Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's been an amazing first year in office. Since the official close of the 2019 session, I've been back home working for you and our district. I love serving the people of Central Washington. Along with my regular job, I've spent the summer traveling around the district, listening and learning about the issues that most concern our communities. I'm grateful to everyone who took the time to meet with me. Hearing from you helps me do a better job on your behalf in Olympia.
Often, in a district as big as ours, constituents can feel left out of the legislative process. That's why I sponsored a series of open-door meetings in towns and cities along the Columbia Gorge this summer. I met individually and in groups, with people in Stevenson, White Salmon and Goldendale.
Our region faces several challenges including issues involving land use, healthcare, wildfire response, education and agriculture. However, for me, our discussion regarding the regulatory environment and the Columbia River Gorge Commission was the most eye-opening. I will continue to do all I can to find workable solutions.
Farmers, ranchers and state land lease rights
During the 2019 legislative session, I introduced House Bill 1964. My bill would put better protections in place for farmers and ranchers leasing state-owned land. As many of you may already be aware, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages thousands of acres of publicly owned lands. In our region, DNR often leases this land to farmers and ranchers. Sometimes, for various reasons, DNR ends these leases early. This action can often cause significant financial hardship.
My bill would require DNR to get written consent from the land lessee before reclaiming the land. Although House Bill 1964 did not make it through the legislative process last year, it brought the problem to light. This summer, I've continued to make headway on putting more safeguards in place. DNR has been working with me on finding a solution that would give more security to farmers leasing the land, while also providing flexibility to the state as the fiduciary agent. This is important work. The public deserves the maximum value of the land to be realized. I'm grateful to have a seat at the table as we continue to work towards a resolution that benefits farmers, ranchers, and the citizens of Washington state.
Helping foster children
Having the right set of priorities while working in Olympia is critically important. As a lawmaker, husband, father and foster parent, I am determined to champion the needs of foster children. It is urgent that more be done to protect vulnerable children placed in the state's care. We need to ensure that our policies do not cause foster children any additional harm.
Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Ross Hunter, a former state representative for the 48th District and current Director of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), on a tour of Yakima's family court hearings. We sat down and discussed how to break the systemic cycle of social services dependency for foster children.
Some fantastic ideas came out of that meeting. One of them included lessening the complexities of transferring custody to non-family guardians. In the weeks and months to come, I will continue to work with DCYF on legislation that would give non-family guardians a higher level of support in custody proceedings. This work is very close to my heart. Although any situation involving the separation of a child from a parent can be extremely complicated, children and youth placed in non-family guardianship situations need to have their best interests put first.
Fighting for the values of Central Washington
In Olympia, they often use the phrase “One Washington.” However, some urban-centric lawmakers tend to forget what works in Seattle doesn't always work for the rest of the state. Please be assured, I will continue to educate “Westsiders” on what's it's like to live, work and raise a family on the other side of the state. If you have any questions, concerns or ideas on how to improve state government, give me a call. I'm always happy to hear from you.
It's an honor to serve you.