Taxes, vaccines, and the I-5 bridge topped the list of topics in Washougal
18th District Representatives hold a town hall at the Port of Camas-Washougal
WASHOUGAL — As the 2020 version of the Washington State Legislature gets ready to convene for a 60-day session on Jan. 13, area lawmakers are busy setting their agendas and hearing from constituents.
Legislators from the 18th District kicked things off with three town hall meetings over the weekend, starting with a packed room at the Port of Camas-Washougal.
“A few years ago, we’d be lucky to have 20 people at a town hall,” noted Rep. Brandon Vick, (R-Vancouver).
Facing minorities in both chambers, along with the governor’s mansion, the three Republicans have found themselves playing defense. That has also left many of their constituents frustrated.
“We realize that if everybody was tickled pink, this room would be empty today,” said Vick.
The 66th edition of the Washington State Legislature will have a new Speaker of the House for the first time in 22 years after Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) decided to step away from the leadership position.
Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) will become the first female speaker of the House in Washington history.
“When you have the same speaker for 22 years you might not know everything he’s thinking but you know his thought process,” said Vick. “We’re all going into this new. And I think if you asked some of our Democratic friends, they’d probably say the same thing.”
“I had the opportunity to sit down and meet with her,” said Rep. Larry Hoff (R-Vancouver), who is entering his second session in the House. “We disagree sometimes on philosophy and ideology, but it will be interesting to see how she intends to lead the House of Representatives. I think her intent is to do things as efficiently as possible.”
Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center), said she intends to introduce legislation that would make it a mandatory life sentence if someone commits a violent crime with a stolen firearm.
“How are you going to pay for that?” asked Hoff.
“It’s cheap. Christmas cheap,” responded Rivers, “compared to the loss of life.”
That led into a discussion about gun laws, and finding a balance between keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals, while making sure that responsible gun owners don’t have their rights taken away.
“When it comes to Washington state, it’s pretty tough to find a bill that we haven’t passed around guns,” said Vick, adding that criminals don’t care about laws making it illegal for them to own a gun. “They’re still going to get one.”
Rivers responded that, in her opinion, the best way to curb gun violence is to crack down harder on people who use them illegally.
“They’re not like going, ‘I’m not going to do it because it’s against the law.’ They’re like, ‘I don’t care,’” she said. “So I think that we have to get tougher on those people, those bad choices, and just put a stop to this, because it’s ridiculous.”
Vick is a co-chair on the new Joint Commission on the Interstate 5 Bridge, which Rivers also sits on along with six other Washington lawmakers and eight Oregon legislators. Asked if they support a third crossing over the Columbia River, both said they believe pretty much everyone on the commission would love to eventually see more crossings.
“I don’t think there’s anyone on the committee who doesn’t want a third, fourth, fifth, sixth bridge,” said Rivers. “I mean, if you look how many Portland has, it seems like we should have just as many going between our states.”
Vick said he’s been impressed with how open many of the Oregon members of the committee have been to discussing alternatives, and exploring ideas that were discarded as part of the ill-fated Columbia River Crossing.
“For example, the Senator from the Rose Garden, Lou Fredrickson (D-Portland), that man hates smog and congestion more than anything in the world,” said Vick. “So I think if we’re just putting up a new I-5 bridge that does nothing to affect congestion, I can guarantee you he’s going to give a loud no speech on that and probably influence a vast majority of his colleagues.”
Rivers added that there has also been some leeway on the inclusion of light rail on the new bridge, with Oregon lawmakers now open to other mass transit alternatives that could reduce the cost of the project.
On the topic of property taxes, in light of tax cuts promised as part of the McCleary education funding fix that expire this year, Rivers said the tax burden has grown exponentially on many of her constituents.
“I’m most sensitive to Camas because most seniors lost their homes in Camas, in my district,” said Rivers. “It was the seniors who lost their homes because they can no longer afford to pay the taxes.”
“There’s the old adage that one is too many,” added Vick. “But really, I mean, we’re talking almost a crisis.”
That led one attendee to challenge the lawmakers to name a single constituent who had actually lost their home due to property tax increases.
“I don’t like liars,” he said, before turning to the crowd and asking why they didn’t want to pay taxes. “Why the hell don’t you want to pay taxes? Why don’t you want to build a civic center for your children?”
That last comment was a reference to a $72 million Camas Pool Bond, which was overwhelmingly defeated during the November general election, and likely cost the incumbent mayor her job.
Asked if they would support proposed legislation to add an HPV vaccine to the list of those required to attend school in the state, Rivers said she hadn’t had much of a chance to review the proposal yet, but that she had concerns.
“My younger sister is a nurse with three children,” said Rivers. “And after doing the research, she said it’s just too dicey. She said she’s taking other means, or other approaches, to keep them safe.”
Asked if they would support legislation enacting the California zero emissions vehicle standards, or a low carbon fuel standard, Vick said he’s open to the conversation.
“I think what we want to ensure is that transportation does not become cost prohibitive,” he added, “whether it’s trucking, whether it’s logging, whether it’s just getting to and from work.”
“Last year’s bill suggested that everything that was delivered on a truck would have gone up,” said Hoff. “If you ordered a popsicle, that popsicle would have gone up in price … If indeed there’s some movement this year, I’ll take a look at it again, but I can’t support anything that mimics what happened last year.”
“If I can get my concerns addressed and make sure that we’re moving forward in a way that isn’t financially hurtful, that doesn’t gut our ability to replenish or rejuvenate or build new infrastructure, those kinds of things, then I’ll have a look at that,” added Rivers. “But for right now, what we’ve been presented with seems like it would be fairly devastating for certain segments of our society, and also for our infrastructure.”