Police, housing to be legislators’ priorities

Police reform, housing and workforce development will lead the list of Democratic priorities when the 2023 Washington state legislative session begins Jan. 9, said Rep. Mike Chapman.

Chapman, D-Port Angeles, made his remarks to the Port Angeles Business Association on Dec. 6.

Revisiting how the state funds education also will be a top concern, he said.

Chapman was reelected Nov. 8 to his fourth term representing the 24th Legislative District, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

Also representing the district are Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, both Democrats.

Democrats will have strong majorities in the House of Representatives (58-40) and Senate (29-20) during the 105-day session that runs through April 29.

Chapman said the Legislature must address the fallout from HB 1054, passed in 2021, that limited law enforcement’s ability to engage in a vehicular pursuit as well as the impact of the state Supreme Court in 2021 striking down as unconstitutional the state law that had made illegal drug possession a felony, and the Legislature subsequently passing a SB 5476 that reclassified drug possession as a gross misdemeanor.

These are “sticky issues” that must be tackled, said Chapman, who voted against his party in a series of police reform bills.

“The consensus should be we want to make sure that the police have the tools that they need,” Chapman said Tuesday of the police pursuit law, which restricts law enforcement from giving chase to suspects in vehicles unless they have probable cause of a violent crime.

“That seems to be an issue that people are understanding as a priority going forward.”

The Legislature must decide on whether drug possession will remain a crime by July 1, 2023 — the date on which the provisions of SB 5476 expire.

“There’s a pragmatic approach and then there are those who want full legalization of drugs, that will be the debate in Olympia,” Chapman said.

“I do not believe that full legalization at this time would have the votes to move forward. I don’t believe it’s something that the citizens would support. I don’t think a majority of the legislators by any stretch are gonna support that, but it will be introduced, and it will be debated.”

Business entrepreneur Edna Peterson wanted to know what could be done in Olympia to ease rules on home construction.

“Is the Legislature going to do anything to help the builders with the regulations that are coming down from Olympia that are causing the cost of house building and house ownership to go up all the time?” Peterson asked.

Said Chapman: “I think there’s finally a recognition that the phrase ‘affordable housing’ is a little bit of a challenge when it can take months and months and months for the permitting process.

“I think there’s some policy areas where we can help cities streamline permitting,” he added.

Where the money will come from to fund new programs like workforce development in the upcoming session was not clear.

“The budget will be a challenge,” Chapman said. “We got our recent economic and revenue forecast and the economy’s slowing. There’s no doubt about that.”

Revisiting how the state funds basic education is also high on the Democratic agenda, Chapman said.

Among other things, a cap on the amount districts can ask from taxpayers through a levy and a “one size fits all” model used to apportion funding both have created funding gaps in the Port Angeles School District’s budget.

“We have to come up with a way to tweak the formula of school districts that are disproportionately hurt right now,” Chapman said.

“That is gonna be a challenge because there’s probably not a ton of money coming into the system. And, it’s addressed not usually through policy, but through the budget process.”

More likely to be resolved is the state moving toward fully funding special education, which, by law, school districts are required to provide but which the state does not completely fund.

This has meant districts like Port Angeles have to use operations dollars for the basic educational needs of these students.

“Fully funding special education will be addressed during the upcoming session,” Chapman said. “There’s a whole subcommittee and it’s an issue around the state. That should be a budget priority.”