Several bills from first-year lawmaker moving forward, with solid bipartisan support from key committees
State Sen. Nikki Torres has taken on quite an uphill battle in tackling several key problems facing Washingtonians through a large and varied collection of bills she has introduced this session.
First off, she is in her first year as a legislator, without the experience in the House of Representatives many have at the start of their Senate service. Freshman senators usually file few bills and are otherwise expected to sit back and learn. Not Torres, whose list of introduced bills is at 19 and counting.
Secondly, she is a Republican in a legislative chamber that is dominated by Democrats. Even seasoned Republican lawmakers have difficulty moving bills in an environment where Democrats have a near-supermajority and can push an aggressive agenda through without regard for bipartisanship or fairness. Despite this, Torres has received bipartisan praise for many of her measures, with several attracting key Democrat co-sponsors.
And finally, many of her bills are focused on black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, which, despite lip service by some legislators, don’t have many authentic voices addressing their concerns in Olympia.
Despite these challenges, an impressive number of Torres’ bills are making steady progress through the Legislature, as the first key “cutoff” of the 2023 session approaches. Friday is the deadline for policy committees to advance bills in order for them to remain eligible for passage this year.
“Given the dominant Democratic majority, I came into the legislative session aware that there would be some limits to what I could realistically accomplish, but still very optimistic about getting a lot done for the people of the 15th Legislative District, and all Washingtonians,” said Torres, R-Pasco. “That optimism is really paying off.
“The Legislature is full of people from across the state who are committed to serving the people of Washington. We don’t always agree on everything, but it is reassuring how many people are truly here for the right reasons and are looking for solutions to improve the lives of Washingtonians.”
In addition to her bill to expand the state’s farm internship program (SSB 5156), which passed the Senate unanimously on Jan. 25, Torres has several measures that have already advanced ahead of the Feb. 17 deadline:
- On Monday, Senate Bill 5647, Torres’ measure to provide substitute teachers and other temporary school employees vital, life-saving information about school safety policies and procedures, was approved by the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. The bill is now headed to the Rules Committee, the final stop before being considered by the full Senate.
- The education committee also approved Senate Bill 5710, which would create a grant program within the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to provide funding to educational service districts in order to offer students attending schools in rural areas access to a mental-health professional using telemedicine. The bill would also direct the state Health Care Authority to investigate why such a disproportionally low number of eastern Washington families are participating in existing mental health referral services for children and teens. This crucial legislation is headed to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for its consideration.
- Senate Bill 5477, implementing the recommendations of the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People task force, has already cleared the Senate Law and Justice Committee with unanimous support and is now awaiting consideration in the Ways and Means Committee.
- Senate Bill 5160 would better define the crime of “organized retail theft” to help protect small-business owners and the communities they serve. The bill is currently awaiting floor action by the full Senate and could be voted on at any time.
- The Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs Committee, on which Torres serves as the lead Republican member, voted Monday to approve Senate Bill 5602, which under certain circumstances would authorize a county board of equalization to employ a hearing examiner who resides outside that county. It is often difficult to appoint a qualified hearing examiner to the local Board of Equalization because of the lack of qualified applicants within a county. Torres’ bill would help meet that need.
- Torres has two bills related to crop-protection products, both of which are on the full Senate’s voting calendar. Senate Bill 5143 would change the name and membership of the Commission on Pesticide Registration, while Senate Bill 5330 would make changes to the Washington Pesticide Application Act.
- Senate Bill 5159 is Torres’ bill to help streamline costs for local governments by adjusting the Shoreline Management Act schedule to better line up with the Growth Management Act schedule. The measure is before the Rules Committee.
- On Friday, the Senate State Government and Elections Committee is scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 5631, Torres’ measure to help Washington’s “Dreamers” by requiring state agencies to clearly identify on their website all programs or services that accept applicants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.
- Senate Bill 5709, concerning irrigation-district elections, is scheduled for a vote on Thursday in the local government committee. That same day, the agriculture committee is scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 5622, which would allow irrigation districts with excess water to reallocate it to cities that have growth-related shortages.
“With less than a week left before the first cutoff for committee votes, I will continue my optimism, and hopefully get some of my other measures moving as well,” said Torres, not satisfied with the hefty load of her bills already moving at a rapid pace. “I have important legislation – one expanding broadband to rural communities and another helping Dreamers reach their education goals – which have already had hearings and will hopefully receive a vote prior to Friday’s deadline.
“We must always continue working until the work is done.”