(360) 786-7604|Andy.Billig@leg.wa.gov

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Gov. Inslee signs oil train safety legislation

May 9th, 2019|

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation on Thursday to address the risk posed by shipping highly flammable Bakken crude oil traveling through communities across the state.

Senate Bill 5579, sponsored by Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane), will require facilities offloading or loading crude oil from a rail tank car to meet safer vapor pressure standards if the state experiences an increase in oil train traffic.

A 10% increase in the volume of crude oil will trigger the new requirements and prohibit a facility from storing or offloading crude oil produced unless the oil has a vapor pressure of less than nine pounds per square inch (9 psi).

In the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail derailment that killed 47 people in Canada, the only tank car that did not explode was carrying oil with a vapor pressure of 9 psi.

The new standard will not take effect until two years after the state Department of Ecology provides notification of the increase relative to the volume transported in 2018. Currently, 17 unit trains per week travel to refineries by rail in Washington. Failing to meet the standard could result in penalties of up to $2,500 per day per rail tank car.

“We know these trains pose a serious risk as we watch them pass through downtown Spokane in sight of Lewis and Clark High School, hospitals, medical buildings, and senior living facilities,” Billig said. “This bill about safety – safety for the workers who unload Bakken crude oil at endpoints in Washington state, and safety for people who live, work and attend schools along the route the oil travels from North Dakota.”

There have been at least 14 events in recent years involving derailments of Bakken crude in the U.S. and Canada, including a derailment and fire at Mosier, Ore., that necessitated the evacuation of much of the town and narrowly avoided a catastrophic spill into the Columbia River.

“While we know there is more to do to reduce the risk of a catastrophic event, this bill puts in place protections if we see an increase in oil train traffic travelling through our state,” Billig said.

While the federal government has adopted so-called packing rules for high-hazard flammable trains, it has not adopted a nationwide vapor pressure standard for crude oil shipped by rail, and has not responded to petitions from multiple states, including Washington, to do so.

“When Washington state leads, the nation follows,” said Spokane City Council Member Breean Beggs. “We in Spokane are grateful that a safer oil volatility standard will be established to protect workers and community members from derailing train explosions.”

The Legislature adjourns sine die

April 30th, 2019|

With three minutes to spare before the midnight deadline, the 2019 Legislature adjourned last night. This is the first time in a decade the Legislature has completed a 105-day session on time.

We adopted a responsible and forward-looking two-year operating budget that makes historic gains for the state. The budget invests in a transformation of our behavioral health system, expands access to early learning, and strengthens K-12 and special education. It also includes historic investments in the state’s higher education system. Earlier this session, we adopted the strongest clean energy legislationin the nation, protecting clean air and water for generations to come. Click here to read about some of the other highlights of the 2019 legislative session.

As my first session as the Senate Majority Leader in Olympia wraps up, I’ve been reflecting on how fortunate I am to work on behalf of the people of Spokane and lead a talented and diverse group of Senators from around the state. 

Big wins for Spokane in state budgets

Your Spokane legislative delegation was able to secure funding for a number of top community priorities in the operating, capital and transportation budgets:

  • Funding for the WSU Elson S. Floyd Medical School, including support for 20 additional medical students
  • Additional funding for Spokane area school districts
  • $1 million for the Joya Child and Family Development (formerly Spokane Guild School)
  • $1 million for Crosswalk’s new teen shelter and transitional housing project
  • $1 million for the new downtown Spokane Sportsplex
  • $500,000 for the Riverfront Park Suspension Bridge repair
  • $400,000 for CHAS Spokane behavioral health clinic expansion
  • $350,000 for the new Carl Maxey Center
  • Making our community a safer place

Making our community a safer place

The two bills I prime sponsored to improve public safety in our city both passed the Legislature.

Senate Bill 5579 will require a stricter safety standard for oil trains moving through our state if the state experiences an increase in oil train traffic.

