Opinion editorial/Q&A with Rep. Brad Hawkins – 2014 Legislative Session
Wenatchee Business Journal: What were your goals, expectations and concerns going into this year's session? How did it turn out?
HAWKINS: After last year's multiple special sessions, my goals and expectations were to approve responsible supplemental budgets and to complete our process on time. Early into this session, I realized most legislators shared this sentiment, so I didn't have much concern about whether we could complete our work on time.
The durations of the session are specified in our state constitution and related to our budgeting process. Washington state operates under two-year budgets, so the Legislature meets each January, but alternates between a 105-day session (for budget development) and a 60-day session (for budget adjustments). Last year's 105-day session took longer than anticipated, but we ended with a good, bipartisan compromise budget. The 60-day sessions, such as the one we just completed, are designed to fine-tune the budgets.
Our state was fortunate heading into this year's session to not have a budget deficit. That meant we didn't have to debate a lot of cuts in spending, as the case in previous years. On the flip side, the state's revenue forecasts were basically flat, so we didn't have much additional money. In the end, it all worked out because the state did what was expected, which was to fine-tune the current budget and pass a limited number of policy bills.
WBJ: What were your favorite pieces of legislation? What happened to them?
HAWKINS: I am not one to introduce a lot of bills just for the sake of it. There is far too much of that in Olympia. The bills I sponsor are ones that I have worked closely on and have bipartisan support. That process takes a lot of work, so those pieces of legislation quickly become my favorites. I prime-sponsored three bills this session. Two of them made it to the governor's desk and became law.
One of my bills signed by the governor, House Bill 2105, is a government transparency measure. It makes a modest change to the state's Open Public Meetings Act to require public agencies to post their meeting agendas online at least 24 hours in advance. Interestingly, the Open Public Meetings Act was first enacted in 1971 and requires public agencies to issue notice of their meetings (such as the date, time, and location), but does not speak to posting meeting agendas. My bill was an effort to modernize the law to reflect our current online society.
My other bill, House Bill 2106, is related to primary ballots and partisan county offices. This bill will relieve counties of the burden of running primary elections for county partisan offices when only one person files to fill an unexpired term. I introduced it in response to the Chelan County election last August in which a countywide election was required, even though only one person's name appeared on the entire primary ballot. I worked hard to get these bills all the way through the process in the short 60-day session.
WBJ: What is your biggest accomplishment of the session?
HAWKINS: When I sought out this job, I promised to put public service before politics. That is what I always try to remember. We set a high standard in my office for customer service. Any successful business operates the same way, which I am sure your readers can appreciate. So my biggest accomplishment of the session is knowing I did everything possible to deliver good customer service to my constituents.
Legislative offices receive numerous phone calls, e-mails, and letters – sometimes hundreds each day. My legislative assistant helps separate the constituent contacts from the non-constituents, and our goal is for each constituent to receive a personal response. In addition to the constituent correspondence, we also spend as much time as possible with people from back home who visit the state Capitol. I try to put myself in the shoes of the people who travel to Olympia over the mountain passes in the middle of winter. They obviously place a high priority in traveling to the Capitol, so I want to honor them by setting aside the appropriate time to hear their thoughts and ideas.
Successful businesses know their customers extremely well, so I try to extend that principle to my service in Olympia. I know that if I can stay in close contact with constituents throughout my years of service, then I can represent their interests effectively. I believe I was successful in doing so again this year, so that is what I consider my biggest accomplishment.
WBJ: What is the biggest near-miss (positive or negative) for business owners this session?
HAWKINS: The biggest near-miss (in a positive way) for business owners this session was Gov. Inslee's unsuccessful effort to raise our state's minimum wage. I was surprised at the proposal because Washington's $9.32 per-hour minimum wage is the highest state minimum wage in the nation. Our minimum wage was approved by a statewide vote in 2000 and is indexed to inflation and other cost factors.
Soon after the governor's speech, Democrats introduced House Bill 2672 to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour. This proposal would be devastating to North Central Washington. For an area of the state such as ours that depends upon small businesses already operating under a very thin margin, proposals to increase the minimum wage are cause for concern.
Maintaining a reasonable minimum wage is also necessary to help young workers gain experience in the job market with entry-level employment. Getting the younger generation working is good for them and for our state's economy, especially our local economy which has many service- and tourism-related businesses. I'm not sure if the proposal to increase the minimum wage was actually a “near-miss,” but it seemed to have some momentum early in the session. It passed out of the House Workforce and Development Committee. Fortunately, it died after no action was taken in the House Appropriations Committee.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, represents the 12th Legislative District. He serves on the House Education, Transportation, and Business and Financial Services committees. Rep. Hawkins can be contacted through his website at www.representativebradhawkins.com or at his district office in Wenatchee at (360) 662-5733.
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