Shift’s Newsmaker Interview is with second-term Representative Peter Abbarno (R – Centralia, who was elected to a House Republican Caucus leadership position (Assistant Floor Leader) prior to the start of the 2023 legislative session. Abbarno is an attorney and former Centralia city councilmember. He is married to public school teacher and is the father of two children.
Representative Abbarno shares his thoughts on a wide variety of issues that are being discussed by the current legislators. He is the co-sponsor of a much needed bill to reform the emergency powers of the governor. He discussed Republican proposals to help lower- and middle- class families with permanent tax breaks. He opposes a Democrat voting measure that prioritizes criminals’ voting rights and another bill that eliminates the public’s voice on tax measures by eliminating Advisory Votes which was originally enacted by a citizens’ initiative in 2009. Representative Abbarno also provides his views on the state’s housing crisis, school choice legislation, and how some Democrats refuse to repeal their disastrous police pursuit restrictions which has made our state a more comfortable place to be a criminal..
You have joined with Representative Chris Corry (R – Yakima) to introduce HB 1535 to bring much needed reform to the governor’s emergency powers. What changes would this bill bring? We heard many Democrats during last year’s campaign promise voters they would consider making changes to the laws. Are you finding many Democrat legislators keeping their promise and actually supporting reform?
House Bill 1535 would prevent the governor from assuming emergency powers in perpetuity, as we saw during the pandemic. Under this proposal, an emergency declaration would automatically expire after 60 days without legislative approval. The goal of this emergency powers change is to bring checks-and-balance to the process and deliver accountability.
While House Bill 1535 has yet to receive a hearing from the Democrat majority, I remain hopeful that we can come together as Washingtonians this session, regardless of party, and ensure that future generations have the right balance between the executive’s ability to deal with emergencies and proper oversight from the Legislature – the branch of government closest to the people. That being said, thus far I have been disappointed in the lack of interest by House Democrats to hear the bill and provide Washingtonians some assurances that there is accountability in our government, even during emergencies.
From an outsiders perspective, it appears there is a small group of Democrat senators (led by Senator Manaka Dhingra) who stand in the way of removing the Democrats’ disastrous police pursuit restrictions. Many local officials and law enforcement agencies agree this reform is needed to help reduce crime. What are your thoughts on this legislation, and do you believe Democrat senators will allow a floor vote on this important issue?
Since the enactment of the 2021 anti-police bills, Washington state has seen a predictable rise in violent and property crime and the loss of law and order. I would bet that most Washingtonians have either been a victim of a crime or knows someone who has over the past several years. While the Legislature addressed some of these issues last year, restoring the ability of law enforcement to pursue suspects remains as a key element.
As the state with the fewest law enforcement personnel per capita in the nation, I believe there is now a bipartisan consensus that Washington needs more highly trained police officers with the necessary tools and ability to deliver justice and stop the repeat criminals from terrorizing our neighborhoods.
I support HB 1053 sponsored by my Republican colleague Rep. Eric Robertson and HB 1363 sponsored by my Democrat colleague Rep. Alicia Rule that addresses concerns over law enforcement’s ability to pursue vehicles. If the House passes legislation to address police pursuit, that could put enough pressure on the Senate to follow suit. If not, Sen. Dhingra and her Senate majority party should be held responsible.
Addressing the pursuit issue, making possession of dangerous drugs illegal again, redefining retail theft, increasing the number of law enforcement officers, and preventing property crimes are all policies that need to be passed this legislative session.
Republican lawmakers appear to be committed to helping lower- and middle- income households who are struggling due to liberal inflationary policies and expensive energy policies. What can be done to help these families?
It’s hard to remember when the state was better positioned, or had more options on the table, to provide economic relief to working families than today. We could permanently reduce the sales tax, which disproportionately hurts lower and fixed-income Washingtonians. We could lower the gas tax to ease the pain at the pump. We could provide property tax relief and build more homes so that young families can afford to buy a home. We could expand the working families tax credit to get more money into the pockets of our neighbors to provide for greater economic security.
Another priority is providing affordable and accessible childcare and early learning opportunities for families. I remember the struggles my wife and I had when we first had our daughter and son over a decade ago. Sadly, many families are still facing this problem. Pursuing educational and economic opportunities is difficult for many families living in childcare deserts. It’s also an integral part of kindergarten readiness and preparing students for a lifetime of learning success. There’s so much more we could do to invest in better childcare opportunities and begin rolling back some of the unnecessary and burdensome regulations that have accumulated over the years that have made childcare in Washington too expensive.
