VANCOUVER — Rep. Vicki Kraft (R-Vancouver, 17th District) successfully completed an “11th-and-one-half’’ effort to get her first bill signed into law. And, the issue of the law was one Kraft is very passionate about — veterans.
Kraft sponsored House Bill 2138 that helps disabled veterans with some of the costs associated with home modifications. The bill provides a tax exemption for the labor and materials associated with constructing an adapted home, or modifying an existing residence, to accommodate a service-related disability.
The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee last week.
“I’m proud my first bill signed into law is one that benefits veterans and recognizes the sacrifice and service they’ve made for all of us,’’ Kraft said. “They answered their country’s call. It’s essential we do all we can for them.’’
Kraft’s bill was previously introduced by Rep. Steve Kirby (D-Tacoma, 29th District) but it failed to get through the legislature. Kraft received Kirby’s blessing to run with it late in this year’s legislative session and the Vancouver lawmaker was able to see it become law.
“It really was an 11th-and-one-half-hour lift to see if we could get this done,’’ said Kraft, who credited southwest Washington Sens. Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver, 17th District) and Ann Rivers (R-La Center, 18th District) for helping the bill get through the Senate. “We got the bi-partisan support we needed.’’
Kraft’s bill recognizes the importance of access to affordable, accessible housing for disabled veterans.
“The ability to return home after a life altering disability is an important part of the healing process,’’ Kraft said in a release from the Washington State House Republican Communications. “Home modifications are often needed prior to, or immediately following, a veteran returning home.’’
Disabled veterans qualified to receive adapted housing assistance through the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) would be eligible under Kraft’s bill. Disabled veterans can apply for help for constructing, or modifying, a home for service related injuries through the VA’s Specially Adapted Housing or Special Housing Adaption grant programs.
The law goes into effect Aug. 1, 2017.
Other issues, experiences
Kraft sat down with ClarkCountyToday.com last week to discuss her first bill and other issues. She said one of her first experiences of the session had to do with a long-standing battle of Republican lawmakers to get their Democrat counterparts to prioritize education funding.
“I had the opportunity, I believe it was the second week of the session, to stand up on the house floor and ask that we consider changing our rules so we can actually fund education first in the budget,’’ Kraft said. “I knew that had been attempted the last few years, but what I found out was that it had been a Republican effort since 2006. Funding education is a priority, that’s really great to say, but we need to put our money where our mouths are.’’
Kraft said it comes down to a basic philosophical difference between members of the two political parties.
“I had this Democrat in Olympia tell me there are two very different approaches,’’ Kraft said, recalling a conversation she had earlier this year. “Essentially, Democrats will say, ‘what all do we want to fund, now how are we going to pay for it?’ Republicans will approach it by asking ‘how much money do we have to spend, and then go forward with that.’’’
As a result, lawmakers are once again trying to fund education during a special session, rather than early in the session. Kraft says the effort now is to meld the two conflicting plans (House and Senate) into one. She said the Democrats are proposing $8 billion in new taxes over the next two bienniums (through 2021), which Kraft said would represent $20 billion more spending in the last eight years if passed.
Kraft said either plan will take the state of Washington’s education funding to over 50 percent of the entire budget.
Efforts to implement income tax
Like fellow Reps. Liz Pike and Brandon Vick, Kraft is fighting a somewhat clandestine effort by the Democrats to implement a state income tax.
“The only way they can pay for their education budget is to raise taxes, but so far Democrats in the House have not been willing to take those votes,’’ Kraft said. “They understand their constituents are not in favor of raising B & O taxes. They’re also looking at a 7 percent capital gains tax, which we all know is a door for them to move into a state income tax.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the state income tax effort and desire is actually in the Washington state Democratic platform documents,’’ Kraft said. “So, when people try to say, ‘oh no, that’s not something Democrats would do.’ It gets harder to say that it’s not there right over the horizon. It’s a very scary proposition. Once you crack that door, you’re not going back.’’
Along with Rep. Pike, Kraft participated in a February “Transportation Congestion’’ Town Hall in Vancouver. Pike announced Friday that she will hold the second Town Hall in that series on May 20 at Washington State University Vancouver.
Kraft might attend, but she is not a co-host this time around. The reason is that she is moving forward with an attempt to create a vision and eventually a project for a new westside crossing over the Columbia River. Because of that, she believes it would be disingenuous on her part to co-host a Town Hall that is still focused on the collection of ideas for solutions.
“It looks pretty clear to me that if we’re looking at I-5 congestion and making sure our citizens can commute much more easily, as well as looking at freight mobility which will help improve our economic development, what you have to do is get the extra capacity,’’ Kraft said. “That will be by significantly adding lanes and drawing traffic, whether cars or freight, off of I-5 as quickly as possible, getting them out of that main thoroughfare, or parking lot, that we currently have on I-5.’’
“The westside project is currently what I’m looking at,’’ Kraft said. “If we’re really talking congestion relief, you have to add a third connector, or passage, of some sort. If we’re talking I-5 congestion and pulling that traffic off I-5 as quickly as possible and bypassing Portland, it is our best option.’’
Kraft said after the February Town Hall she conducted a transportation survey and had over 300 responses, which she said were more responses than for any other survey conducted by a House Republican this session.
One of the questions she asked was for respondents to prioritize a traffic congestion solution. Kraft said adding the westside crossing was the No. 1 response and that an I-5 bridge replacement and an eastside crossing were neck-and-neck as the second highest choice.
Kraft also indicated there had been signs of support in the Oregon legislature, specifically from Rep. Rich Vial (R-26th District). Legislation proposed by Vial did not pass but both Kraft and Pike have met with Vial to open the lines of communication on solving the two state’s transportation issues.
“He did have high legislative support,’’ Kraft said. “His bill is not moving forward after the public hearing but there is interest over there.’’
Kraft also introduced a recent amendment in the Washington House to carve out $300,000 to explore the westside crossing but it was not approved.