government is increasing dramatically,” he added.

Rude attributed part of the increase to the McCleary Decision and acknowledged that some of the increase is a levy swap with local levies being decreased to offset some of the increases.

Jenkin was three weeks into the session when he had a heart attack and spent three weeks in recovery. He said he still felt pretty good about the session when he returned to Olympia, but that didn’t last long.

Jenkin said landlords really took a hit this session and three different B&O taxes went through, with votes passing on party lines.

“Our caucus was passionately speaking against increases and regulations. We were tremendously frustrated as a caucus. We didn’t have very many wins. About the only notable thing was that we were able to keep capital gains from passing,” he said.

Jenkin said that the 16th District did well when it came to capital budget distributions, and specifically noted a $1.75 million appropriation for the Blue Mountain Action Council, $456,000 for the Taggart Road Waterline project in Waitsburg and $250,000 for a Columbia County Health System expansion that will allow the health system to accommodate dental services for the Medicaid population.

Jenkin said he and Rude chose to serve on different fiscal committees in order to best serve the District. Rude served on appropriations and Jenkin served on capital budget.

Jenkin said he also felt good about the four bills he was able to get through.

House Bill 1563 permits the tasting of alcohol for underage students enrolled in specific programs, when the student is accompanied by someone over 21 years of age.

“My bill provides the tool for the right hands-on experience students need to become the next generation of successful winemakers,” he said.

House Bill 1499 allows public facilities districts (PFD) to establish recreational facilities. Jenkin said the bill will allow cities like Pasco, which has been trying to develop an aquatics center for years, to have local control in gaining voter approval for facilities within their boundaries.

House Bill 1469 requires that drivers approach emergency and work zone vehicles, such as tow trucks, by reducing speed, changing lanes and moving away from the vehicles.

House Bill 1014 requires motorcycle operators to have liability insurance, which was not previously required.

“I hate regulation, but that’s common sense,” Jenkin said.

Rude was pleased with the passage of House Resolution 4621, which he co-sponsored. The resolution creates a work group to investigate allowing remote testimony options in House committee meetings and work sessions.

“We need to reduce barriers for the public to participate in the legislative process,” Rude said. “I’m the youngest member of the republican caucus and I got together with the youngest member of the democratic caucus and we took that on.”

Rude says he is working to see a study on regionalizing minimum wage to recognize the cost of living differences between cities like Waitsburg and Seattle.

“A one-size-fits-all approach on that doesn’t seem logical to me,” he said.

He will also continue work on a bill mandating cursive instruction in school.

“I have a good bi-partisan list of co-sponsors on that bill, including the chair of the education committee. There are benefits for dyslexic students, for example, to learning to read and write in cursive,” he said.

Rude says he will continue to strive for opportunities for bipartisanship and creating a bipartisan caucus.

“I think it would be beneficial to get moderates from both sides together to find areas of collaboration. What I found in getting there is, in this state, on the ballot, every person that is elected has their name show up on the ballot with a letter by it. What that means when we get to Olympia is that we’re, by default, on a team . . . Republicans go in one room and democrats go in another room to discuss bills and insulate ourselves from the other side’s perspectives and points of view and I think we miss out on a lot of opportunities to find areas where we might agree,” he said.

“There’s no changing that caucus system anytime soon but I think the second-best bet would be to get a bipartisan group together to discuss bills outside that system,” he added.

Rude also sees social opportunities as an important way to facilitate bipartisanship and plans to remain involved in cohosting events to bring people together.

Both representatives spoke highly of Waitsburg City Administrator Randy Hinchliffe.

“Working with Randy was fantastic. He came to Olympia quite a bit and was in communication constantly,” Rude said.

“Randy does an excellent job of representing the City. He’s over there quite a bit and talked with each of us,” Jenkin agreed.

Both representatives agreed that school funding was one of the issues they received most voter feedback on.

“And we didn’t solve that. We poured more money into it. It was swayed by the west side and they again made out on the school side. All the small districts are in trouble,” he said.

“It’s a mess,” Rude agreed.

Rude said the K-12 education committee deals with policy only and not funding and the appropriations committee doesn’t discuss policy.

“It’s important to talk about the fiscal and the policy together if you’re going to be discussing a bill. There are five or six members on the republican side that are members of both committees and we are going to get together to talk about both the fiscal and the policy in the interim,” he said.

Both representatives said it will be interesting to see who replaces House Speaker Democrat Frank Chopp who is the state’s longest-serving speaker, having served in that position since 2002. Chopp resigned speakership at the end of the 2019 regular session.

The democratic caucus will meet July 31 to select Chopp’s replacement.

“There is a lot of power there. It will be important that the new speaker is willing to work with our side of the aisle,” Rude said. “I just want somebody who will respect the rules of the house and attempt to collaborate with both sides.”


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