Successes and disappointments of the 2010 legislative sessions
Special to the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce
It is good to be back home in Yakima after a 60-day legislative session and a subsequent 30-day special session. We finished our work April 13 and came home with a mix of successes and disappointments.
Let's begin with the successes.
I've been working to secure a permanent funding source for the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima. The university opened in 2008 to train doctors who can serve rural areas across the state. Last year, I secured $800,000 in the state operating budget to support this training. In December, the governor proposed numerous deep cuts to programs to close a $2.8 billion budget deficit, including eliminating $400,000 for the university. I worked to restore this funding and was able to get $250,000 back into the budget for the school.
Also, during the final hours of the special session, the Legislature approved my amendment to a bill that creates a health sciences and services authority in Yakima. The legislation requires borrowed funds to be secured by gifts or grants from public or private sources, and the authority may not incur an expense or liability that is the obligation of the state or local governments. Most importantly, this establishes a funding source WITHOUT tax increases. As the university expands, it will bring more jobs to the greater Yakima area.
The Legislature also approved a measure that gives small businesses a little extra breathing room from state regulations. House Bill 2603 requires state agencies to give small businesses a two-day compliance opportunity before penalties can be assessed.
In addition, Senate Bill 6267 was signed into law to provide for more expeditious and equitable processing of water right applications.
Now for the disappointments.
Nearly $800 million of new and increased taxes were approved by the majority party. These include tax hikes on businesses, services, real estate, soda, bottled water, cigarettes, beer, candy and gum. Sen. Curtis King, Rep. Charles Ross and I fought hard, along with our Republican colleagues, to defend taxpayers from these increases. We engaged in more than 10 hours of floor debate to uphold Initiative 960, which required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes. We offered alternatives, such as restructuring state government and a “Made in Washington” jobs package with reforms to the workers' compensation system, reductions of unemployment insurance rates, and regulatory relief to reduce costs for employers so they could hire again. We felt jobs, not tax increases, are the best answer to our state's budget problems.
Unfortunately, our solutions were ignored. In the end, the majority voted to overturn the initiative and, ultimately, voted to raise taxes.
Another disappointment was the Senate action to turn down our criminal gang legislation (House Bill 2414) after it passed the House. Rep. Ross and I had combined our legislation that would have classified criminal gang activity as a nuisance so that legal action could be filed to stop that activity. Nevertheless, we are undeterred and committed to return next year with this legislation to ensure the protection of our neighborhoods from gangs.
For more information on these and other bills, go to my Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Johnson
It is an honor to serve you!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Norm Johnson is in his first term of office, serving the 14th Legislative District, which includes Yakima, Union Gap, Selah, Gleed, Naches, Tieton, Ahtanum, Cowiche, Tampico, and all of western Yakima County. He can be contacted through his Olympia office at (360) 786-7810.