Sen. Rolfes Newsroom

Legislative update: Exciting changes in Olympia

With just 45 days until the 2019 legislative session begins, I am writing to give you a brief update. I’ve spent the last few weeks working with my colleagues in the state Senate to start planning and prioritizing the major issues we will tackle next year. Thanks for taking the time to read this newsletter and I hope you enjoy a peaceful holiday season.

Looking ahead to 2019 in Olympia

I am happy to report that we will welcome several new members to the Senate Democratic Caucus. While a few races from the November election are headed to a recount, it’s likely Democrats will hold a 28-21 majority in the Washington State Senate, giving our caucus the power to control the agendas of Senate committees and floor action, determining which bills will be heard and brought up for votes. We also elected a new Senate Majority Leader earlier this month: Sen. Andy Billig has represented Spokane in the Legislature for close to a decade and has already brought new energy to our team. You can read our caucus’s priorities in a piece Billig recently published in the Spokesman-Review. You can read about the entire leadership team here.

Creating the 2019-21 state budget

I’ve been chosen by my colleagues to lead the Senate Ways & Means Committee again this year. This will be my second year chairing the committee responsible for fiscal matters and writing the state budget. Every odd year, lawmakers spend 105 days in Olympia and are required to pass a balanced budget that will guide the state’s spending for the following two years. In fact, it is one of the few constitutional obligations that the Legislature absolutely must fulfill. I’m honored that my colleagues have placed their trust in me.

The economic news is positive as our state’s talented workforce continues to innovate and grow Washington’s economy at a record pace, but our state also has many pressing needs. Starting in January, I will lead dozens of public hearings while working with budget leaders in the House of Representatives and the Governor’s Office to write a budget that moves our state forward and maintains our commitment to mental health, education and our environment.

In addition, I will serve on the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, which will allow me to focus on one of my top priorities: protecting our natural resources and our public lands.

The 2019 Legislature will convene in Olympia on Jan. 14. Read more about our 2019 committees, including a new focus on housing and mental health.

Reports: State budget ranks high

Two recent reports offer more good news about the strength of our state’s finances, specifically the current state budget. Moody’s Analytics and S&P Global have both released reports that give our state budget high marks when measured for performance if we were to face another recession. We are one of 14 states considered “low risk” in the event of an economic downturn. They call it a “stress test” and I am proud our budget is one of the strongest in the nation. We worked hard last year to meet our needs — especially education funding — while also leaving the state on solid footing. Now, it’s time to get to work on the next budget!

New ferry entrance for Bainbridge cyclists

Ferry officials are trying to get the word out to cyclists about a new entrance at the Colman Dock during construction. After cyclists raised safety concerns about the existing entrance during the newest phase of construction, state officials opened a new entrance at the south side of the toll plaza. Planners hope this new entrance will both reduce cross traffic between vehicles and offer a more convenient waiting area for Bainbridge Island ferry cyclists. An ORCA card reader will be operational at the entrance on Dec. 5. In the meantime, a ticket seller will scan tickets.

Support for our earliest learners

We know early childhood programs lead to higher graduation rates, higher employment rates and a reduction in crime. That’s why I am encouraged to see organizations like Mission: Readiness step up and support early education across the country. Washington members Major General (Ret.) David de la Vergne and Major General (Ret.) Jon Root are among 750 retired military leaders who are advocating for evidence-based, bipartisan state and federal public policy solutions that improve young lives.

November 30th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Rolfes to lead Senate budget-writing committee in 2019

OLYMPIA – Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, will continue to chair the crucial Senate budget committee, Ways & Means, when the Washington State Legislature convenes in 2019. Rolfes was first appointed chair following the 2017 election, which shifted control of the state Senate from Republicans to Democrats.

“Just eight months ago, we left Olympia on time after passing a balanced supplemental budget, setting the state on solid fiscal ground entering the 2019-21 biennium,” Rolfes said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in 2019 and leading our efforts to craft a smart budget that moves our state forward over the next two years.”

The committee’s chief achievement during Rolfes’ first year as chair was to address the longstanding McCleary school funding challenges for which the Legislature had been declared in contempt of court. The solutions negotiated by Rolfes persuaded the state Supreme Court to lift its contempt-of-court order that had been in place for several contentious years.

Every odd year, lawmakers in Olympia are responsible for creating a balanced budget that will guide the state’s spending for the following two years, or biennium. As chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, Rolfes will lead dozens of public hearings while working with budget leaders in the House of Representatives and the Governor’s Office to write the operating budget.

“The economic news is positive as our state’s talented workforce continues to innovate and grow Washington’s economy at a record pace, but we also have many pressing needs,” Rolfes said. “We’ll have to prioritize our investments and keep our commitment to education, mental health care and our environment.”

