This week’s Newsmaker Interview is with Senator Shelly Short (R – Addy) who serves the 7th Legislative District (Northeast Washington from the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border). After serving in the state House of Representatives for four terms, she joined the Washington State Senate in 2017. Senator Short is the Republican Floor Leader and serves on the powerful Senate Rules Committee (along with three other committee assignments). She is a former paralegal and previously served as a legislative staff member.
In her interview, Senator Short called the Democrats’ 2021 anti-police package an “absolute disaster” and she explains why she voted against the Democrats’ watered down reform of the state’s police pursuit legislation. The senator blames Governor Inslee for the state not following the law to exempt farmers from the impact of the his expensive cap and trade policies. Senator Short is also critical of the governor for killing bi-partisan efforts to improve fish runs on agricultural lands. She also discusses her views on reforming agriculture overtime laws, improving wildfire prevention methods, and improving the state’s Growth Management Act to reduce the cost of housing.
You voted “No” on the police pursuit reform bill (SB 5352) that passed the Senate last week. What are your thoughts on the legislation and what more were you seeking in the bill?
Two years ago, legislative Democrats went too far in weakening the hand of law enforcement. Today our state faces an absolute disaster, and I think lawmakers in both parties recognize it. Crime is out of control, and every week or so we hear about some new outrage, like the reckless driver the police couldn’t stop near Ellensburg two weeks ago, and who plowed head-on into another car a short time later in Sunnyside, killing two kids ages 6 and 8.
Right before our legislative cutoff March 8 – the final day for us to consider most bills originating in the Senate – the Democrats sent us a bill that partially restored police pursuits. They needed several of our votes in order to move the bill over to the House. I’m sure you know the dynamic here – there are many on their side of the aisle who believe law enforcement is a bigger problem than people who break the law, and who aren’t going to vote for anything that helps the police do their jobs. That’s how we got this ban on police pursuits in the first place. The problem was that this was a weak bill. The Democrats weren’t willing to send us anything stronger.
So this bill restores pursuits in some cases, but it doesn’t allow police to pursue suspects for reckless driving, auto theft and other non-violent crimes. The omission of reckless driving is especially important – I think we will see many more deaths like the Sunnyside case. We provided just as many votes as were needed to pass the bill in the Senate and send it to the House, but we didn’t send it off with a resounding Republican endorsement, because it is not the strong bill we need. We must continue to push for restoration of these law enforcement tools. My no vote signaled that there is more that needs to be done.
The state’s agriculture community is frustrated that the Inslee Administration has yet to determine a way to exempt farmers from paying higher gas prices due to its expensive cap and trade policy. This exemption was required by the legislation which passed in 2021. Thus far gas prices have increased by more than 25 cents per gallon. What can the legislature do to force the governor to follow the law?
When a state agency drops the ball, that’s bad enough, but when it simply ignores the law, that’s unconscionable. That’s what happened here. During the bargaining over the Climate Commitment Act in 2021 – the bill that brought cap and trade to this state – Ecology was directed to come up with a way to ensure agriculture was exempted from the additional taxes this measure would impose. That’s only reasonable, when you consider that agriculture already has an exemption from fuel taxes for off-road use.
Ecology responded to this mandate by simply not doing it. This can best be described as a dereliction of duty. I am a cosponsor of Senate Bill 5728, sponsored by Senator Perry Dozier, a wheat farmer from Waitsburg who is directly affected by this failure. Since Ecology could not be trusted to carry out this mandate of the law by designing a mechanism itself, this bill laid out a method for the department to follow.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a hearing on this bill. It would have been good at least to put Ecology on the spot and force it to explain why it failed to follow the law. I am sure it had something to do with the immense complexity of the program and the delays we saw elsewhere – the first carbon auction finally took place Feb. 28, a couple months late. But that is no excuse. Gas prices already are increasing as a result of cap and trade, and farmers are already taking a hit, because they are already purchasing fuel as we speak to be prepared for this year’s crops and harvest.
Ultimately the buck stops with the governor. Cap and trade was his idea. He pushed for it for years. He also controls the Department of Ecology. Since we as a Legislature were blocked from going after Ecology, he is the one who should answer for this. The fact that this happened on a signature bill for his administration is a major embarrassment.
