Friday, April 30, 2004/lk
Disappointment was the common theme among three area lawmakers with the 2004 state legislative session.
State Senator Jim Honeyford and area Representatives Bruce Chandler and Dan Newhouse addressed the Sunnyside Republican Club this morning to talk about the past session.
Newhouse was the first of the three lawmakers to speak on the past 60-day session, which he felt nothing major was really accomplished. Newhouse said the session was marred by the fact this year is a major election year.
"It does tend to flavor some of the bills (introduced)," said Newhouse.
Newhouse, who is just completing his first two-year-term, said the state once more spent more money than it has. The good news, felt Newhouse, was that general taxes weren't increased to cover any shortfalls.
There was some good news out of the recent budget session. The legislature allocated $145 million to address areas such as education and health care.
Newhouse said the state in the next biennium faces another multiple billion dollar deficit, similar to the $2.8 billion the state was in the hole last year.
The legislature also implemented some regulations concerning the Mad Cow epidemic. It is now illegal to transport "downer" cows to rendering plants. Newhouse said the legislature is also looking at addressing prevention of the Mad Cow disease further.
There were also bills passed designed to help the fleeting asparagus and hop industries.
The legislature, said Newhouse, also managed to reinstate several tax incentives that were set to expire this summer after being in place for a decade, that will help state business. Newhouse said these incentives will help spark the state's struggling economy.
Newhouse also said more needs to be done to keep doctors, nurses and hospitals, especially in rural areas, from moving out of state because of liability premiums that are too expensive to pay.
Newhouse said he is excited about this upcoming election year for Republicans. He said Dino Rossi is a quality candidate for the Republicans. He also felt George Bush has a good chance of being re-elected president, depending on how the economy and the war in Iraq take shape in the next few months.
"Republicans in this state feel a sense of excitement," said Newhouse.
Chandler, who is the deputy Republican leader in the house, was also frustrated with the recent legislative session. Chandler said no consensus on issues dealing with such areas as health care and workman's compensation were addressed in this past session.
Chandler spent a majority of his time talking about the failing workman's comp system.
"It is not adequately serving employers or employees," said Chandler.
Chandler said unless something is done to address problems with the state labor and industry department program, another double-digit rate increase can be expected. Chandler added the problem with the workman's comp system is that L&I is not adequately managing the program. Chandler said the 15th district trio plans to work extensively next year on bringing meaningful reform to the system.
Another area of concern Chandler has deals with the recent changes to the primary election. The state, based on a court decision, recently implemented a new primary election system, where people will vote according to political affiliation. Chandler is concerned the new voting system will keep people away from the polls. Chandler is expecting an initiative on the November ballot challenging the state's new primary system.
Chandler said this election year will be one of the most significant ones in recent memory. He said the decisions made this fall will impact the Valley and the state for the next decade.
One of the top priorities of the three area lawmakers is to restore the people's trust in their government, said Chandler. Chandler said he wants to see changes within state agencies, where they focus on serving the people more. Chandler said business and people continue to leave the state because of the changes being implemented in Olympia.
"We really need to change that," said Chandler.
Sen. Honeyford, the elder political statesman of the trio, was equally disappointed with the happenings in Olympia this past session.
"(In 2004) we really didn't get a whole lot done we could be proud of," said Honeyford.
Honeyford was disheartened to see no headway being gained on the workman's comp issue. He also wished more had been done to address the state's water issues. Honeyford said Governor Gary Locke did a lot to slow down progress on both bills.
Honeyford said about 75 percent of the problem with the workman's comp issue is the department of labor and industry, itself. Honeyford wants to implement legislation that has an outside agency conduct a review of the labor and industry department. Currently, the state agency conducts an internal review.
Honeyford also announced he is seeking the caucus chair position, which is the No. 2 seat in the senate. Honeyford currently had 17 votes to give him the coveted position, needing only 13.