CORRECTION: Sine Die, WSP Trooper Chris Gadd, lawmaker retirements, child care expansion

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CORRECTION: An image caption read that the fatal collision that killed WSP Trooper Chris Gadd occurred in Mukilteo, Wash. The collision occurred in Marysville, Wash.

Sine Die!

Highlights from a busy Sine Die

Highlights from a busy Sine Die: the governor signed bills, gave interviews, and legislators celebrated the end of a short but progressive 2024 legislative session.

The 2024 session of the 68th Washington State Legislature adjourned on Thursday evening, with gavels falling well before sunset.

“I'm very pleased with what this legislature’s been able to do in the short session,” said Gov. Jay Inslee during an interview with TVW. “They’ve really tackled issues and made forward progress.”

Those areas of progress include climate action, education, homelessness, opioid use, and behavioral health.

One big climate win in the final days was the passage of ESHB 1589 on Wednesday. Sponsored by Rep. Beth Doglio, the bill gives Puget Sound Energy the roadmap and tools it needs to decarbonize. Consolidating Puget Sound Energy's planning for both gas and electric operations allows the utility to manage its assets comprehensively to best supply the region. It also scales up incentive programs to help customers convert to non-emitting energy and prioritize low-income customers.

Washington’s legislative commitment to education continued this year. Over this session and last, the Legislature increased the special education funding cap from 12.7% to 16% and adjusted the school staffing funding formula to recognize the importance of paraeducators and operational staff. And for older students considering careers or college, Washington is the very best state in the nation in supporting need-based financial aid thanks to forward-thinking, workforce-building investments.

Fentanyl was another focus point of the session. The governor began this session with an urgent call for legislators to respond to this “nuclear weapon” of drugs. The call was answered. The governor will sign a slate of bills to conduct a statewide overdose prevention campaign, support Tribal prevention and treatment initiatives, and present the deadly risk of fentanyl to every Washington student as a component of the curriculum.

House and Senate leaders agreed Tuesday to a final supplemental capital budget. The budget included a $79 million boost for school construction statewide, another $68 million towards career skill facilities, and $114 million to modernize schools in smaller districts unable to pass bonds. The budget also bolsters the Housing Trust Fund to accelerate affordable housing construction statewide, and it funds more community-based behavioral health resources like mental health and substance use disorder treatment facilities.

The Legislature passed a $14.6 billion transportation budget Thursday. It increases investment in preservation and maintenance, and it included $30.8 million in new provisions to improve traffic safety. Those funds will sponsor increased Washington State Patrol speeding and impaired driving enforcement and other tactics to respond to a stunning increase in fatal accidents over the last few years. Climate Commitment Act (CCA) funds support the transportation budget to the tune of $323 million, including $196 million towards the construction of five new hybrid-electric ferries.

One highlight of the supplemental operating budget is a $335 million public education funding enhancement. The budget improves special education funding to help school-age kids and improves childcare provider rates to support our little ones. The budget also supports police recruitment by relieving municipalities of their share of the cost to put a cadet through the Basic Law Enforcement Academy. It also funds the ongoing operation of the new Olympic Heritage Behavioral Health. CCA-funded operating budget items include a $200 electric utility rebate that will go to an estimate 750,000 low- and moderate-income households in September.

A slate of six citizen initiatives gathered enough signatures to reach the Legislature this session. The House and Senate approved three on Wednesday that largely reflect existing law: one to affirm the prohibition on local income taxes, one to clarify the information parents receive regarding their children in public schools, and one to relax certain restrictions on police pursuits. Washington state does not tax income and the rights afforded to parents by the second initiative were already mostly written into state or federal law. The other three initiatives will appear on the November ballot: one to repeal the state’s capital gains tax, one to repeal and ban the state's cap-and trade system to limit pollution, and one to bankrupt Washington’s long-term care benefit.

The governor signed 11 bills on Thursday, including proposals to eliminate interest assessed on unemployment insurance overpayments, relax some restrictions on liquid-based cannabis products, and to expand law enforcement employment eligibility. Inslee also signed HB 1455, a bill to prohibit child marriage.

