As we move into the month of February, my fellow 27th District legislators and I are looking forward to meeting you and other neighbors at our Town Hall Meeting. The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 18 at the Lyceum Theater on the Evergreen State University Tacoma campus. If you have comments concerning our district, our county or our state, I encourage you to come to this meeting and let your opinions be heard. After all, the best way to impact your state government is to be a part of it.
What a start we have had to the 2012 Legislative Session. It was with great happiness that I learned of Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s decision to support the marriage equality bill. The veteran senator’s choice was preceded by days of careful thought and consideration and she is to be commended for her courageous choice. With 25 supporters, the Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 6239, is all but guaranteed of passage. With support in the House and from Gov. Gregoire, Washington is poised to become the seventh state in the country to move past inequality and recognize the right to marriage for gay and lesbian couples. I look forward to the debate and final vote on the floor of the Senate and the historic day that the governor signs the bill into law.
Another highly talked about piece of legislation which I was proud to sponsor was a measure, Senate Bill 6283, which would have eliminated the death penalty in Washington state. On Jan. 25, Sen. Adam Kline and I sat side by side with members of the group “Safe and Just Alternatives” and argued that elimination of the death penalty made financial and practical sense for our state. Millions of dollars are being, and have been, spent prosecuting capital cases in Washington only to have the decision to pursue the death penalty reversed. The goal of public safety could be just as easily and far less expensively met by putting these offenders behind bars without the possibility of parole. Sen. Kline also noted that the threat of capital punishment doesn’t deter someone in the act of committing a capital crime. Another aspect that haunts me is the chance that an innocent man or woman may be put to death. We are not perfect. Mistakes have been made in other states and I can imagine nothing more horrific than learning after the fact that an innocent person has been put to death in our state. Sadly, it does not appear that the votes exist to get the bill out of committee, but I feel we raised the level of public dialogue on this important issue … a dialogue that I hope will lead to the eventual elimination of the death penalty in our state.
Despite work on other issues, our greatest efforts this session will focus on helping the state recover from the effects of the Great Recession. As we begin February, statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics paint a conflicting picture for our state. The bureau’s monthly survey of Washington households indicates that the unemployment rate here dropped from 8.7 percent in November to 8.5 percent in December, which is good. Unemployment hasn’t been this low in nearly three years, when it was at 8.3 percent in February 2009. At the same time, however, the bureau’s statistics also show a loss of about 10,700 jobs from November to December. Analysts at the state Employment Security Department warn that the federal numbers tend to be volatile and that a single month of numbers is not a reliable indicator of what’s happening in the job market. A more reliable measure is what is happening over time, and over time they say jobs are gradually increasing and the unemployment rate is dropping. You can read the department’s full report here. It is our duty to continue that job growth and the way to do that is to invest in the infrastructure that is so critical to our state’s business climate. However, the state’s declining gas tax revenue threatens our transportation infrastructure and will cost the state $3 billion over the next 10 years and disrupt travel across Washington. Gov. Gregoire has proposed a series of measures that would generate the money to close the $3 billion gap. You can read more about those proposals here. If the state does not make up the $3 billion in lost revenue, impacts could include:
Discontinuation of preservation to roads and other highway infrastructure;
Discontinuation of bridge preservation, compromising safety and triggering lower weight limits on freight;
Elimination of ferry service on five routes plus reductions in service on two routes;
Deterioration of pavement and road quality;
More snow, ice and slush on roads for longer duration;
More damage and unrepaired guard rails on roads;
Worn-out pavement markings, faded signs;
Increased roadside debris and litter;
Reduced accident response time and longer backups;
Increased traffic signal conflicts and outages; and
Increased road closures from flooding and erosion from backed-up culverts.
As Washington continues to recover from the Great Recession, now more than ever we need a transportation system industry and manufacturers can lean on. Without it, their products do not move. Without it, the imports and exports that are the basis of our state’s economy are wasted and Washington’s businesses will lag behind the pack.
The challenges facing my colleagues and I are great, but we are committed to leaving Olympia with a budget – not just a balanced budget but a budget that does not forget the most vulnerable in our state and provides for their safety and well-being.
Sen. Debbie Regala
27th Legislative District