Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It was an honor to represent you in the state House the past several months during our 2023 legislative session. Now that the session has ended, including a one-day special session held May 16, I wanted to touch base with all of you to share some of our wins and losses.
My first session as state representative for the 26th Legislative District was a mixed bag. It often left me with a sense of gratification and accomplishment for some of the great work I did along with the work of my fellow representatives. And sometimes I felt frustration or disappointment. Let’s start with what I know is one of the most important issues on all of our minds: public safety.
A priority for me heading into the 2023 session was fixing vehicular pursuits and the state law on drug possession—also referred to as the “Blake fix.”
Unfortunately, these were areas of real frustration and discouragement for me.
In 2021, the Legislature passed sweeping police reforms, including a bill that radically limited the ability of police to pursue fleeing criminals. That law raised the threshold for police pursuits to only when they have probable cause—an incredibly high bar. It effectively eliminated officers’ ability to engage in pursuits unless they suspected a person of the most violent crimes. The consequences of this bad policy have been tragic. We had a bipartisan bill that would have allowed officers to engage in most pursuits when they had reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause, which also included some reasonable safeguards. The bill was a true collaboration between lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. All of that bipartisan work went by the wayside when a handful of the most progressive voices in the majority replaced that bill with an inadequate proposal which we ended up debating and voting on in the House chamber. While the final bill does provide a few additional circumstances when law enforcement can engage in a pursuit when they have reasonable suspicion of certain crimes rather than probable cause, those circumstances are extremely rare. The bill does not cover some of the most prevalent crimes we see, such as auto theft.
Under the bill we passed, dozens of felony offenses will remain categorically ineligible for vehicular pursuit including, motor vehicle theft, organized retail theft, and residential burglary.
I voted against this poor substitute for real reform. It is the wrong policy and does not do enough to protect our community.
It was ultimately a mixed vote in both the House and Senate.
Before the final vote, I checked in with our local law enforcement in the 26th District and here’s what they had to say about the then-proposed policy.
From Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey:
“The pending legislation surrounding police pursuits is not as comprehensive as we would have hoped to see. The crimes included in the list of ‘violent offenses’ for which pursuits may be authorized are far more limited than what may seem,” Busey said. “Missing from the list of crimes for which law enforcement would be allowed to pursue is residential burglary, hit and run with injuries, and assaulting a police officer, along with many more serious crimes. Although we appreciate the work of our 26th District representatives and senator, there is more work to be done by the entire Legislature. Our citizens largely expect us to maintain order and keep our communities safe. In its present form, SB 5352 does very little to enhance that ability.”
From Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese:
“Legislation to address changes to the current police pursuit law is now reaching a critical point of action by the Legislature. What had been promising bills submitted and cosponsored with bipartisan support and support of local law enforcement and many elected officials and organizations, has now been changed and watered down to a version that may make very limited improvements. I do appreciate the work by those legislators working to make balanced changes to this law and provide law enforcement with the needed tools and the discretion to perform the work their communities expect of them. Some have held firm on their convictions while some have tried to compromise to get at least some improvements made,” Gese said. “Unfortunately, while the current proposed legislation adds very limited improvements to the criteria in which police may pursue, it leaves out one very important and critical element. This is the need to create a deterrent effect to all those who commit crimes such as reckless and aggressive driving, auto theft, burglary or many other felonies that would not be included when considering whether police could pursue a vehicle or not and will exploit the law.
I have little confidence in the promises made by some to improve this policy next session, but will do everything in my power to ensure that happens.
Learn more about the fight to restore law enforcement’s ability to engage in pursuits here.
My disappointment on the issue of drug possession lies particularly in the fact that we couldn’t get meaningful, bipartisan reform done on time during the regular session. It required a special session to get this bill to the finish line when everyone had known for two years we would need to pass a policy by the end of the 2023 session. I am grateful that we ended up passing an acceptable, bipartisan fix to our drug possession laws during the May 16 special session. I am grateful for the intense bipartisan negotiations it took to get there. But that bipartisan effort should have started months earlier. And that same bipartisan effort should have been a key element of other important legislative work during the session—such as vehicular pursuits. To allow only a few powerful voices to make decisions for the entire state means most of Washington is missing out on crucial policy debate, isn’t being adequately represented, and those voices aren’t being respected in our democratic process.
All that said, I am pleased to have voted yes on the final policy to fix the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision that led to a weak drug possession law over the past two years and fueled a doubling of the overdose rate as Washington deals with the fentanyl crisis. While the bill we passed in the special session is not perfect, it offers a good balance of accountability and compassion necessary to address this crisis.
Learn more about how House Republicans helped create a stronger drug possession law here.
Under the bill passed in the special session, the following will become law July 1:
- Possession and public use are modified to a gross misdemeanor. It caps the maximum penalty for possession or public use at 180 days in jail for the first two convictions and 364 days for the third and subsequent convictions.
- Greater prosecutorial control of subsequent diversions to hold criminals accountable.