The 2019 Legislature will convene on Jan. 14.

November 28th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Protecting Puget Sound orcas

Like many of you, I have been closely following updates about our resident Puget Sound orcas and the great challenges they face. When the orca named J35, or Tahlequah, gave birth on July 24, her baby lived for only 30 minutes. Soon, the whole world was watching as she began carrying her dead calf – something she would do for more than two weeks.

One orca researcher has called this a “tour of grief,” and I know many of you right here in our community are interested in learning more about what the state is doing to help this iconic species survive. Below, you will find information about our current efforts and some ways you can help.

(Photo courtesy of NOAA)

Orca recovery at the state level

To address the rapidly decreasing orca population, Gov. Inslee created the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force earlier this year and instructed state agencies to outline immediate steps and long-term solutions for orca recovery and future survivability. This task force is directed to submit a final report with recommendations by Nov. 1.

The task force met on Tuesday and began putting together a package of recommendations. You can view the meeting materials and all potential actions by clicking this link.

Orca whales face three primary threats: contaminants, noise/disturbance, and prey availability (mostly Chinook salmon). We can, and must, take action to save this amazing population, but protecting them will require an assortment of solutions.

Taking action to protect orcas

Hatchery reform – In the 2018 supplemental budget, the Legislature provided the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) with $665,000 for hatchery improvements to increase Chinook salmon production.

Noise Pollution – WDFW and stakeholders are looking into establishing speed limits for small vessels near the orcas, transitioning to quieter state ferries, and creating a permit system for whale watching vessels. Additionally, WDFW intends to implement a package of outreach and education programs related to Whale-Wise guidelines at boat launches and marinas. Finally, WDFW will promote adherence to a voluntary “No-Go” Whale Protection Zone along the western side of San Juan Island for all recreational boats and commercial fishing vessels.

Orca whales are an icon in the Puget Sound and a vital piece of the ecosystem. They also maintain rich cultural ties, especially with our tribal communities. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

Dam Removal – There are currently discussions about breaching the Lower Snake River dams to increase the Chinook salmon available for the orcas. In the short term, dams are increasing their spill in order to give salmon a higher survival rate.

Fish Negotiations – For the first time, the co-managers of Washington fishing rights (Washington state and the treaty tribes) are limiting fisheries in areas where orcas are known to feed.

Containments / Pollution – The 2018 supplemental budget provided $10 million to the Department of Ecology for grants for storm-water retrofit projects that will reduce pollutants in areas where orcas are regularly present.

Additionally, the Containments Workgroup of the Governor’s Task Force is looking at different chemicals that affect orcas and is developing plans to reduce their presence in Puget Sound.

Funding – On top of the funding for increased Chinook salmon and storm-water projects, the 2018 Supplemental budget included funding for a hatchery study and additional enforcement vessels to keep boats from disturbing the orcas.

What you can do to support the orcas:

  • Support farmers, businesses, and local food providers that invest in salmon-safe practices. Click here to learn about buying certified salmon safe products. Here is a link to learn more about the connection between salmon and Orcas.
  • Call your legislators and urge them to take action. Or, go one step further and track the progress of the task force and urge elected leaders and businesses to do more.
  • Take personal steps that have always been good for Puget Sound: be mindful of storm-water runoff and reduce or eliminate your use of single-use plastics and household toxins, which often end up in the water.

Learn more from organizations that focus on Orca whale protections:
Center for Whale Research
Orca Network
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Puget Sound Partnership

I know the challenges we face may seem daunting, but I continue to believe that we can protect the species that have called the Pacific Northwest home for thousands of years. Through our individual and collective action, we have the opportunity to adapt our behavior and policies — so we all can thrive together. I am committed to this, and I hope that you are too.

Warm regards,


August 14th, 2018|E-News|

Rolfes honored by state’s fire chiefs

OLYMPIA – Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, received the 2018 Honorary Fire Chiefs Award for her work to fund firefighter training and wildfire response during the 2018 legislative session.

The award is given by the Washington State Fire Chiefs to legislators who have made a significant contribution to the fire service and demonstrated courage in leadership.

As chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee in 2018, Rolfes secured key funding for firefighter training and wildfire prevention and response. This funding helps support firefighters who have already responded to hundreds of wildfires this summer as the governor recently announced an emergency proclamation for all 39 counties for the threat of wildfire.

Rolfes also sponsored important legislation to protect the men and women on the frontline, including a bill that adds insurance coverage for posttraumatic stress disorders of first responders and a measure banning certain firefighting foams containing toxic chemicals.

“Sen. Rolfes has always been engaged with the firefighting community and she really listens. This award represents our gratitude for her public service and leadership in keeping our communities and firefighters safe,” said Wayne Senter, executive director of the Washington State Fire Chiefs.

