Session marked by successes, disappointments

Mark Twain once said, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Maybe that’s why many Washingtonians are relieved the state Legislature adjourned within its 105-day schedule on April 26, and even further relieved the governor has refrained from calling a special session that would have cut an additional $60 million from schools.

As a freshman legislator, I found the process exciting, exhilarating and, during some 18-hour days, exhausting.

With nearly 2,700 measures introduced in the Legislature, and more than 600 sent to the governor, someone appropriately likened it to “trying to drink from a fire hose.”

With the daunting task of addressing an unprecedented $9 billion budget shortfall, veteran lawmakers tell me this was one of the most difficult sessions they have faced. There were disappointments, but we also had successes.

Here are my personal observations on several important issues the Legislature addressed:

• Operating budget. Hard decisions were put off to the future. More than $5 billion in one-time money is being used to balance the budget, much of which is from the federal government.

It also relies on cash transfers from the capital budget. More than $8 million in new programs and spending was added.

Consequently, this sets up Washington for another deficit, possibly as high as $10 billion, when the next budget is written in 2011.

• No new taxes, but plenty of fees. Fortunately, the Legislature adjourned without adopting proposals to increase taxes. However, citizens will be asked to pay $435 million more in new and additional fees.

This includes higher tuition rates, increased document recording fees, a substantial hike in liquor license fees and an increase in hunting and fishing license fees, all of which I opposed.

• State parks saved with deceptive tax. Another fee I opposed was the $5 “opt-out“ tax added to vehicle license tabs for state parks. I was the first to voice concerns when Kopachuck and Joemma Beach state parks were placed on a closure list and I worked to find options to keep these parks open.

However, I feel that this new fee is deceptive. Some people may pay it not knowing it is not required.

We had better options to keep our state parks open.

I still don’t understand why the capital budget spends $80 million to buy new lands for parks when existing state parks were placed on a closure list. I supported an amendment to transfer $25 million of that purchase money to keep state parks open without the need for the opt-out fee.

Unfortunately, that amendment was turned down. We now have the new fee, along with more land we won’t be able to afford to maintain in the future.

The good news is no state parks will be closed.

• Respectful language. Score a success for families across our state with the signing of House Bill 1835. This measure I sponsored provides respectful language in our state laws when referring to people living with developmental disabilities.

It replaces the words “mental retardation“ with “intellectual disability.” This was an important change to many people in Washington afflicted with disabilities.

• Public safety. We had the opportunity this year to increase public safety. That’s why I introduced House Bill 1834, which would have required electronic GPS monitoring of all Level 3 sex offenders, and sex offenders who are registered as homeless, transient, or have a prior conviction of failing to register.

Instead, the Legislature went the wrong direction. To save money, some prisoners will be released early, hundreds of community corrections officer positions are cut, probation will be eliminated or reduced for 9,000 convicts, and felons will regain the right to vote even though they have not yet paid full restitution to their victims.

As for my GPS bill, the chairman of the committee would not allow it to advance.

• Special session avoided. On the session’s final day, House Republicans fought hard against House Bill 1776, a measure that sought to cut $60 million from levy equalization, money sent from the state to local school districts with too little valuable property to tax.

Had this measure passed, it would have reduced funding for our 26th District schools by $666,582.

The bill was deferred and time ran out before a vote could be taken.

The governor and majority leaders discussed a special session to vote on this bill, but later reconsidered.

It was a victory for our local school districts which will now continue to receive full levy equalization dollars.

Successes and disappointments will come with every session. However, it is always an honor to serve as your state representative.

I invite your comments. Our new district office is open in Port Orchard.

Call my office anytime at (360) 876-5986.

Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) represents Washington’s 26th Legislative District.

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