- Flexibility to the court and prosecutor to fashion appropriate consequences for knowing possession, knowing use in a public space, and allows for charges of other crimes in addition to possession and use crimes.
- Local governments will retain authority on issues such as placing harm reduction facilities (needle exchanges/safe injection sites) in their neighborhoods.
A Few Highlights
I am very pleased to have seen two of my bills passed this session and signed into law by the Gov. Inslee.
House Bill 1540 will require all driver training courses in the state to add curriculum to their courses on how to safely share the roads with large commercial vehicles such as busses and trucks.
We have seen a dramatic increase in traffic deaths in Washington state recently. I am very proud to have sponsored this bipartisan policy that passed both the House and Senate unanimously to provide a small change I know will help save lives on the road.
WATCH: My floor speech on my traffic safety bill here.
House Bill 1334 helps local transit authorities save some money in their budgets. It exempts Public Transportation Benefit Districts from having to pay a lease for easements on state-owned aquatic lands or harbor areas they use for ferry terminals or docks.
In Washington state, our ferries and ports are exempted from leases on Department of Natural Resources lands. My bill gives the same exemption to our local transit authorities. It is a simple change that costs the state virtually nothing and will be a huge benefit for our local transit authorities.
I am incredibly proud that both of my bills were passed unanimously in true bipartisan nature. I hope to see more of that across the entire legislature in 2024.
Bipartisan transportation and capital budgets fund local projects
A $9 billion capital construction budget appropriates nearly $68 million for projects in the 26th District, including:
- $41.3 million for modernization of West Sound Technical Skills Center – Bremerton
- $1.3 million for Lakebay Marina cleanup – Key Peninsula
- $1 million for marina breakwater replacement – Port Orchard
- $1 million for PenMet Parks Community Recreation Center – Gig Harbor
- $165,000 for Admiral Theatre improvements – Bremerton
The House approved a $13.5 billion transportation budget, including nearly $228 million for the 26th District. Local projects to receive funding include:
- $182 million for local ferry projects, including vessel improvements and preservation, reservation system modernization, and preservation and improvements to terminals.
- $16 million for SR 3/Gorst widening.
- $10.8 million for preservation of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
- $1.6 million for SR 16/Wollochet Drive safety improvements in Gig Harbor.
Passage of House Bill 1846 also opens procurement of new ferry vessels to national shipbuilders and eliminates the restriction that ferries be built exclusively in Washington state. This will make it more competitive and cost effective to secure new ferries.
I am incredibly concerned about the future of parental rights in our state following the passage of a bill that erodes those rights so egregiously it terrifies me as a parent.
Senate Bill 5599 was passed in the middle of the night when the majority knows many in the public and the press are not watching. The bill would allow shelters for runaways, host homes and others to hide kids seeking gender affirming or reproductive healthcare from their parents by exempting them from parental notification requirements. This policy is an absolute overreach of state government, and I am committed to seeing it reversed. It was hard not to get choked up when I spoke against this bill on the House floor.
WATCH: My floor speech against a bill eroding parental rights here.
I am also very worried about the dwindling voice of the people. The Legislature passed multiple bills this session that undo policies that were put in place through voter initiatives—a state constitutional right afforded to the people of Washington state. Among the voter-approved policies reversed by the majority this session were tax advisory votes under Senate Bill 5082.
Advisory votes were established under Initiative 960 in 2007. It created a process for Washington citizens to participate in an advisory vote on whether a new tax or a tax increase passed by the Legislature should be repealed or maintained. The vote is nonbinding, and the results do not affect the law. However, they do make clear the position of the people on new and increased taxes. The majority claimed advisory votes are confusing to voters. I believe it is more likely they just don’t like what the voters are saying. I believe strongly in government accountability and transparency. The fact is, this weakens both and directly erases the will of the voters on multiple levels. The voters said they wanted this policy. It must be their voice that reverses that decision.
WATCH: My floor speech against the bill abolishing advisory votes here.
On a final note, I wanted to remind all of you about an upcoming change to your paycheck. Unfortunately, the majority was immovable on the issue of repealing or fixing the error-filled long term care tax set to take effect July 1. While the need for something in this space is clear this problematic tax is not it. Once this policy kicks in it will cost a person earning $50,000 a year $290 annually unless you were able to opt out. I will have more to say on this in my next update.
Learn more about the Long-Term Care Tax here.
WATCH: My final video update for the 2023 session here.
You can learn more about my work in the 2023 session here.
Learn more about all House Republican work in the 2023 session here.
Those are just a few of the highlights from this session. I will have more to share in my upcoming newsletter that should arrive in June. I will also be sharing additional email updates with you throughout the summer and leading up to the next session on a monthly basis. I also want to continue to hear from you – remember your voice is what I am in Olympia to represent so it is vital I know what is impacting you and your families. I encourage all of you to reach out with any comments, concerns, or suggestions in the months ahead as I work on setting my 2024 session priorities.
Contact: Rep. Spencer Hutchins here.
I look forward to hearing from you! As always, let me say how truly honored I am to represent this community I love so much. The people of this district are my lifelong friends and neighbors. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.