By State Senator Mark Schoesler
Ninth District 

Legislative Commentary: March 7, 2019

 


Dear Friends,

We’d been hearing a rumor that Governor Inslee would make an announcement today about his presidential aspirations. When the Democratic majority in the Senate tried to force a final vote yesterday on the renewable-energy legislation Inslee wants, it was a sure sign that the rumor was true. Keep reading for more about how his run for the White House and the Senate’s agenda are already lining up.

For me this week was taken up by votes in the Senate chamber and long hours in the Ways and Means committee, which had until today to finish its work on Senate bills that have a fiscal component and had already come through the policy committees. That left few opportunities to welcome visitors, but I was happy to have some time with Commissioner Art Swannack from Whitman County; Teamsters from Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell; Lindsey Williams from the Walla Walla-based Agriculture & Natural Resource Center of Excellence, and three representatives from STEM Schools of Spokane.


There is much to comment on this week, so let’s start with the issue that kept us on the Senate floor for hours yesterday and today.

Senate passes energy bill on day of Inslee announcement

Governor Inslee has failed year after year to get the Legislature to agree with his radical ideas on energy policy, and the voters haven’t fallen for them either (last year’s failed initiative was based on legislation requested by the governor that died in the 2018 session). But it’s tough to run for president on a “climate” platform if you can’t even demonstrate leadership on that in your home state.

I’m sure someone decided that it was important to get SB 5116 through the Senate in conjunction with his announcement today, so Inslee can finally say that a “green” energy bill he wants is receiving support in Olympia. Our side couldn’t delay the final vote past today (the bill was passed along caucus lines), but during the debates on proposed amendments yesterday we laid out the many reasons to be concerned about the governor’s proposal.

At the top of the list is how Inslee’s legislation would move our state toward socialized electricity, with regressive rate increases (perhaps $35 more per month) that treat people differently based on income level. And for what? Our state is already one of the “greenest” in a nation that is among the greenest on the planet. For the ratepayers across our state, this piece of a larger effort labeled by some as a “Green New Deal” is really a raw deal.

It bothers me that the supporters of this bill seem to care more about energy being renewable than it being affordable. They don’t seem to appreciate the place of hydropower in Washington’s energy portfolio, and have the nerve to suggest these new policies are good for agriculture. Not true. As a recent commentary mentioned, this legislation feels like it’s motivated by politics, not economics.

Orca letter targets Snake River dams – again

A Seattle TV station reported earlier this week that a dozen organizations are wanting “immediate action” on steps they claim will save the endangered southern resident orcas.

A letter to government officials in Washington and British Columbia lists five actions. Breaching the four Lower Snake River dams is second on the list. The rest are: funding for international salmon habitat restoration projects, breaching the replacing and retrofitting floodgates along the Fraser River in British Columbia, cleaning up known contamination hotspots in Puget Sound and the Fraser River delta, and allocating a fisheries quota for the Southern Resident orcas on the West Coast.

I’m all for improving habitat, but the list from the “orca organizations” says nothing about also dealing with the sea lions and seals and birds that prey heavily on migrating juvenile salmon before they reach the open ocean. And it’s silent about increasing hatchery production, and about restricting whale-watching activities that may affect the orcas’ ability to locate food. Any list without those ideas has no credibility.

More mismanagement at the Department of Corrections

At the end of 2015 it came to light that over a 13-year period, the state Department of Corrections had improperly released approximately 3,000 violent and dangerous felons before their sentences had concluded. An extensive investigation by the Senate in 2016 led to reform legislation in 2017; the Senate passed it, but as our leader on the Law and Justice committee explained it, the bill was quashed by the governor’s office when it reached the House.

In mid-February, the Department of Corrections disclosed two more early releases and that it is reviewing thousands more cases. Clearly, the governor hasn’t straightened things out at the agency even though the improper release of inmates has to rank right up there on the list of public-safety concerns.

 

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