What are your thoughts on the Democrats’ “Jail Voting Plan” (HB 1174) which would require all local governments with jail facilities to develop a plan to make sure all inmates have the ability to vote?
This is another example of prioritizing criminals over their victims. Inmates may or may not have the right to vote based on their conviction. This bill creates a massive unfunded mandate for counties, and at the same time sends the message that criminals voting is more important than seniors, veterans, and other groups. It could also potentially create an unsafe environment in jails with additional county auditor staff, candidates, and campaign committees visiting jails for electioneering activity.
House Bill 1174 is one of many bad electioneering and voting policies that are making their way through the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee, where I serve as the Ranking Republican member.
Due to liberal regulations, Washington State ranks dead last in the country for housing availability. This has resulted in homes being unaffordable for most state residents seeking to purchase their first home and has caused rental rates to skyrocket. It is also a contributing factor in our state’s homelessness crisis. What are Republicans seeking to do to help lower housing cost?
The State of Washington has spent billions of dollars over the past decade on housing programs that have not met our state’s housing needs. Merely spending more won’t solve our housing crisis. We must reduce overburdensome regulations, create greater land use flexibility for local governments, and allow for streamlined permitting. In particular, two bills sponsored by my colleague Rep. Cyndy Jacobsen, would boost Washington’s housing supply: House Bill 1401 and 1402.
House Bill 1401 would allow cities and counties to adopt a simple, low-cost, expedited permit process for development of single-family, duplex, triplex, or accessory dwelling units with less than 1,801 square feet per unit. This would seriously lower costs for low- and moderate-income households. House Bill 1402 would allow local municipalities to open more land to be used for additional affordable housing units.
These are just two key bills that Republicans are sponsoring this year that would roll back burdensome regulations and empower Washingtonians to build a home, build stability, and build a future.
As the Ranking Republican on the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee, you see many of the bills Democrats are proposing which seek to restrict public participation in government. For example Democrats are seeking to remove the voice of the voters by eliminating Advisory Votes on tax measures (HB 1158). This was passed by the citizens through an initiative in 2007. What are your views on this legislation, and will Democrats actually pass such a bill?
The people of Washington directly enacted advisory votes through Initiative 960 in 2007. I see no reason why the Legislature should be overturning the will of the people and eliminating what remains a useful measure of voter sentiment. It’s why we know that nearly two-thirds of voters believe we should repeal the long-term care program and payroll tax, for example. And, with over 400,000 working Washingtonians opting out of the Washington Cares Payroll Tax Program, the Advisory Vote proved to be an accurate measure that should be followed by the Democrat Majority.
We’re here to represent the people, and advisory votes help us, as policymakers, directly gauge how voters feel about issues that affect them. It is unfortunate not all my colleagues value the input form the community.
If the majority party no longer wants to hear from the people, the issue should go back to the people to decide whether to continue voting on Advisory Votes.
In committee, there were three themes shared by those opposed to Advisory Votes:
- They don’t matter;
- They are confusing; and
- They should not be at the top of the ballot.
Solutions without repealing advisory votes would be to:
- Make them binding;
- Remove the Attorney General from the language process; and
- Move them to the bottom of the ballot.
Finally, Republicans continue to push for School Choice legislation which would assign to the student the funds the state now gives to school districts (approximately $10,500 per student). The families can use this money for private school tuition, educational materials, home schooling, and other legitimate educational expenses to provide the best educational experience possible for their child. What are your thoughts on this legislation?
I agree the paramount duty of our state is to continue support and improvement of our public school system as a whole. Since the McCleary lawsuit was “fixed” by the Legislature (before I was elected), funding for public school has dramatically decreased as a percentage of our overall budget. That has greatly impacted quality of education and facilities for teachers, staff, and students. The state is especially setting up rural school districts and property-poor school districts for failure and we see the growing disparity every year.
There is room for options and choices for parents and children that would be an alternative to the traditional “brick-and-mortar” public school. We have already seen flexible alternatives and enhancements to schooling like apprenticeships, college in the classroom, charter schools, homeschooling, and running start. They all make a huge difference for our students and their families. Not every child learns the same way, and not every family flourishes in the same educational scenario.
I support more choice for parents and kids and have always believed that education begins and ends in the home. As the father of two young kids and the husband of a public-school teacher, I am passionate about improving education and ensuring that our kids have the best outcomes possible. I believe we should empower parents to utilize the educational options that best fit their child’s needs, whether that be public, private, or home-based. We need an education system that puts students and families first.
For additional information on Representative Abbarno and to contact his office, please visit his official website,