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Public safety must be a priority, legislators say

Public safety should be a top priority for this year's legislative session, Gov. Jay Inslee and bipartisan state legislators said on the eve of the 2024 legislative session.

"We need additional officers on the street," Inslee told reporters. "And to help local police forces find their additional officers, I'm proposing a $10 million grant program."

Washington State ranks 50th in the nation for the number of law enforcement officers per capita, Inslee and legislators acknowledged.

At the annual legislative preview with reporters, Republican and Democratic lawmakers and Inslee agreed they must work together to address challenges in education, housing, behavioral health, environment and transportation.

Those priorities largely line up with the top concerns of Washington residents, as revealed in this year's Crosscut-Elway Poll. The economy, this year as in the last three years, topped the list of concerns, with public safety and homelessness closely following, along with taxes, government, and education.

Speaker of the House, Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, emphasized these priorities, asserting that the Legislature can address all of them because "they are all interconnected."

Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, agreed that hiring more police officers and public safety should be at the forefront of this legislative session.

"We need to get rid of homeless encampments near schools, parks and playgrounds," Stokesbary said.

In the short term, Inslee said he wants to focus on behavioral health, proposing a bill to address fentanyl and substance use prevention education.

Inslee's long-term priority for Washington state remains the need to address climate change.

"I have six grandchildren," he said. "The thought of them having a Washington... with virtually no ice on Mount Rainier, no salmon in the rivers, no skiing on Snoqualmie pass..I am going to do everything I can in the next 60 days to make sure that we have a brighter vision for everybody's grandkids, and everybody else".

The Legislature in 2021 passed the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), introducing the "cap-and-invest" program, a market-driven initiative designed to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. That bill has fueled funds for clean-energy programs but has come under attack because it added nearly 50 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Critics say it raised the cost of doing business and living. A movement is building around a ballot initiative to repeal the act.

Inslee fiercely defended the act, saying it was raising money to reduce pollution and fund needed infrastructure around the state.

The need to do something to improve ferry system reliability also brought bipartisan agreement. Inslee and the lawmakers agreed vessels need to be replaced and more staff need to be hired and trained, but they explained constructing hybrid electric/diesel boats would take years.

"I am acutely aware of our ferry system challenges," Inslee said. "The state should do everything humanly possible to restore more reliable service on our boats".

Senator Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee cautioned that legislators need to set realistic expectations concerning the fleet.

"Our ferry system is facing a lot of challenges," Liias said. "The likelihood of getting boats faster is not very high."

Washington State Ferries is the state's largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions from a state agency . A significant part of the climate commitment would mean converting the fleet to hybrid-electric power, which the state hopes to complete by 2040.

"It's thrilling to see that we're doing something for our ferry system by building new boats and getting an electric drive system," Inslee said. "Right now what is really thrilling to me, is when I get to go around and see all the jobs being created by this."

"The decisions we have made put the state of Washington on very firm footing to be able to continue our upward march," Inslee said.