Unfortunately for many small farmers and farmworkers, it appears the bipartisan bill (SB 5476) to find a workable compromise on overtime pay has been killed by the urban Democrats who control the legislature. What will this mean for farmers? Is there any hope that something be done to help the farmers and farmworkers in the 2024 legislative session?
What stunned me about this issue is that Senate Democrats appear to believe they know better than farmworkers themselves. The farmworkers want flexibility to work more hours and boost their income. We should listen to them.
The regular 40-hour working week just doesn’t work for farmers and farmworkers, and that’s why we’ve always treated agriculture differently. Sen. Curtis King came up with an elegant solution that allowed agricultural employers to choose 12 weeks a year in which they could utilize 50-hour working schedules before having to pay overtime.
The bill received a hearing but did not advance. This is unfortunate. We should listen to the people most directly affected, and not the people who presume to speak on their behalf. We need to keep pressing on this issue next year, to give flexibility to both workers and employers.
You represent the physically largest legislative district in the state. The 7th LD includes Northeast Washington from the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border. This region is extremely vulnerable to wildfires. Is the state improving on how it is preventing and responding to wildfires? What more needs to be done?
Yes, absolutely more needs to be done, and it is a constant topic of conversation in my part of the state. Sometimes we get a little sensitive about the criticism we hear from the Puget Sound area, whenever people say all we need to do to stop wildfires is to stop climate change. I think we turned a corner two years ago when we passed HB 1168, launching a coordinated effort to improve forest health and wildfire prevention. In a time when issues like these can be so politicized, it is good to know that this bill passed both chambers unanimously.
We need to advance the programs envisioned by this bill — continuing forest health planning efforts to create strategic firebreaks, working in coordination with multiple landowners across forested landscapes, and making decisions about new infrastructure development. There are many things we can do to improve the positioning of firefighting resources. The Department of Natural Resources, for instance, is talking about centering facilities near the Omak airport for quick deployment throughout the region. I am excited about the developments I am seeing. A few years ago, we very nearly had to evacuate the entire town of Republic because of fires, and I think that demonstrates what is at stake.
The governor has apparently halted the bipartisan effort (HB 1720) to develop a voluntary program which would improve fish runs through farmlands. What are your thoughts on riparian legislation and what more needs to be done to stop the Inslee Administration from being a roadblock on this issue?
The governor stopped this good idea because it wasn’t his idea. That’s the only way I can describe what happened. He stood in the way of a diverse and bipartisan stakeholder-driven process that would have achieved significant results. We need to continue working this bill and this proposal. Even if the bill is not moving forward this year, I think the dialogue we established is significant, and we can build on that as we continue working on a solution in future years.
You have two bills (SB 5374 and SB 5457) which seek to improve the state’s Growth Management Act which are still alive in the legislature after passing the Senate last week. What will these bills do and how will they impact smaller communities?
State land use regulations are one of the biggest reasons for the affordable housing shortage we are now seeing across Washington. The Growth Management Act, our state’s land-use law, is a special frustration for many of us who live in our state’s wide-open spaces. In rural areas, the Growth Management Act is sort of a square peg in a round hole. It imposes frequent and often redundant planning requirements in areas where growth is slow-to-nonexistent.
I passed two bills in the Senate that enact modest reforms recommended by a legislative task force, reducing planning burdens on small cities. Senate Bill 5374 allows them to adopt county critical area ordinances, rather than conducting inventories of their own of wetlands and other critical areas. Senate Bill 5457 reduces the frequency of planning updates for slow-growing cities. These bills await consideration in the House.
But I should mention a couple of larger battles surrounding the Growth Management Act. There were two bills in the Senate that would have massively expanded its reach. I am pleased to report that both were defeated. SB 5651 would have added “environmental justice” as an issue that must be addressed in land-use decisions. SB 5203 would have done the same with climate change. These bills would have become magnets for litigation and administrative appeals. Issues like these are entirely subjective, and we might think of them as bills to give government power to do anything it wants. Unfortunately, another version of the climate-change bill passed the House, and we may have to deal with it after all.
For more information on Senator Short and to contact her office, please visit her official website.
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