Legislators field citizen questions during Telephone Town Hall

Hirst remedy is a major issue
OLYMPIA – Washington state 12th District legislators Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, and Mike Steele, R-Chelan, fielded citizens’ questions and participated in live public polls during a one-hour Telephone Town Hall from their offices in the state capitol, last Wednesday, March 15. Following a short delay caused by technical difficulties, the two legislators addressed constituent concerns that ranged from McCleary and marijuana to gas tax and grizzly bears with callers from a four-county area.

OLYMPIA – Washington state 12th District legislators Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, and Mike Steele, R-Chelan, fielded citizens’ questions and participated in live public polls during a one-hour Telephone Town Hall from their offices in the state capitol, last Wednesday, March 15.
Following a short delay caused by technical difficulties, the two legislators addressed constituent concerns that ranged from McCleary and marijuana to gas tax and grizzly bears with callers from a four-county area. The two legislators also discussed the Hirst decision, restricting water rights and new construction.
Rep. Condotta reported that since the first day of the current legislative session that began Jan. 9, 1,166 bills have been introduced by the State House and 376 of those passed over to the State Senate. The Senate introduced 890 bills and sent 282 of those to the House. Condotta serves on both the House Appropriations and House Finance committees.
Rep. Steele, who serves on three committees; Education, Capital Budget, and Technology and Economic Development said he has been working with the City of Brewster on “fairly significant water issues with their wells and manganese,” and “working really hard to try to find a solution for them.”
One of the first questions dealt with a major issue facing the 2017 Legislature, the State Supreme Court’s January 2012 McCleary decision which mandates that the state legislature fund public education,
Steele said the House has now publicly released the House Republican plan but that the biggest problem continues to be “defining the public education box.”
Steele said school superintendents from the 12th District have been unable to agree on that definition as well but conceded that once the state budget is released in a couple of weeks the Senate and House majority “will have a better sense of how we fill that gap.”
Responding to a caller question about resolving the need for school levies to fund education, Steele said solving McCleary will also remedy the levy issue “and we won’t have to keep coming back year after year to kick the can down the road like we’ve been doing for 20-plus years.”
A Wenatchee caller said she thought considerable revenue was coming from marijuana growing and sales and, with money needed for roads and schools, where is that money going?
Steele said the marijuana initiative (502) determined where the money goes and only about 18 percent goes into general fund.
“What was missing from the original formula was any money going to cities and counties,” said Steele.
Steele said he fought to get more money for municipalities since they deal with zoning and production. Steele said a current proposal seeks to increase the amount of money cities would receive.
A caller poll question asked whether the annual property tax levy cap of one percent plus new construction for cities and counties under Initiative 747 should be increased to five percent plus new construction. Of those who voted, 13 percent favored the increase, 53 percent opposed and 33 percent thought property taxes are already too high and should be reduced.
A Wenatchee caller wanted to know how Chelan County could deny cannabis farms the right to operate, but propose to raise the gas tax by five cents when approval of cannabis would provide the county with needed money and jobs?
Steele said Okanogan, Douglas and Grant counties have solved the issue but Chelan.
“We’ve given them all the tools from day one to do what they want to do,” said Steele with respect to zoning and regulation of cannabis “but some of these folks got set up and got operational
Condotta said he spoke with Chelan County Commissioners on the afternoon before the Telephone Town Hall and was advised the process is still in the hands of the planning commission and nothing had yet been taken up at the Commission level.
Condotta encouraged citizens to continue to work with county officials to let their opinions be known.
A Brewster caller inquired about SB 5008, that would bring Washington in compliance with the Federal Real ID act. The new requirements concern agriculturalists who depend on migrant labor for orchard and field work.  
In 2005, Congress enacted minimum standards for government-issued identification such as drivers’ licenses that require additional proof of identity and legal U.S. residency
Condotta said Real ID is “a very tight walk because we have to be very cautious about how much information is available and how much is being tracked,”
Condotta added that considering recent developments concerning data disclosures from phones, computers and emails the bill is due for scrutiny.
“We want to make sure it is what it’s supposed to be,” said Condotta, “A solid I.D. but without attachments that could go further in terms of visibility or exposure of information.”
A second caller poll concerned the reintroduction of grizzly bears to Washington state. Fifteen percent of respondents supported the reintroduction, nine percent expressed no preference and an overwhelming 76 percent were opposed.
Condotta to a question about the State Supreme Court’s October 2016 Hirst Decision a layer of restriction on water rights and use of domestic wells.
“The bill coming out of the Senate (SB 5239) pretty much repeals the court decision,” said Condotta but added that his colleagues disagree whether the bill offers enough protection.
“It’s a big issue for Eastern Washington,” said Condotta but predicted that Hirst, owing to its pivotal role in future water use, “will be one of the last things negotiated” toward the end of the legislative session in late April.
“Water rights are a huge issue in the Okanogan,” said Steele. “We’ve been hearing from our constituents very regularly about this issue and it’s already crippling many property owners and their ability to do much with it.”
 

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