Gov. Jay Inslee gave the annual State of the State address in the state House chamber on Tuesday, Jan. 10, laying out his agenda for the 2023 legislative session.
During the half-hour address, Inslee asked the Legislature to address the issues of housing and homelessness, mental health, education, climate change, public safety and abortion.
Inslee began his address by welcoming the 29 new members of the Legislature after which he received an enthusiastic response for declaring Washington state’s support of Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia.
“We stand with Ukraine in the state of Washington,” Inslee declared to a standing ovation.
The governor then reviewed what he saw as the Legislature’s successes during the previous two legislative sessions that were held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You all look great. You haven’t aged a day in two years,” Inslee told the lawmakers and statewide elected officials in the chamber.
Inslee mentioned climate change legislation and the working families tax credit as some of the Legislature’s recent accomplishments.
“Here in our state, we invest in our people and we invest in our communities,” Inslee said.
The governor then began listing Washington’s high rankings among states on issues, such as best overall state and best economy.
“This is not an accident. It is because of the work we do in these chambers,” Inslee said. “And because of that work and because of the work of millions of Washingtonians, I can proudly report to you this. The state of our state is strong.”
Inslee then called on the Legislature to continue building on its prior work.
“If we continue building on the investments and policies we’ve started, we can continue building a Washington where everyone is housed. Where our schools are safe from gun violence and students receive the mental and educational support they need. Where the existential crisis of climate change is met by unmatched innovation. Where communities are welcoming and safe for all. Where all people have a constitutional right to reproductive freedom. And where people struggling with mental health or substance use no longer fall unseen and unheard through the cracks,” Inslee said.
On the issue of housing and homelessness, Inslee told the legislators the central issue is a low supply of housing.
“We do not have enough housing in our state for our people,” Inslee said.
The governor went on to tell the chamber there are no easy solutions to the housing issue, but added it is time for significant action.
“If there was ever a time to go big, it’s now,” Inslee said.
Discussing the stories of homeless people he has met, Inslee asked the Legislature to put his $4 billion housing bond proposal on the ballot. Under Inslee’s plan, the $4 billion would go to help construct housing for low income individuals.
“Let’s go big,” Inslee said. “Let’s get this done this session.”
Inslee mentioned the need to improve mental health and substance use treatment as means to address the homelessness issue. After asking the Legislature to continue funding a mental health plan passed in 2018, the governor asked the lawmakers to prioritize diversion and community-based treatment options rather than using the criminal justice system.
Inslee then asked lawmakers to increase funding for education, citing his proposed budget that would increase K-12 education spending by $3 billion and spend $120 million on special education. While discussing education, Inslee took a moment to thank educators for their efforts to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the legislators responded to with applause.
The governor asked for further action on climate change, including the creation of a new Institute for Northwest Energy Futures at Washington State University, which he said would make the region a global leader on clean energy innovation. Inslee then declared “Go Cougs!” to the legislators.
“I’m not above pandering to Sam Hunt,” Inslee said of the state senator from Olympia who is known to be a proud WSU alumni. “I’ll tell you that much.”
Inslee proceeded to call for action to be taken to prevent salmon extinction, which he said was related to the issue of climate change.
“Let’s boldly continue our fight against climate change and salmon extinction,” Inslee said.
Another issue Inslee asked the legislators to address was public safety, specifically calling for action on gun regulation. The governor asked lawmakers to require safety training before a gun can be purchased and to ensure gun manufacturers and dealers could be held legally liable for gun violence. He also proposed a ban on the sale of what he called “military style assault weapons,” to which he received loud applause.
“These weapons were designed for the sole purpose of destroying lives. The lives of school children, law enforcement officers, concertgoers, night club patrons, people gathered in houses of worship,” Inslee said. “We owe our children the assurance we’re doing all we can to keep them safe.”
At the end of his address, Inslee touched on the issue of abortion. He told the chamber the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ended decades of precedent in regard to legal protections for abortion.
