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State Senator Mark Schoesler looks toward 2023 session

State Senator (R - 9th District) Mark Schoesler stopped by our offices to share about the upcoming 2023 legislative session. He shared, "The most important thing is going back to in-person sessions."

Speaking of the past few years of remote sessions and emergency declarations Schoesler shared, "There is a need to have that in-person contact with constituents. Virtual testimony is now an option in the house, where it never was. More-so, in the Senate than ever, we need to have that direct contact with constituents in all 49 districts of the state. What has happened, could have been a physical presence in Olympia. Because members are scattered to their districts or living in their basements. I think they never had to face their followers. So, it was a failed experiment. Thank God, it's over. The Senate has said they're going to have up to three members vote virtually on the floor on each caucus. . . There's a tradition in the Senate, you know, that you take a vote for a colleague. So, they don't have to think just disparages." While Senator Schoesler wasn't crazy about the aspect, he shared, "At least we are back."

The state constitution sets the starting date of the legislative session for the second Monday in January, so politicians can't gerrymander the beginning of session. Sessions will always run 105 or 65 days, ending by April 23.

Items Schoesler sees as big topics for the 2023 session include reviewing the criminal justice laws that were implemented over the last two years. Schoesler called them "really bad criminal justice things" and went on to share, "Whether you talk to Chief Raymond in Franklin County or Sheriff Wagner in Adams County, they are really upset with some of the things that happened. If you look at the property programs, we can't go on the shelf with shoplifting costs to businesses. - takes it out of employee compensation, and raises prices to consumers." Schoesler spoke of two types of shoplifting -- petty theft and then there are very organized rings of shoplifting - this steel and then market over the web dollar. However, in the state we're not going to bother prosecuting. Schoesler said, "I believe that the law says it's illegal . . . Clearly Judaism, Christians, Muslims all agree stealing is wrong. Yes, but in the state of Washington, people say well, 'it's not too much it's okay.' Our attorney general doesn't believe we should prosecute anybody that steals small quantities. I disagree."

They will look at property crime, the Blake decision.

Schoesler moved on stating, "My committees aren't changing. I will still be on the Ways and Means committee. But I will be the ranking Republican on the capital budget, which is something I've really enjoyed. It's not as partisan as a lot of committees and the minority has a lot of input on the budget. I'd rather be the chair, but at least I'm in a position that I influence policies."

Schoesler shared something he is expecting to continue to work on to assist schools. He began discussions on a depreciation fund for schools that has made it to the floor of the House the last two years. This voluntary fund could have the ability to save our school districts a lot of money, Schoesler shared. He went on to explain the project his proposal is a savings account that is locked to only be used for maintenance on buildings.

Schoesler will also be introducing four different measures to reduce the cost of school construction. Some are recycled ideas, some are relatively new. One is bill and a constitutional amendment to set up a revolving fund with little or no interest loans to build schools. While other funds have pitfalls and get swept into other accounts this one would not have that issue as it would be protected under the state's constitution. Schoesler stated, "I think it is an out of the box idea that was brought to me." He went on to explain, "When we first consolidated Ritzville schools, we paid 12 percent bonds. You got a bond issue for school in 2023 it's gonna be significantly higher. Bit if you could borrow at zero or next to a fraction of a percent to cover admin fees. Once you've paid off, it goes back in and another district can barrow it. Very affordable rate, permanent funding along with several reforms that will save the districts money because everybody else says, 'well we need to fund this or we need to make it easier to raise your taxes because of these bonds,' but no one has talked about how we can save some money. Now, I'd like to get rid of prevailing wage on school construction. Personally, I'd do it in a nanosecond. But, it's not going to happen under this administration, this legislature, so let's look at things maybe we can get to. . . "

Schoesler also spoke of the 1 percent requirement for state artwork on new school construction suggesting, "why not consider using student created art in lieu of the government catalog or building a massive atrium in your building design and call it artwork..." Schoesler continued, "So let's think outside the box and see are there a few things we can do to save money? Because everybody else just says we'll raise taxes, no, that's not me and property taxes I think most people believe are higher so look for some efficiencies look for some savings. Whether it's maintenance or whether it's construction." Schoesler looks at keeping costs down be being more diligent in maintaining our buildings.

Groundwater is another subject up for discussion. Schoesler shared that they are looking at pipelines for the Odessa groundwater replacement plan. He sated "We're making headway. We've got 8500 acres that have gone to surface water from wells, and they have the ability to add 2000 acres to that system. And the southern most pipeline may move up on the schedule because they don't have to build a pump station. in the canal. They can run a gravity system and it'll go out into a sizeable area.. ." Budget wise, they've been spending 20 or 25 million a year designing and getting these pipelines ready to go and off the aquifer. There has been good cooperation from a number of agencies - The Columbia Basin Conservation District is kind of the facilitator, NRCS has been assisting in funding for the farms and overall. "We put a lot of time into getting this thing together but if you look at the groundwater situation, we've got to do something to take the pressure off the aquifer and obviously the demand for irrigated cropland is strong. But we need water, I think this is the chance in my lifetime to see that farmland being farmed with full irrigation which is going to be good for our economy and good for preserving the aquifers." Schoesler went on to share about the last two summers and how if it weren't for the farmers the town of Lind would not have been able to fight the fires that threatened their town. They don't have enough water to support any small bit of growth. He also shared how Othello is trying some injection systems that show promise. Othello is looking to replace some of the groundwater use with surface water injection that can be used for irrigation of parks and cemeteries, taking the stress off the groundwater.

"It's a real issue and I'm getting more optimistic, you know that we're just gaining on this thing.... " he said as he shared about working with Senator Murray on bridges over canals and looking at how we get those done because bridges can create bottlenecks in the canal. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers also is a player who will likely get more involved now that she also represents Franklin County.

Speaking on the Governor's push with climate change and electric vehicles, and energy. Schoesler was optimistic to hear the Governor publicly embrace nuclear options for energy in our state. Sharing that a coal plant in Lewis County is about to go offline in 2025. Schoesler stated, "I think reality is going to sink in I think that's why after 10 years the Governor publicly embraced the nuclear option this week. That down the road that's probably a realistic because new generation of small nuclear reactors. We've been running our Navy on nukes for years, decades. This is not the old nasty Hanford, Chernobyl technology. So, if you're going to have that future, it's going to happen whether he likes it or not, it has to include hydro." Which moved the topic into the dams. On dams, Schoesler stated, "Energy Northwest, they support the dams. The reason Energy Northwest supports the Snake River dams is when they shut down for refueling or maintenance, periodically ... the Snake River dams totally offset that in affordable base load power. So, if they don't, they simply said, if you took those dams out in short order, we have no base load power to do our maintenance."

On wind power, Schoesler shared about a new member who proposed a bill on recycling windmill blades and turbines. The first generation are getting old and we have no plan in place. Schoesler said that the environmental committee didn't rise up and support this bill which he also co-signed. The early generations are going to wear out and as Schoesler said, hopefully the next generation of technology will be better, assuming they continue.

Schoesler ended his visit by highlighting the importance of weekly community newspapers, especially in elections.

Schoesler will be sending updates throughout the session as things come up of importance to our readers.

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