Senate Bill 5492 is a bipartisan effort among Spokane leaders to reduce auto theft by providing community supervision for offenders who commit motor vehicle-related felonies. Research shows this strategy, which provides services, reduces recidivism.

Budgets include key investments for Spokane

April 3rd, 2019|

The Senate introduced its budget proposals late last week. The capital budget, which is our jobs and infrastructure plan, provides funds to rebuild a suspension bridge in Riverfront Park, design a new university building at WSU-Spokane, and help build the new Crosswalk teen shelter. Below are a few of the investments in the Senate’s proposed capital budget:

  • Spokane Guild’s School Capital Campaign ($1 million)
  • Crosswalk Teen Shelter and Transitional Housing ($1 million)
  • Don Kardong Bridge on the Centennial Trail ($726,000)
  • Maple Street CHAS Clinical Behavioral Health Expansion ($411,000)
  • Riverfront Park Suspension Bridge Renovation ($500,000)
  • WSU Biomedical and Health Science Building ($500,000)

Operating budget investments

The Senate also released its two-year state operating budget proposal with targeted investments in behavioral health, K-12 special education, early learning, higher education, and investments to protect clean air and clean water. I believe this budget reflects our state’s shared values, and forges a path toward prosperity and improved quality of life in Spokane and throughout our state. I’ll share more details on the operating budget in the coming weeks.

Fixing our upside-down tax code

Washington ranks 50th out of 50 states when it comes to tax fairness. In other words, we have the most unfair tax code in the country. Along with our budget, we have put forward a proposal to rebalance our tax code and reduce the tax burden on lower income and middle-class families. You can watch a video where I explain this plan here.

Spokane legislators to host town hall meeting

March 7th, 2019|

OLYMPIA – Legislators representing Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District will host a town hall on Saturday, March 16, to provide an update on the 2019 legislative session in Olympia and take questions from community members.

Who: Sen. Andy Billig and Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli
When: Saturday, March 16, 10-11:30 a.m.
Where: The MAC – Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, E.A. Johnston Auditorium 2316 W. 1st Ave.

The Legislature is in the midst of a 105-day session scheduled to conclude on April 28. Lawmakers from Spokane will provide a brief update on budget proposals for the 2019-21 biennium and discuss legislation to address education, clean air and water, local jobs and infrastructure, health care, and many more issues.

Senate passes oil train safety legislation

March 5th, 2019|

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate has approved legislation to reduce the risk posed by shipping highly flammable Bakken crude oil across the state.

Senate Bill 5579, sponsored by Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane), passed the Senate Monday on a 27-20 vote. The bill would require facilities offloading or loading crude oil from a rail tank car to meet specific vapor pressure standards.

“This bill about safety – the safety for the workers who unload Bakken crude oil at their endpoint in Washington state, and for the safety for everyone along the route by which it travels from North Dakota. These large shipments of extremely flammable fuel run through the heart of our state, starting with my community in Spokane,” said Billig. “People and their safety must come first. Experts know that highly flammable Bakken oil poses greater risk and it’s time to take meaningful action to reduce the threat of a serious catastrophe.”

SB 5579 reduces level of risk posed by the volatility of Bakken oil by, in the effect, requiring producers to condition the oil to meet safer standards prior to shipment from the Bakken region.

There have been at least 14 events in recent years involving derailments of Bakken crude in the U.S. and Canada, including the Lac-Megantic rail derailment that killed 47 people and the derailment and fire at Mosier, Ore., that necessitated the evacuation of much of the town and narrowly avoided a catastrophic spill into the Columbia river.

While the federal government has adopted so-called packing rules for high-hazard flammable trains, it has not adopted a nationwide vapor pressure standard for crude oil shipped by rail, and has not responded to petitions from multiple states to do so.

Under the bill, a facility may not store or offload crude oil produced from the Bakken region unless the oil has a vapor pressure of less than nine pounds per square inch. Failing to meet the standard could result in penalties of up to $2,500 per day per rail tank car.