“That protection is gone for more than half the people in our nation,” Inslee said.
The governor then called for the passage of an amendment to enshrine legal protection for abortion into the state constitution.
“We must pass a constitutional amendment that expressly establishes a constitutional right to reproductive freedom in the great state of Washington,” Inslee said to applause from the Democratic side of the chamber.
Following Inslee’s address, state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, delivered the Republicans’ response. During his little-over-10-minute speech, Abbarno said Inslee and Democrats in the Legislature had “failed on critical issues” during the governor’s 10 years in office.
“You can draw a straight line from the policies of the Legislature and the governor to many of the problems we face today,” Abbarno said.
Abbarno repeatedly hit on the issues of crime and intergenerational poverty, which he said has made many Washington residents feel hopeless.
“The anecdote for the hopelessness that many are feeling is real solutions from the real problems we face everyday,” Abbarno said. “I call them kitchen table issues, the things that mean the most to us, the issues you discuss with your family and friends around the kitchen table.”
During his speech, Abbarno mentioned his own experiences with crime in Centralia, which he described as a “high poverty community.” He discussed an incident during the summer months where a man who was struggling with mental health issues shot a gun near Abbarno’s home.
“Unfortunately, this story is all too common,” Abbarno said. “We can turn our state around by prioritizing victims over criminals, preserving the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, their homes and businesses in making sure the judicial system has the ability and our support to deliver justice by not allowing repeat criminals to terrorize our neighborhoods.”
To address the issues facing the state, Abbarno called for a reduction in the state sales and property taxes, an expansion of the working families tax credit and the construction of more homes.
He also called for the state to change its approach to issues, asking that results be prioritized over spending.
“Let’s stop measuring success by the amount of money spent, but instead by the number of people we lift out of poverty, help address their mental health and support life in sobriety,” Abbarno said.
After Abbarno finished speaking, members of the Legislature’s Republican leadership held a question and answer session with reporters discussing their thoughts on Inslee’s proposals.
Republicans expressed mixed reactions to the speech, praising the governor for taking up what they viewed as Republican proposals on some issues while criticizing him on others.
“It felt quite good that he was in many cases, providing solutions that had been proposed by House and Senate Republicans,” said J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, the House Republican Leader.
The Republican leaders criticized many of the governor’s proposals but said they were willing to be open minded.
“We ought to be listening, we ought to be open minded … if that’s reciprocated,” said Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia.
One issue Braun criticized the governor over was his $4 billion housing bond proposal.
“There is absolutely no way to build the number of homes we need without involving the private sector and private sector development. The math just doesn’t work,” Braun said. “To suggest we're going to pay for that by the state is just ridiculous.”
One area where there appeared to be some agreement with the governor was on the issue of drug treatment.
“We have to look for ways we can get folks into treatment,” said Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, who serves as the House Republican floor leader.
Maycumber, a former law enforcement officer, discussed the potential for a framework that involved penalties that would increase in severity overtime, prioritizing treatment first.
“When you make it a gross misdemeanor you have a little more leeway in the judicial branch of the government,” Maycumber said.
Another area where Republicans expressed disagreement with Inslee was the issue of abortion. Braun told reporters he saw the proposal for a constitutional amendment as unnecessary, citing voter-passed laws that currently ensure legal protections for abortion prior to the point of fetal viability.
“I would say, and I’ve said this over and over, I don't see the need for a constitutional amendment. The law’s been in place since 1970, passed by the people of the state of Washington, modified by the people of the state of Washington in 1991. I don’t see a path where that changes without a vote of the people,” Braun said. “You can game it out and there's no real path no matter who’s in the majority. There’s no real path. I think the people have spoken and we’re going to respect the will of the people.”
Braun also added that unlike with the Democrats, in his view, the Republicans had no litmus test on abortion, pointing to the fact the Republicans never passed restrictions on abortion when they were in the Senate majority for five years.
“We didn’t pass a single abortion bill,” Braun said. “There’s a reason for that. We didn’t have the votes.”