Shift’s Newsmaker Interview is with a leader of the Republican lawmakers in Olympia, Senator Lynda Wilson of Vancouver. The second term senator is the Ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, and she serves on the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee. She also represent the GOP Senate Caucus on many non-legislative committees including the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council and the Washington State Building Code Council. She and her husband own a third generation family business that has customers across North America and Japan.
Senator Wilson provides in-depth responses on several key issues currently being deliberated in the final weeks of the 2023 legislative session. She explains the negative consequences of the Washington State Supreme Court’s controversial and partisan decision to allow the Democrats’ state income tax on capital gains. The senator explains her “No” vote on the watered-down version of the police pursuit bill, her disapproval of the current House version of the state’s drug possession laws, and her thoughts on several other important public safety measures. She explains why Republicans deserve credit for a Senate budget with no new taxes. Finally Senator Wilson states why Governor Inslee is hypocritical in calling for more new housing construction when many of his policies are the reason why Washington State has the most severe housing shortage in the country.
Last week the Washington State Supreme Court released its ruling on the Democrats’ state income tax on capital gains. What are your views on that decision?
Where do I start? My initial reaction was to warn taxpayers to be on their guard. As long as Democrats control the lawmaking process, look for them to eventually broaden the parameters of this tax so it applies to more people over time. Others including me have also pointed out how this makes Washington an outlier. Everyone else on the globe views capital gains as taxable income, rather than something that qualifies for an excise tax.
What troubles me just as much, after having time to read through it, is the activist tone of the majority opinion. I would expect a leftist think-tank or one of the self-proclaimed progressive members of the Legislature to declare “Washington’s upside-down tax system perpetuates systemic racism by placing a disproportionate tax burden on BIPOC residents.” That has now been uttered as fact by seven justices, without offering an ounce of proof.
To paraphrase a comment someone from The Tax Foundation made on social media, it’s as though the justices wanted our state to have a capital-gains tax, then fabricated an opinion to get there. With all due respect… if they want to legislate, they’re in the wrong branch of government. It makes me think of what I saw on the news this week about “movement lawyering.”
The silver lining here is that the court did not hand the majority Democrats the prize that was admittedly behind their adoption of the tax in 2021: a ruling that would declare income is property. That would open the door to a full-blown income tax in our state. Even so, it is surely just a matter of time before we see a new scheme to give
this particular set of justices another chance to make such a ruling. There’s no overlooking the fact that five of the nine members were initially placed on the court by Democratic governors. The majority Democrats passed the capital-gains tax at their first opportunity following Governor Inslee’s third appointment to the court. I doubt that is a coincidence.
As Fisher Investments is in my legislative district, I should point out how founder Ken Fisher publicly said his company headquarters would leave Washington if Initiative 1098 got within five points of passing in 2010. I-1098 was an attempt to create an income tax on people making over $200,000 a year. It lost by 28 points. Fisher’s headquarters stayed put in Camas, but now it’s headed to Texas due to the capital-gains ruling. No one should be surprised. Expect other employers to follow suit. To quote a large law firm in our state, on how Washington residents might plan for the tax: “Taxpayers might consider changing their residency status….”
It appears some Democrat legislators are finally admitting that their 2021 restrictions on police pursuit was a disaster and have been willing to make some changes to the law. What did you think of the police pursuit reform bill which passed the senate with bi-partisan support?
I was among the seven Republican co-sponsors of the police-pursuit reform bill passed by the Senate. Considering how the chair of Law and Justice tried to kill the bill, I’m glad we got SB 5352 to the Senate floor at all. Unfortunately, the majority Democrats immediately adopted an amendment that weakened it considerably. Their change meant the bill would not restore the ability to pursue car thieves and reckless drivers, as it would have when I signed on in January.
While my “no” vote on the bill in the Senate was likely puzzling to some, seeing how I was a co-sponsor, the explanation is simple: Senate Republicans provided enough votes to make sure the bill reached the House, because the Legislature absolutely needs to reform the pursuit law this year. But if too many on our side had supported the bill, the House might have wrongly concluded we’re just fine with the watered-down version. Not so.
