Lawmakers representing the 17th Legislative District talked the issues with constituents March 29 as a telephone town hall was hosted that focused on education funding, road infrastructure, the smoking age and REAL ID act compliance, among other things.
The day following a similar telephone town hall hosted by the legislators of the 20th District, lawmakers representing part of Clark County took to their own phones to answer questions from the public.
Sen. Lynda Wilson and Reps. Paul Harris and Vicki Kraft, all R-Vancouver, addressed about a dozen different questions from largely Vancouver-area citizens. Questions covered a variety of topics with the big concerns of how the state will fulfill the mandate of the McCleary school funding case decision as well as road projects in the county and across the Columbia River.
Wilson talked about the school levy reform a part of the full funding of basic K-12 education as mandated in the McCleary decision. Apart from evening out the levies statewide, the Senate Majority Caucus plan would also result in an across-the-board $12,500 per student annual funding rate, she explained.
The Senate school funding plan was the focus of one of three polls presented to callers, which had half of those polled saying the plan was good, and about a quarter each for both disapproval of the plan and those who were unsure.
Bill, from Vancouver, attempted to put the legislators on the spot with a question asking about HB 1843, the House Democrats school funding plan (Note: callers were addressed by first name and residence only.) When none of the legislators could name specific page and lines where they disagreed (and required prompting from the moderator on what the bill entailed) he said the legislators weren’t doing their job, though the moderator retorted by bringing up the sheer volume of bills in the legislature.
Kraft said she had to applaud the bill for its enhanced work for the benefit of students, but disagreed on the plan’s “safety net” approach as well as its lack of definite funding sources.
“The Senate plan has identified funding attached today; we know how we are going to pay for that,” Kraft said, explaining that lack in the House bill is why she voted against it.
Harris had several issues with the bill, namely that local levies would still be a significant funding source for schools.
“I think Democrats really missed what the Supreme Court was saying,” Harris said. “They were saying that (the state) had inequities because of levies, because certain districts could pass levies and others could not.”
“Much of those levy dollars are going to basic education, which is exactly what the Supreme Court says we cannot do,” Harris said about the Democrat plan.
Kraft agreed with Harris’ reasoning, mentioning that the House plan had local levy lid rates at around a quarter of revenues.
Phil, from Vancouver, brought up the Interstate 5 bridge midway through the hour-long event. He referenced current efforts in the legislature focused specifically on the bridge which he said doesn’t address traffic needs, and any rehabilitation of that bridge wouldn’t work to ease congestion.
The caller also referenced comments made by Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, regarding mass transit, specifically that those not in support were “ferrets,” asking whether or not the 17th LD members were one of them.
Wilson said that there would be some form of mass transit over whatever project comes to be, but restated that all of the District 17 representatives were opposed to light rail. Wilson had personally testified against the Columbia River Crossing project, the failed attempt of a crossing that died several years prior after millions were spent in studies.
Wilson, along with Harris, are both in support of pushes from their counterparts in the 49th District next door, as both Wylie and Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, have bills that would seek to establish a joint legislative action committee with Oregon legislators to work on a replacement. That said, as far as what the solution will look like is still up in the air.
“Right now there is no design in any bridge; we don’t even know if the bill is going to pass,” Wilson said, adding that the other unknown of whether Oregon lawmakers will be willing to participate.
“We can’t do anything unless Oregon is on board, and lets us drop the other side of the bridge on their side,” Wilson said.
Kraft, who in the past had not been in support of the bills that all but two Clark County-based lawmakers have, has previously stated that the specific nature of the project was too narrow and that she wished to get public feedback before identifying any specific corridor.
Kraft has received feedback, and recently shared what she had found in a guest column in The Reflector dated March 22.
“Personally, if I could wave my wand, I’d probably look at a west-side solution,” Kraft said, referring to the possibility of having a bridge and thoroughfare west of the current I-5 stretch. “At this point, (my focus) is just trying to hear from you all.”
Interstate 5 wasn’t the only road-related issue discussed, as Alan, also of Vancouver, had a question regarding the possibility of widening a stretch of State Route 14.
“When we moved in, it was a four-lane country road that nobody ever drove down,” the individual said. “Now every morning it’s a parking lot.”
Wilson, who sits on the Senate transportation committee, said that they had approved the project in the committee’s transportation budget earlier that week, using funds originally assigned to an east county bridge project. She mentioned that the project would help Clark County residents, “particularly the ones in the 18th and the 17th districts,” she said.
“The funding is there, and we would be able to start on that fairly soon,” Wilson said.
Mike, another Vancouverite, asked about the effects of the REAL ID Act on license renewals in the state. The act, initially passed in 2005 nationwide, has criteria for licensing that so far the state of Washington has not been in compliance with yet.
That is set to change, as Wilson explained that a bill moving through the legislature addresses an upcoming deadline for compliance. To meet that end the bill would make the current “standard” license not valid for federal purposes, but the current “enhanced” license would receive a price drop.
Wilson explained that Washingtonians will need an enhanced license in order to fly or enter places like Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Currently those enhanced licenses cost $108, but if the bill passes the charge will drop to $66, which is $12 more than the current “standard” license renewal fee.
Raising the age of tobacco use to 21 was an issue at the center of a poll, with an overwhelming majority of 77 percent agreeing on raising the age.
Harris had been involved with the push, being the primary sponsor of a bill that would raise the age on both tobacco and vapor products.
“I think it’s just really important that tobacco and those substances are out of our high school,” Harris said. He cited a study where youth who remain tobacco-free up until 21 have a 30 to 40 percent less chance of ever trying the drug.
“And if they do smoke, their chances of stopping are far greater,” Harris added.
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