“If the federal government won’t act to protect public safety and adopt a safer nationwide standard, we will adopt our own,” Billig said. “There is just too much to lose – for people and our environment.”

The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Policy cutoff and Shrimp Scampi!

February 25th, 2019|

Friday was the first cutoff day of this legislative session. All bills not voted out of their policy committee by Friday are dead for this session. This is part of the legislative whittling process that takes the 1,000-plus bills that are introduced and helps us focus on the measures that have the best chance to pass. This week we focus on floor action and work in the fiscal committees (Ways & Means and Transportation).

Support from our little learners

I always enjoy receiving letters and e-mails from constituents. Their feedback is essential for me to do an effective job representing our community.  I especially enjoy receiving input from the children I represent. Recently, I received letters from students in day care and after school programs. See above for a couple of examples encouraging me to support high-quality early learning and after-school care. Even the youngest advocates can make a difference when they make their voices heard. And, I love that one of them mentioned Shrimp Scampi in their letter!

Three things you might not know about the Washington State Legislature

I recently had the chance to meet with Lisa Brown, the state’s new commerce director. We took a photo in front of a portrait of Reba Hurn, another former Spokane state senator. Hurn became the first woman elected to the Washington State Senate in 1923.
  • Though this is my first year as Majority Leader, it is certainly not the first time that someone who represents Spokane County has held the seat. Most recently, Mark Schoesler in the 9th LD, who is currently the Senate Minority Leader, held the position and Lisa Brown, who has recently been appointed as the Director of Commerce, was the Majority Leader for eight years.
  • In Washington we have a citizen legislature, which means that in addition to each member’s work for their constituents, many also sustain another job during interim. In the Senate, we have first responders, union organizers, and small business owners, who all bring a wealth of perspectives to the lawmaking and legislative process. With our freshman class of senators, we have added a computer engineer, a community organizer, an early childhood education administrator, a small business owner and more!
  • Last week we continued a tradition in the Senate of new members offering a small gift to their colleagues upon their first speech on the Senate floor. People often highlight a product from their district or something that is special from their background. For my first speech in the Senate in 2013, I handed out Spokane Indians Baseball hats.

Town Halls

Thanks to those people who participated in the 3rd Legislative District telephone town hall. We received a lot of great questions and feedback. If you missed it, you can listen to the event here

I hope to see you in person at our 3rd Legislative District Town Hall on March 16 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the MAC – Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, 2316 W 1st Ave.

Join us for a telephone town hall on Feb. 12

February 8th, 2019|

Sen. Billig and Reps. Ormsby and Riccelli of the 3rd Legislative District will give a brief update on the 2019 legislative session on Tuesday.

Who: State Sen. Andy Billig, State Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli What: Telephone town hall
When: Tuesday, February 12, 6 – 7 p.m.

The majority of the live town hall discussion will focus on answering questions directly from constituents. Under the telephone town hall format, thousands of constituents will receive automatically generated telephone calls to their homes in the 3rd Legislative District at 6 p.m. Tuesday, February 12. Constituents may ask a question by pressing *3 on their phones during the call. A volunteer screener will take their question, and the legislators will answer as many questions as they can get through during the one-hour call.

Those constituents whose questions are not addressed during the live call have the option to leave a voicemail for the legislators with their question or comment. Constituents who do not automatically receive a call may join the conversation beginning at 6 p.m. on Feb. 12 by calling 877-229-8493 and entering the ID code 116276 after the prompt. Those with mobile phone numbers can sign up online to ensure they receive a call on Feb. 12.

State Senate expands remote testimony program

January 29th, 2019|

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate has approved a bipartisan proposal from Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) and Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) to make permanent and expand a program that further opens public access to state government by allowing remote video testimony in legislative hearings.

In recent years, a Senate pilot project developed a system enabling people across the state to testify over high-speed internet connections for a limited number of committee hearings. The proposal approved on Tuesday by the Senate Facilities & Operations Committee will make this system permanent and expand its use.

