PORT ANGELES — State Rep. Mike Chapman doesn’t understand why the state Senate refuses to vote on the state capital budget, he told those attending the Port Angeles Business Association meeting Tuesday.
The House passed the $4.2 billion capital budget on a bipartisan 92-1 vote July 1, but the Democrat from Port Angeles doesn’t understand why the state Senate is allowing a policy decision — a recent Supreme Court ruling known as the Hirst decision — to hold up the capital budget.
“One body — the Senate — is holding it up,” he said, adding that it’s the Senate, not a party, that’s holding it up. “There’s a better way to do business.”
The state Supreme Court ruled in October, in what has been called the Hirst decision, that Whatcom County failed to protect water resources by allowing new wells to reduce flow in streams for fish and other uses. The court said counties must ensure water is available before they issue building permits in certain areas.
The decision doesn’t affect the North Olympic Peninsula. For instance, water rights in much of Clallam County are already governed by the Dungeness Water Rule, which allows the exchange of water rights and provides programs to preserve the important resource.
Some lawmakers said property owners have spent thousands of dollars to prepare building lots only to discover they now can’t get a building permit.
Officials in various counties have said they don’t have the resources to do hydrological studies that would be required under the ruling.
Republicans in the House and the Republican-controlled Senate argued that a “permanent fix” was needed and wanted to pass a bill previously passed four times by the Senate aimed at reversing key elements of the Hirst decision.
On Tuesday, Chapman said there should be a two-year suspension after the court case that would allow people to secure water rights before the court’s decision takes effect.
Then he proposed state lawmakers find a solution that would allow local government to have more control, saying a single rule that applied to all counties across the state doesn’t make sense.
Chapman criticized the Senate for tying the Hirst decision to the capital budget and said the delay in passing the budget is hurting rural Washington.
“This is a direct hit on rural Washington,” he said. “This is a direct hit on communities that voted overwhelmingly to build new schools.”
When asked if the capital budget as passed by the House is dead or on life support, Chapman said it isn’t dead.
“It’s in the Senate,” he said. “I hope we can move something forward.
“If not, we can do something in November, January, or we can just start over again.”
He said he is convinced if the capital budget made it to the Senate floor, it would pass by an overwhelming majority.
He called it a good budget for rural Washington that has bipartisan support.
“I don’t know why people don’t want to move those two issues forward,” he said.
Throughout his talk, Chapman stressed that lawmakers in Olympia on both sides of the aisle typically work together on bills.
He listed about two dozen bills that passed this year with 70 or more votes.
“If I have one message this morning, it’s that bipartisanship is alive and well in Olympia,” he said. “If you’re not willing to work across the aisle, nothing gets to the governor’s desk.”
Chapman said he always tries to find a Republican who can co-sponsor his bills.
“Can you imagine if Congress could do that, if Congress would work across aisles and move things forward?” he said to a room of laughter.
He rejected the “myth” that liberal Democrats from Western Washington — mostly along the Interstate 5 corridor — do not want to support rural Washington.
He said the Democrats are preparing for a “listening tour” that would take them into rural Washington.
“Even those that represent Seattle, their votes show they care,” he said. “I know it’s not what people think, but it’s backed up with facts and figures.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.