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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

When the final gavel fell on the 2023 legislative session Sunday, April 23, there were mixed feelings all around. On one hand, we were able to work on bipartisan transportation and capital budgets that turned out very well for Southwest Washington. We were able to pass bipartisan efforts to positively impact housing, streamline and improve our workforce issues, and crack down on auto theft.

However, a partisan operating budget that doubles spending over the past decade and the utter failure to pass legislation to protect our families and communities may end up being the legacy of this session that impacts citizens the most.

Rep. Cheney confers with House colleagues as they watch how the voting unfolds on legislation in Olympia.

Capital budget
As I mentioned in my last update, the capital budget is our state’s construction budget that focuses on local and regional infrastructure projects. It is mostly funded by bonds issued by the state. Here is how the final capital budget looks for the 18th Legislative District:

Transportation budget
We were able to secure nearly $87 million for the I-5/179th interchange. You can read more about that in this article by The Columbian here. We were also able to continue funding for the new bridge over the Columbia River. Here’s what the final transportation budget looks like for the 18th:

Operating budget
The 2023-25 operating budget was very partisan. The nearly $70 billion budget continues the practice of spending just about every dime the state has. As a reminder, state budget writers had a $15 billion surplus last year! This year, despite uncertain economic trends, we had a budget surplus of nearly $3 billion. Just about all of it has been spent on new programs and entitlements over approximately 1,800 new line items. The budget has more than doubled over the past 10 years. This is unsustainable. It also does not leave enough in reserves. If our economy has a dip in projected activity or growth, our state is going to be in trouble with the only solution being massive spending cuts or tax increases.

My bills
House Bill 1797 passed the Legislature unanimously and has been delivered to the governor for his signature. This bill will allow licensed real estate appraisers to do evaluations of real property, which are currently allowed to be done by non-appraisers.

Public safety
The two most important issues for the Legislature to address this year were allowing police to pursue criminals again and addressing the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision, which essentially legalized the use of drugs in our state. Perhaps no issue has caused our communities to be more engaged than public safety.

But, sadly, more should have been done. Even in light of increases in property theft, violent crime, and auto theft, the majority party in our state continued its reluctance to pass policies to help keep our families and communities safe. In fact, this session I have voted against several bills that would negatively impact public safety. I voted against reducing sentence enhancements for drug dealing in school zones; I voted against reducing sentence enhancements for violent crimes committed with a firearm; I voted against reducing sentences for gang-related crimes, and; I voted against a proposal to allow someone to commit a third DUI before facing jail time.

In the end, I voted for Senate Bill 5352, the police pursuit compromise bill. It is a step – albeit a small one – in the right direction. It allows for vehicular police pursuits under the previous “reasonable suspicion” standard if the crime is:

  • a violent offense
  • a sex offense
  • a vehicular assault defense
  • a domestic offense
  • an escape from custody
  • a DUI

However, I am still very concerned that this bill did not go far enough to allow pursuits in the case of vehicle thefts, residential burglary, reckless driving, and other crimes.

I voted against Senate Bill 5536, the supposed compromise bill on fixing our drug possession laws. As I said in my press release to the media:

“It is with a heavy heart that I voted no on this legislation,” said Cheney, “As an attorney who has spent nearly a decade working with Washington’s drug courts, I have ample experience working with individuals suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues. I want to see them set free from their cycle of addiction, crime, and misery. The majority party has had two years to come up with a workable, compassionate solution that gets people the help they need. But this legislation is not it.”

Cheney joined with a bipartisan majority that voted ‘no’ on Senate Bill 5536. While several Democrat legislators felt the bill was too harsh and stated their belief that there should be no punishment for drug users, Republican legislators argued the bill didn’t go far enough.

“In the end, this bill fails to recognize the good work being done by our state’s drug courts. It fails to recognize the need for individuals to accept some measure of responsibility for their actions,” said Cheney. “An acknowledgement of the problem must be part of the solution.

You can watch my two-minute floor speech against the bill here. You can also listen to my radio interview on KUOW on this issue here.

The Speaker of the House and other Democrat legislators tried to blame House Republicans for the failure of this bill, which is unfortunately just not true. As liberal Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat said in his recent column titled “WA Democrats, you had one job!”:

“The failure for state lawmakers to do anything about the surging drug crisis is one of the worst policy face-plants I’ve seen in local politics going back 30 years.”

And when Democrats tried to blame Republicans, he said this:

“Sorry, no. Regular readers know I am fine castigating Republicans for all manner of political misdeeds. But Democrats have an 18-seat majority in the state House, a nine-seat majority in the state Senate, and the governorship. There’s no filibuster here. State Rep. J.T. Wilcox called it right when he said that Democrats ‘got caught up in an unfortunate ideological conflict and didn’t have a way out of it.”

Right-leaning columnist Sue Lani-Madsen from The Spokesman-Review said this in her column this week:

“For Dhingra, Billig and Inslee to blame Republicans for lack of bipartisanship when Democrats have control of both chambers is disingenuous. Democrats only “need Republicans to show up” when their left-wing extremists get in the way of the leadership’s agenda.”

Perhaps when a left-leaning columnist from Seattle and a right-leaning columnist from Spokane are saying the same things, there just might be a little truth to what they’re saying. In the case of both vehicular pursuits and the drug possession law, lasting and meaningful change must be done in a bipartisan manner.

Upcoming town halls
The public response and input from 18th District townhalls done earlier this year have been great. We intend to have another round of in-person town halls on Saturday, May 13:

9:00 a.m.
Battle Ground City Hall
109 SW 1st Street
Battle Ground, WA 98604

11:30 a.m.
Vancouver Town Hall
Dengerink Admin Building 110 – Lecture Hall
14204 NE Salmon Creek Ave.
Vancouver, WA 98686

While the legislative session is over, I am your state legislator year round. Please feel free to contact my office with questions or concerns about state government. There is also talk of a potential special session if Democrats can come up with an agreement on a solution to the Blake decision. I’ll keep you informed on this and other state government issues periodically throughout the year.

Greg Cheney

State Representative Greg Cheney, 18th Legislative District
406 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7812 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000