Do you know what the most beautiful sight in Washington state is? Driving back home to beautiful Northeast Washington, while seeing the State Capitol in Olympia from my rearview mirror. It feels good to be home. The 2016 legislative session concluded on March 29. We did manage to take home a few victories and I'd like to share some of these accomplishments with you.
Addressing wildfire issues
After the worst fire season on record in Okanogan County, and counties around the district, I set out to take action on finding effective solutions for future fire seasons.
With my air quality, prescribed burning legislation – House Bill 2928 – we passed a bill to not only reduce our risk of further catastrophic wildfires, but to also improve our forest health. Under law, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will conduct a pilot project to monitor and evaluate the benefits of forest resiliency burning and the impacts on ambient air quality. DNR will also have the authority to issue burn permits for resiliency burning as long as the burn doesn't significantly contribute to a violation of air quality standards.
Forest resiliency burning mimics the natural cycle of a wildfire and helps reduce the threat and fuels of a catastrophic fire. Prescribed burning is a good forest management tool in conjunction with effective thinning methods. The thinning process creates space between trees to make it more difficult for fire to spread from tree to tree. Without proper forest thinning, when a wildfire occurs, the trees create a fuel ladder which leads to the catastrophic wildfires we have seen. Proper thinning and the prescribed burning process go hand-in-hand. One is not successful without the other.
This legislation will add another tool to our forest management tool box and protect our forests and the environment, while hopefully avoiding devastating wildfires in the future. I thank everyone who put in the blood, sweat and tears to make this successful.
Park ranger legislation
In other news, my park ranger legislation – House Bill 2765 – was passed and signed into law. This extends park rangers' law enforcement authority to state roads within park boundaries and also within a one-mile radius outside a park's jurisdictional boundary. The ability of our park rangers to respond and assist in the event of an emergency is paramount to ensuring public safety. This goes into effect on June 9.
(photo caption: House Bill 2928 is signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee)
2016 legislative successes
This year, we also:
- Passed a true, bipartisan supplemental operating budget that does not raise taxes or deplete our Budget Stabilization Account (“rainy day fund”), funds policies to prevent and respond to wildfires, and honors the four-year budget outlook.
- Passed supplemental transportation and capital budgets. (For more information on all three state budgets, click here)
- Saved our public charter schools.
- Passed legislation that further spells out how the Legislature will meet the McCleary obligation to fully fund basic education in next year's operating budget.
Staying in touch
As your state representative, it is important I stay engaged and listen to what is most important to you. Please contact me or my Legislative Assistant, Daphne, with your suggestions, ideas and concerns on how we can improve the 7th District. I also invite you to come in, have a cup of coffee, and visit us in our new district office location at 240 Queen Street in Okanogan. We will have our office open house on May 13. We hope to see you there.
I thank you for taking the time to read my email updates. Because this is an election year, this will be the last email update I'm able to send out until December. However, I can respond if you contact me directly. Please feel free to send me an email or give me a call at my district office any time – Joel.Kretz@leg.wa.gov and (509) 557-6565.