SEATTLE - Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in a speech to a joint session of the Legislature Tuesday urged lawmakers to act on his legislative agenda, calling for big spending to build housing as well as additional gun laws and a funding boost for education.
The governor’s annual State of the State address in Olympia laid out his vision of the state’s accomplishments and challenges and what he wants to see from lawmakers during the 2023 session, which began Monday.
The governor talked about recent strides surrounding mental health, housing and climate change and spoke positively about the state’s ability to meet current challenges, praising previous legislative work.
"Because of that work, I can proudly report that the state of our state is strong," Inslee said.
Inslee said a state tax credit for low-income workers and families would begin rolling out in February. He said new facilities for behavioral health were opening throughout the state as a result of five years of work. He also cited a rapid-acquisition housing program, which was funded starting two years ago, that has accelerated the process of developing supportive housing.
He again spoke of his new proposed $4 billion referendum, which he has said would pay for more than 24,000 housing units in the next eight years. If approved by the Legislature, the referendum would also need to go before voters in November.
"Though some people face behavioral health challenges or chemical addiction issues, the fundamental, underlying challenge is that we don’t have enough housing," Inslee said. "When there’s not enough housing for all, rents and prices skyrocket beyond what many can afford. Until we fix our housing crisis, thousands of people will remain homeless."
After Inslee’s address, House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox reiterated previous optimism for bipartisan progress on the housing front this session and said Inslee’s proposal isn’t the worst suggestion he’s heard.
"Will we support it? I want to listen to the testimony and go through the process on this," Wilcox said.
Inslee in his address also encouraged lawmakers to pass measures requiring gun-buyer safety training, a ban on assault weapons and creating a law that would allow gun sellers and manufacturers to face lawsuits.
"That phrase, ‘public safety,’ evokes different meanings and ideas among people. We need to escape the trap that public safety is about any one thing – mental health or gun safety or drug treatment or law enforcement. The fact is, we need them all," he said.
Inslee also issued a call to hire and train more police officers especially from local diverse communities. He added that 911 is not always the appropriate response to an emergency and touted the state’s efforts toward alternatives such as the 988 mental health helpline.
Washington in November became the first state to launch a mental health crisis line dedicated to American Indian and Alaska Native people. Callers in Washington can reach the line by calling 988 then pressing "4" to be greeted by an Indigenous counselor.
Inslee also praised the Legislature for last year’s "historic investments" in schools for nursing, counselors and social workers and said his proposed $70 billion budget includes a $3 billion increase in spending for K-12 public education, including more money for special education.
Inslee also touted the state’s new cap-and-invest program and other Washington efforts to tackle climate change, and said the state needed more capacity to site and permit clean energy projects and "bolster our transmission infrastructure" to deliver clean energy.