PORT ANGELES — State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, who is leaving the statehouse following the 2024 election, said Wednesday that 2023 was a historic legislative year for funding of both housing and mental health initiatives.
“I know a lot of people are frustrated by housing and the amount of homelessness we have in the state and kind of on the West Coast and honestly probably in this country in general,” Van De Wege, a Democrat now living at Lake Sutherland, told a meeting for Coffee with Colleen, presented by the Clallam Economic Development Council (EDC).
“We continue to do what we can to combat that.”
The state Legislature invested $1 billion in housing, said Van De Wege, the 24th Legislative District’s state senator who represents Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
Of that, $519 million is going toward the housing and immediate sheltering needs of homeless people across the state, Van De Wege said.
Two bills were passed to increase incentives for the creation of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, in an effort to quickly increase the housing supply, he said.
Van De Wege said he shares the public’s frustration in hearing about investments into housing but not seeing much change on the ground. However, he said the Legislature is continuing to invest in the issue and work on solutions.
The senator also noted the $1.2 billion invested in mental health initiatives, including a bill that created certified crisis relief centers as an alternative to emergency rooms for those experiencing mental health emergencies, the creation of a certification for behavioral health support specialists and making it easier for mental health workers from out of state work in Washington.
Van De Wege has represented the 24th Legislative District since 2017, but 2024 will be his last year while he runs for Commissioner of Public Lands, the office that oversees the state Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s something I am passionate in and have worked my entire legislative career in, something that’s important to the 24th Legislative District,” Van De Wege said.
Van De Wege is currently in a six-way race for the position — five Democrats and one Republican — to succeed current commissioner Hilary Franz, who has announced her campaign for governor.
Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, one of the 24th district’s two members in the state House of Representatives, has announced his intention to run for Van De Wege’s Senate seat, leaving Chapman’s seat in the House open in 2024.
The 2024 legislative session will be only 60 days, as is customary for even-numbered years, Van De Wege said. The Legislature will amend the state’s budget and pass new laws, but the process is meant to be more streamlined than odd-numbered-year sessions of 105 days.
Van De Wege laid out his six priorities for the 2024 session, which included homelessness measures, education funding, cost of living, behavioral health, public safety and regulatory reform.
The Legislature had reformed some of the laws it passed in 2021 concerning police, Van De Wege said, but there is still work to be done, particularly on policies related to drug use.
There also likely will be reform around the Climate Commitment Act, which aims to reduce the state’s carbon emissions, he said.
Through that act, the state Department of Ecology offers auctions for carbon emissions credits, the funds from which will be used to invest in climate and clean energy projects. However, certain industries, such as the maritime, agriculture and aviation sectors, are not included under that act; Van De Wege said he expects to see reform around those issues.
Van De Wege said that despite media coverage of partisan divisions, 96 percent of the bills passed by the Legislature were bipartisan and that many of them received zero No votes.
“Washington has a long history of this,” Van De Wege said of the bipartisanship. “(Bills) are usually worked really well through the committee process, and a lot of what we do on the floor goes smoothly.”
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at email@example.com.