In addition to the existing program becoming permanent, it will expand this year. Starting in 2019, the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee will become the first legislative panel to offer remote testimony for every hearing.

“Technology offers us an opportunity to open up the doors of government to more people across the state,” said Billig. “Everyone should feel like they can have their voice heard in Olympia, regardless of where you live.”

The proposal also calls for further study to identify the next steps in the program’s expansion.

In 2018, remote testimony was used in 21 hearings. There are now 16 available sites throughout the state offering remote connections. People have testified remotely from cities such as Ellensburg, Pasco, Spokane, Wenatchee and Walla Walla.

“Our democracy is stronger when more people are involved, and this offers another method to weigh in on pertinent issues without driving to Olympia,” Billig said.

Available remote testimony sites:

Bellevue College
Bellingham Technical College
Central Washington University
Clark College (Vancouver)
Columbia Basin College (Pasco)
Confluence Technology Center (Wenatchee)
Everett Community College
North Eastern Washington ESD (Spokane)
Peninsula College (Port Angeles)
Skagit Valley College (Mt. Vernon)
Spokane Community College Newport
Spokane Community College
Spokane Falls Community College
Walla Walla Community College
Washington State University – Spokane
Wenatchee Valley College

Kicking off the 2019 session

January 18th, 2019|

On Monday, we welcomed our newly-elected members to the Senate and hit the ground running! This year, I will be serving on the Ways & Means, Environment, Energy and Technology, and Rules Committees in addition to my role as Senate Majority Leader. I dive into some of the goals and challenges facing the Legislature in this TVW interview from the first day of session. 

Billig’s Bills

Typically the Majority Leader only prime sponsors a few bills since, in effect, I will have a hand in working on every bill moving through the Senate. However, I will be introducing a couple of bills that are particularly important to Spokane, including a bill that will increase the safety of oil trains that pass through Spokane and a bill to help reduce property crime. More details forthcoming in a future newsletter after the bills start their journey through the legislative process.

Welcome to the team

We are happy to have Morgan Rockey join our office as our 2019 session intern. Morgan is a junior studying political economics at the University of Washington. She is originally from Elma, Washington, where both her parents work for the school district. At the UW, she is involved in the Greek community and has worked as an instructor and mentor to first-year students.

Keep in touch

I am honored to represent Spokane in the Legislature and encourage you to stay in touch with our office throughout the session while we are in Olympia. You can reach me by email at andy.billig@leg.wa.gov or by phone at (360) 786-7604.

Onward!

Andy

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    Washington state DISCLOSE Act ensures election transparency despite federal action

Washington state DISCLOSE Act ensures election transparency despite federal action

July 17th, 2018|

OLYMPIA – Despite the Trump administration move this week to end federal requirements for non-profit organizations to disclose names of large donors to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Washington state will continue to shine light on dark money, Sen. Andy Billig , D-Spokane, said Tuesday.

Earlier this year, the Washington State Legislature passed The DISCLOSE Act, Billig’s nation-leading transparency measure to ensure campaign finance disclosure by nonprofits that participate in Washington state elections.

“Voters have a right to know who is influencing our elections,” said Billig. “While the Trump administration is taking action to reduce transparency and increase the opportunity for corruption, we are focused on increasing accountability and strengthening our democracy.”

Until now, only political action committees were required to disclose their donors, but other nonprofits had been exempt. Under The DISLCOSE Act, organizations not formed primarily to participate in campaigns, such as 501(c)(4), or 501(c)(6) nonprofits, must disclose donors for campaign activities when their campaign-related expenditures meet specified thresholds in Washington state. These are the same types of organizations the new federal rules exempt from disclosure to the IRS.

“It is my hope that other states and the federal government can follow Washington’s lead on campaign election law,” said Billig. ”Transparency helps inform voters, which ultimately results in a healthier democracy.”