The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

Legislative Commentary

 


Driving around our legislative district on Senate business takes me away from my farm, but it also means I’m driving past someone else’s farm a fair amount of the time.

I’ve been on the road to Pasco and Pullman quite a bit lately, and whether it’s wine grapes here or wheat there, the crops are looking better than average to my eye at this point in the season.

The garbanzo beans (chickpeas) are looking especially good in Whitman County, which just happens to be the nation’s leading producer of that particular legume.

I’ll was in Pullman again on July 4, spending part of the Independence Day holiday flipping burgers at the barbecue that is part of the Fourth of July Celebration hosted by the Pullman Chamber of Commerce.

It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing for probably 25 years, and the proceeds help pay for the fireworks show.

Hopefully I can observe another tradition on the way home, which is to stop in Endicott for its ice cream social and fireworks display.

New WSU building goes
 from budget item to breaking ground

Early in this year’s legislative session we approved state government’s new two-year capital budget.

This is the budget that funds public construction projects, and although we gave priority to money for K-12 schools and facilities for mental-health treatment, there’s also ample support for WSU and the state’s other higher-ed institutions.

I was especially glad to secure $52 million to construct the new Plant Sciences Building on the Pullman campus.

It’ll be a state-of-the-art facility that can accommodate more students with majors related to plant growth, such as plant biochemistry, plant pathology, horticulture, and crop and soil sciences programs.

This week I had the pleasure of attending the groundbreaking ceremony and privilege of saying a few words alongside WSU President Kirk Schulz; Andre Wright, new Dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences; Rich Koenig, Associate Dean of CAHNRS and Director of Extension; and Mike LaPlant, president of Washington Farm Bureau and a fellow farmer.

I spoke of what an incredible opportunity this new four-story, 95,000-square-foot research facility represents for agriculture, and for WSU’s ability to attract top-notch administrators, faculty and students, and how it complements the work being done by commodity groups in our state.

Go Cougs!

Governor’s failure to manage
puts taxpayers farther on hook

State government owns and operates two psychiatric hospitals, one on each side of the Cascades. Folks around here probably know of Eastern State Hospital, in Medical Lake. There’s a Western State Hospital, too, in Pierce County.

A week ago, as Governor Jay Inslee was about to head for Iowa and a political gathering for Democrat governors, the federal government was preparing to announce that it was decertifying Western State Hospital from a program that had been sending about $53 million a year to help run the place.

The reason was the failure of the state Department of Social and Health Services, and Inslee’s appointed administrators, to fully address a checklist of problems, even though they’d had two years to make enough progress.

That loss of federal funding will have to be offset by state taxpayers now, until the hospital can regain certification for the federal program.

The Seattle Times got it right when it editorialized that “this latest blow highlights the ongoing failures of leadership, internal governance and quality control that have persisted at the hospital under Democratic Gov. Inslee’s watch, despite the state Legislature continually throwing money at the problem since Inslee took office in 2013.”

And Olympia’s daily newspaper, not known for criticizing Democrat state leaders, suggested in an editorial that Inslee “might want to skip his next out-of-state visit to an election-related [Democratic Governors Association] event.”

Mental-health treatment is a major policy issue for the Legislature and a growing part of the budget for operations and the budget for construction and public facilities.

So it’s really frustrating when we appropriate the dollars and address policy concerns only to see the state’s chief executive fumble like this. Inslee is good at pointing fingers at the White House and at our side of the aisle in Olympia, but the governor owns this mess.

Let’s see if he is capable of turning his attention away from national politics and his other political ambitions and focusing on the people confined to Western State Hospital, who deserve better.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling has implications for state workers

Many who work in our state government are required to belong to a labor union. Collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the governor’s office with the public-sector unions (in secret, unfortunately) constitute a large part of the budget. Bills having to do with public-employee unions are something we see regularly.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that requiring public employees to pay “agency fees” to labor unions is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The case involved a state worker in Illinois, but it affects many of our state workers.

In fact, the decision also invalidates a state law created this year to allow the automatic extraction of union dues from an employee’s pay, meaning the employee’s written authorization would no longer be required.

It’s good when people get to choose whether to keep more of their money, instead of having it go to government, and I see the Supreme Court decision in a similar light. Unionized state workers will have more freedom to decide what happens to some of their wages, and it’s hard to argue against freedom and choice.

Another Supreme Court vote could affect highway safety, maintenance

I supported the “Connecting Washington” transportation package in 2015 because it funds investments in all corners of the state, not just the Puget Sound area, including important safety-improvement projects for U.S. 195 and State Route 26.

Unfortunately, a tie vote by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving treaty rights and culverts under Washington state roads could jeopardize our ability to maximize the use of Connecting Washington dollars.

Because one of the nine justices had handled a treaty-rights/fish case from our state 33 years ago, as an appellate-court judge, he recused himself from this one.

The other justices voted 4-4, so the ruling against the state by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, meaning an order by the lower court for culvert-replacement work that could cost $2 billion.

Taken to its furthest extent, the court order could cut into funding for road maintenance and safety projects, which are among the best parts of the Connecting Washington package. I hope not.

 

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