Other bills passed this week would ban open carry of firearms in certain public spaces and to require owners to report lost or stolen firearms. A bill sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen to form a state “Artificial Intelligence Task Force” under the authority of the state Attorney General passed.  And a bill sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson relieves some child care providers of B&O tax to address a chronic shortage of child care providers statewide.

Read more:

Washingtonians grieve and honor state trooper killed by intoxicated driver

WSP Trooper Chris Gadd

An impaired driver killed WSP Trooper Chris Gadd early Saturday morning in Marysville. (Image courtesy of the Marysville Police Department).

An impaired driver killed Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd in the line of duty early Saturday morning in Marysville. He is survived by his wife and child. He was 27 years old.

Law enforcement is a family tradition in the Gadd family. Gadd's father is a Washington State Patrol trooper. Gadd's sister serves with the Texas Highway Patrol. Following in their footsteps, Gadd graduated with WSP’s 116th Trooper Basic Training class in 2022. He claimed two best-in-class awards among his class of 44: the Top Academic Award and the Top Collision Investigation Award.

“Trudi and I send our heartfelt condolences to Trooper Gadd’s family - a family with deep ties to the highest calling in public service. His service and sacrifice in the line of duty will always be remembered,” said Gov. Jay Inslee.

“I can tell you that across the entire Washington State Patrol, every head is bowed, every knee is bent, and every heart is broken as we mourn this loss. To honor Chris, even in sorrow, we will go on. We will continue to serve. Because he did, we must,” said WSP Chief John Batiste.

“We are working through what is undoubtedly the most difficult of times for our family as we mourn the loss of a loving husband, devoted father, caring brother, beloved son, and committed friend,” reads a statement from the Gadd family released by WSP.

Gadd’s death was WSP's 33rd line-of-duty death. The Washington State Patrol Memorial Foundation is now accepting donations to support the Gadd family. A memorial service is planned for next Tuesday, March 12.

Traffic death is soaring in Washington state. State Department of Transportation data counted 772 crash deaths in 2023 and 745 in 2022. An alcohol- or drug-impaired driver was involved in over half of all deadly accidents. Far too many people are drinking or ingesting drugs, then making the selfish and dangerous choice to drive. Far too many people die as a result.

Traffic death has increased by 74% since 2013.

Traffic death has increased by 74% since 2013.

News you might have missed:

Several lawmakers announce retirements

Many longtime legislators announced their intent to retire this year. Sen. Sam Hunt is ending his 24-year tenure in the Legislature. Rep. Joel Kretz won’t seek reelection after 18 years representing his district. Sen. Lynda Wilson is stepping away after 8 years in the Senate. Sen. Karen Keiser was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1996 and was elected to the state Senate in 2001. Sen. Andy Billig has served as the Senate majority leader since 2019. Former House Minority Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox from the 2nd District announced his retirement last week after 14 years of service. Rep. Spencer Hutchins is also departing.

Commerce grant to open 2,400 new child care slots statewide

This week, two state agencies jointly announced a generous round of grants supporting repairs and updates to 42 early learning providers in 15 counties. The state departments of Commerce and Children, Youth, and Families awarded a total of $30.4 million to providers to build, acquire, or remodel new space. The investment will yield 2,422 new child care slots statewide.

Results Washington issues annual report

Results Washington works with state agencies to set goals and measure progress towards them. That progress is reported during regular Public Performance Reviews, where agency leaders and stakeholders discuss the metrics by which their work is measured. Results Washington also publishes an annual report, released this week, summarizing agency breakthroughs and PPR conclusions from the year.

The state Department of Corrections reduced its backlog of pending medical physicals from 850 to 50. The state Department of Ecology built a centralized office to help Puget Sound residents replace failing septic systems. The state fleet of electric vehicles saved over 126,000 gallons of gas last year. The Department of Licensing’s new DOL2Go mobile licensing program issued 900 ID cards and licenses to people experiencing homelessness in poverty. The Department of Revenue slashed its estate tax return time and error rate. State agencies continue to pursue new efficiencies, yielding big returns to Washingtonians.

WSDOT reports on road conditions, ferry maintenance in ‘Gray Notebook’

Washington State Department of Transportation released the Gray Notebook this week, their quarterly performance review. Highlights include: WA electric vehicle registrations are up more than 200%; Washington ferries completed nearly 96% of scheduled trips; and 42 projects to improve railways are underway.