Commentary: Legislators must do better in 2023 and Republicans have a path


Each regular session of our state Legislature begins on the second Monday of January.

Traditionally, the Senate and the House of Representatives meet in a joint session early on, so Washington’s governor can offer an assessment of how the state is doing and share executive-branch priorities with the legislative branch.

That had Gov. Jay Inslee standing before us on Jan. 10, day two of this year’s 105-day session, saying he could “proudly report the state of our state is strong.”

Good try, but no one should buy it. Our state, meaning government, needs to do several things much better this year.

Crime in Washington is at historic levels, yet we rank dead last nationally for the number of law enforcement officers in relation to our population. That’s what happens when Democrats make state laws friendlier to criminals and less friendly to police and victims, then refuse to deal with their mistakes.

We must do better. I heard Inslee say “crime” just once in his state-of-the-state remarks. It came when he was basically blaming firearms, not criminals, for the increase in crime. The real solution includes our bill to help local governments hire more officers. Democrats ignored last year’s legislation but several are co-sponsoring this year’s Senate Bill 5361. The Democrats’ 2021 law that effectively banned most police pursuits also needs fixing.

The No. 1 cause of death for Washington residents under age 60 is an overdose of drugs or alcohol. The death rate due to overdoses has about doubled since 2020, and grown at several times the national average. There can be no denying the connection between the upward spiral in overdose deaths and the 2021 decision by Democrats in Olympia to basically legalize hard drugs — methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl — in responding to the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision.

We must do better. There is ample proof that our criminal justice system used to give people the incentive to seek and complete substance abuse treatment. Even though Inslee disagrees, Republicans are proposing to fix the Blake situation by restoring that lifesaving leverage.

Washington is no longer a top 10 state for K-12 education. Test scores for fourth- and eighth-graders have fallen sharply in recent years. Democrats have cut support for K-12 to just 43% of general fund spending, for what is supposed to be the Legislature’s “paramount duty” under our state constitution.

We must do better. Although Inslee’s words about supporting special education were welcome, and long overdue, he said nothing about helping students recover from the profound loss of learning they suffered due to the state’s response to the COVID pandemic — a crisis he helped create.

Thanks to Republicans, the current state budget includes $1 million for grants to school districts to pay for intensive tutoring. We need much more of that to respond to the learning loss, and should also look at summer school and maybe even restructuring the school calendar. Our children are counting on us for innovative ways to help them catch up.

It’s becoming harder for people in our state to achieve the dream of owning a home. The figures I’ve seen show Washington has sunk to seventh lowest in the nation in the percentage of residents who are homeowners. We’re also in the bottom 10 for housing affordability.

At the same time, homelessness has surged. Over the past decade, the numbers of people in Washington labeled by the government as unsheltered homeless, chronically homeless, and unsheltered chronically homeless have climbed at roughly 20 times the rate of the nation as a whole. Most states have seen their homeless populations fall.

We must do better. Unfortunately, Inslee’s answer is to put our state $4 billion deeper in debt to build shelters, supportive housing and affordable housing. There is no reason to think this will produce a better outcome than what government has tried for years. It’s time for something different: Reduce the regulations that make homes so expensive to build, which will help unleash the ability of our state’s building industry to create the hundreds of thousands of additional housing units we need.

The governor wrapped up with what he sees as another important priority:  access to abortion. If women are being forced to leave our state to obtain abortions, Inslee surely would have told us. Instead, what he said sounds suspiciously like a move toward what could be called “abortion tourism.” I can’t see the people of our state supporting that.

Our time at the Capitol is better spent on the real, urgent threats to people and communities across our state. Senate Republicans address them through our priorities for 2023: public safety, affordability and education.

The path is found in the thoughtful legislation we are putting on the table, which can be found at the website. That’s how we as a state can do better.


Sen. John Braun, of Centralia, serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.