SB 5352 moved forward from the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee this past week. Now its fate is realistically up to just one person – the speaker of the House. There’s no hiding behind an obstinate committee chair. If the speaker allows that bill to reach the House floor I’m confident 10 members of her caucus would join the 40 House Republicans to pass it. The bill was amended in the House committee, so if the amended version is what gets a vote, it’ll need to come back to the Senate. A similar thing happened with last year’s pursuit reform, and the left wing of the Senate Democrats managed to prevent a vote to agree with the House’s amendments. I hope we don’t see a repeat that leaves the current law in place, but that is what the criminals would want. They like knowing exactly when they can or can’t be pursued.
The 2023 legislature is working to pass a new drug possession law after the Washington State Supreme Court threw out the previous law in the 2021 Blake decision. It is obvious to almost everyone that with the record number of overdose deaths in the state that what the Democrats put in place two years ago is not working. What would you like to see in the new drug possession law?
Clearly the law the Democrats supported is failing to get people into treatment. Think of all the lives that have been destroyed in the past two years by taking such a lax approach, and how that has obviously exacerbated the homelessness crisis in our state as well.
Drug courts worked because they offered the familiar choice between carrot and stick. We need to get back to that. I voted to pass the “Blake fix” that is Senate Bill 5536. It would make possession and use of hard drugs a gross misdemeanor. That would significantly restore the legal leverage that can compel people to seek and complete substance-use treatment.
Amazingly, the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee changed SB 5536 in a way that undoes most of the good in what the Senate passed. The chairman’s amendment rolls it back to the standard in current law, meaning possession would still be a misdemeanor, and does away with mandatory minimums… like sentences and sanctions.
The law passed in 2021 expires in July. Without a new policy, the possession of hard drugs will become legal in our state. If the weakened version of the Blake bill comes back to us, the Senate Democratic leadership is going to have a choice: insist on the policy that will save more lives or give in to the House. Letting the House have its way is how our state ended up with the failed law in the first place.
Besides police pursuit and drug possession legislation, are there other pieces of legislation which could impact public safety?
The House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee is also responsible for killing my bill to expand the crime of “endangerment with a controlled substance” to include fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The committee chair told me his caucus wouldn’t support Senate Bill 5010, due to concerns that parents could be charged. My question is, if parents are leaving fentanyl pills around the baby’s crib, or allowing the child to breathe fentanyl fumes, why shouldn’t they be held accountable? What about the defenseless people who could be victims?
The same committee blocked passage of Senate Bill 5477, which would implement the recommendations of the state task force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP). That bill was filed by my Republican colleague, Sen. Nikki Torres of Pasco, and had very bipartisan sponsorship. You wonder who opposes a bill like that.
The House is not solely at fault. The chair of Senate Law and Justice basically dismissed my bill (SB 5076) that would allow no bail in domestic-violence cases – she offered to make it part of a larger work session about bail in general, which has yet to be scheduled. In the meantime, just this month, a young mother and her innocent 7-year-old daughter were murdered in Clark County. It’s shockingly similar to the case of Tiffany Hill, the murdered Vancouver mom and former Marine whose name is on the law that allows for improved electronic monitoring of DV suspects. I learned about the latest killings while I was in a Law and Justice committee meeting, during a hearing on a bill related to domestic-violence victims. How sad is that?
Then there’s HB 1268, which did get through Senate Law and Justice and is now one step from the Senate floor. It’s another effort by majority Democrats to weaken sentencing laws, similar to the change they made to remove second-degree robbery as a “most serious” offense, retroactively. That change happened in 2021 and basically removed people like admitted Clark County child-killer Roy Wayne Russell Jr. from the list of convicts who qualified for a mandatory life sentence. SB 5011, my bill to make sure we don’t have more like Roy Russells cheating the justice system, went nowhere this year. Once again, the chair of Law and Justice got in the way.
