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Governor calls for action on homelessness, climate and abortion rights

Defending his record and pressing for more action, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee urged a joint session of the Legislature to stay on a path that protects a woman's right to choose, improves public safety, reduces pollution, and curbs homelessness.

Referencing his father's days of coaching track, Inslee declared to his audience that in this last term he has no plans to let up by "running through the tape."

Inslee made his remarks in his annual State of the State address at the opening of this year's Legislature Jan. 9. While he painted a picture of a state succeeding on many fronts, Republican leaders expressed reservations on Democrat goals for abortion rights, climate change and police legislation.

"I don't know if anybody had a chance to catch my remarks yesterday on the first day of session, but I think they paint a very different picture than Gov. Inslee tried to paint today," said House Republican Leader Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn. "That's understandable, it's his record that is on trial, I don't think it's a particularly good record...He said the state of our state is better than ever, I think the statistics very clearly belie that."

Although Republicans object to what they see as an unnecessary increase in the tax on gasoline imposed by the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), Inslee praised the measure, which passed in 2021. The act raised $1.8 billion in 2023. Inslee said this money will go back to Washingtonians through a $200 utility bill credit for one out of every three households in Washington, aid for households hoping to move to energy-efficient solutions, hybrid-electric ferries and electric buses.

And, he said, the act has created jobs, such as the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub, "possibly creating 1,000 jobs alone." The hub is part of a nationwide effort to begin producing hydrogen in large amounts as a clean source of energy.

"This Legislature put us on a clear path to slash greenhouse gasses by 2050," Inslee said, "Any delay would be a betrayal to our children's future. We are now on the razor's edge between promise and peril."

Inslee also introduced plans to raise pay for 32,000 parent educators by $3 an hour, direct more resources to special needs students and continue efforts to help the homeless.

"Washingtonians can see that dozens of encampments along our highways are no longer there and they need to know that that will continue only if we see additional necessary investments," Inslee said. "And they are going to see thousands of more new housing units."

This session Inslee and his Democratic counterparts have set affordable housing as one of their top priorities. One bill part of these efforts is HB 2160, sponsored by Rep. Julia Reed, D-Seattle, which aims to build affordable housing close to public transit.

While housing bills such as HB 2160 have been harder to move across the aisle, addressing homelessness has been a bipartisan agreement.

Inslee also mentioned legislation banning assault rifles passed in previous sessions as one of his proud accomplishments, and he called for a budget that provides more police officers. There is bipartisan support for adding officers to payrolls.

Inslee also claimed the U.S. and Washington State are under two grave threats: "The basic tenets and blessings of democracy, and the ongoing assault on a woman's right to choice."

"We have not forgotten the Supreme Court's frightening decision," Inslee said. "We need to join eight other states...We need to enshrine reproductive freedom into our constitution this year."

The Republican perspective, delivered shortly after by Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, took issue with some of Inslee's goals.

"Under one-party rule in Olympia, our state has become less safe, less affordable, and we are failing our children in far too many ways," Torres said.

Public safety, the cost of living, and youth resources represent a large portion of the GOP's legislative agenda for the session.

When asked about Inslee's mention of codifying abortion rights, Stokesbary deemed the legislation unnecessary.

"Abortion rights aren't under threat in Washington, I don't have members of my caucus looking to run bills to curtail a woman's right to choose and don't see that changing," Stokesbary said. "Unless someone can demonstrate to me why these rights are under threat... it would be a waste of time."

Lastly, in reference to Inslee's discussion of more training for police officers, Stokesbary offered his opinion.

"We need to have a longer-term conversation about how we treat police officers and how the legislature manages public safety issues," Stokesbary said. "That's part of why folks up here in our caucus would support changing the police pursuit law and some of these other rules we have passed in the last couple of years to make law enforcement a more desirable profession, where the good cops aren't always made out to be bad guys."