Obviously, the anti-Second Amendment bills the Democrats are pushing this year – HB 1143, HB 1240, SB 5078 – also are about public safety. They will make our people and our communities less safe, and do nothing to end the shootings we see reported almost daily in the media. Here’s a question I’d like the Democrats to answer: In 2021, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence moved Washington up to the 10th spot nationally for laws regulating firearms. Democrats piled on more firearm laws in 2022, like the limit on the capacity of firearm magazines. Yet in January, The Alliance for Gun Responsibility admitted “our region continues to experience record levels of gun violence.” If those new laws aren’t reducing “gun violence” in Washington, why not? And then, tell me: what is the real goal of these bills?
In the closing weeks of the session, the budget is taking center stage. Despite state government doubling in cost in the ten years Governor Inslee has been in office, it is expected that the Democrats will again pass a budget which will increase the size of the state bureaucracy. What are your thoughts on the state budget and what are your priorities?
The Senate operating budget for 2023-25 passed this week with a 40-9 vote, which means a majority of Senate Republicans supported it. I said yes for a few reasons.
The budget process was unusually inclusive. Normally the minority side is politely shooed away after the first round or two of discussions. Not this year. Our operating-budget team – that would be me, as Republican leader on Ways and Means, and Sen. Chris Gildon of Puyallup, who is assistant leader – was “in the room” from start to finish. I appreciate that, and it made for a better result.
Republicans came into the 2023 session with a strong emphasis on restoring public safety, dealing with the affordability crisis and supporting some specific needs in K-12. Because the majority listened to our ideas, the Senate budget is responsive to those priorities, particularly education. The significant investment this plan would make toward addressing K-12 learning loss ($70 million) and the extraordinary level of additional support it offers to special-education students and their families ($800 million!) are among the direct results of our input. The Senate budget also addresses specific requests from Republican committee leaders, concerning everything from land-use permitting and election transparency to our state’s nursing shortage and services for young people in crisis.
The Senate budget represents about an 8 percent increase. That’s a lot, but way less than the average growth in spending over the past few cycles. I can accept that. It helps that the Senate budget avoids tax increases and leaves a solid amount in reserve. Republicans deserve much of the credit for that restraint, which is tremendously important considering the uncertain times ahead for our state economy.
The operating budget proposed by the House Democrats this week would spend a billion dollars more without addressing obvious needs like learning loss. The Senate budget is better by far, and the challenge now is to make sure the good things about it are preserved in the compromise that must be negotiated with the House before the session ends April 23.
In the past couple of years the governor has used non-elected state councils to make major decisions which critics assert will increase the cost of residential and commercial construction. What are your views on the new restrictions (mostly on the use of natural gas) and on these unelected bodies having such an impact on construction in our state?
The governor couldn’t get his crusade against natural gas through the Legislature because too many of us could figure out what that would mean for construction costs, and in turn housing costs. It’s so hypocritical how he rails about the need for housing while supporting policies that would drive up the cost of homebuilding.
After seeing what the State Building Code Council did – or tried to do – regarding natural gas, I introduced SB 5037 and SB 5117 to basically reassert the authority of the legislative branch to make decisions about energy choices and clarify the council’s role. Similar legislation was introduced in the House. None of these bills went anywhere.
Also, it isn’t just the SBCC. The governor’s appointments to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission have recently drawn accusations of bias and resulted in legal action. I introduced legislation to make several reforms, like changing how appointees are nominated, and preventing those appointed from serving until they receive state Senate confirmation. SB 5675 also went nowhere.
The lack of interest in these bills tells me the majority Democrats are trying to protect the governor’s authority, the same way they did by blocking my efforts to reform our state’s emergency-powers law.
Speaking of non-elected councils… keep an eye on the Environmental Justice Council created during the infamous 2021 session, through the “Healthy Environment For All” (HEAL) Act. Its many powers include recommending how to spend revenue from the state’s sale of carbon-emissions credits. The first emission-credit auction raked in $300 million, much more than was assumed – and there are more auctions to come. There is just one representative of business on the 16-member council, and no legislators serving as ex-officio members, which is the position I have on the SBCC.
For more information on Senator Lynda Wilson and to contact her office, please visit her official wenbsite.
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