Past honorees of the Fire Chiefs Award have included former U.S. Sen. Gorden Walgren and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

August 7th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Sen. Rolfes’ legislative update

Summer has definitely arrived in Kitsap County and I hope you are staying cool! While the Legislature doesn’t meet again until the start of 2019, I’ve been busy meeting with community members and, as chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, preparing to write the state’s next budget. I watch our state’s economic performance closely and lately we’ve received mostly positive news. For two straight years our state has led the nation in economic growth, but I know we are also experiencing many challenges. I touch on a few of these below – important steps that we are taking to improve life for people here in Kitsap and across Washington state.

A true honor

I was honored to receive the Fire Chiefs Award during a celebration at the annual Kitsap County Fire Commissioners and Fire Chiefs Barbecue. I was proud to secure critical funding for firefighter training and wildland fire prevention and response. This year we also passed important legislation to protect the men and women on the frontline, including a bill that adds insurance coverage for posttraumatic stress disorders of first responders and a measure banning certain firefighting foams containing toxic chemicals.

Additional community behavioral health support

Kitsap Mental Health recently opened both its new Triage Center and adjacent Substance Abuse residential clinic in Bremerton, providing a much-needed 32 additional treatment beds for people in mental health crisis. This effort will help take the strain off of local jails and hospitals while providing people with the urgent medical care that they need. This project was ten years in the making and was funded by both local and state taxpayers.

Additionally, in July KMH received funding from the state to add 17 more beds, where people can stay after completing treatment at the state’s psychiatric hospitals. The funding ($2.3M) comes from a Washington State Department of Commerce grant that will add 341 additional beds across the state. The money will be used for construction of an East Bremerton inpatient facility for people experiencing serious psychiatric episodes. This kind of care in community settings is crucial and proximity to family support systems has immeasurable benefits for patients. Read more about the grant in the Kitsap Sun.

Website helps you research health-care costs

The state has launched a new website called Washington HealthCareCompare, which will allow residents to research the cost and quality of hundreds of medical, dental and pharmacy services and procedures. The site also contains information on health-care providers. This should be another valuable tool to help consumers make informed choices on health care.

New savings plan for people with disabilities

A new savings program open to Washington state residents will help people with disabilities save for related care expenses without fear of disqualification from essential public benefits. Called ABLE accounts, these new tax-advantage savings plan will allow people with disabilities and their families to save for disability-related expenses without losing crucial benefits, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Currently, people are disqualified for those benefits when their assets reach $2,000. That will no longer be the case when funds are deposited into an ABLE account. An estimated 50,000 Washingtonians could benefit from enrolling in an ABLE account.

August 1st, 2018|E-News, Uncategorized|

Rolfes: Janus decision an attack on good, family-wage jobs

OLYMPIA – Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island and chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, released the following statement after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME:

“Here in Washington, we have a proud tradition of supporting public sector unions – and for good reason. Strong unions result in safe workplaces and prosperity for our entire state.

“Unfortunately, today’s decision is a victory for corporate special interests and another setback for Washingtonians who depend on these family-wage jobs. As chair of Senate Ways & Means Committee, I’ve been following the Janus case closely because of the broad implications it may have on our state’s workforce and operating budget. Fortunately, the 2018 Legislature had the foresight to pass laws protecting workers while also budgeting for anticipated fiscal impacts.
“Despite today’s ruling, I’m confident everyone in the Legislature wants to promote good, middle-class jobs in Washington state. As we prepare for the 2019 session, I will work with my colleagues to ensure we further protect our workers and economy.”

June 27th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Rolfes earns Washington PTA’s highest honor

OLYMPIA – Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, received the Washington State Parent Teacher Association’s highest honor at the organization’s annual conference in Vancouver over the weekend.

Rolfes was the recipient of the 2018 Friend of Children Award, which recognizes an individual or organization for state-level dedication “to all children” in Washington State by supporting the whole child through advocacy, education, family and community engagement, health and well-being, and safety.

“This award is extremely meaningful for me as a Mom and a legislator, especially coming from an organization that supports crucial volunteer work at home and advocacy at the state level,” Rolfes said.

Rolfes has become a leading voice on education funding and reform over the past decade, working toward bipartisan solutions to improve outcomes for all public school students around the state. Rolfes is the vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and chairs the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

May 21st, 2018|Uncategorized|

Back home and connecting with community

Dear Neighbor,

It’s been a few months since the 2018 legislative session wrapped up and I’m thankful to be back home. I’m always impressed by the ability of people in Kitsap to take time out of their busy lives to engage in important civic affairs. I’ve been busy too – the recent Earth Day celebration in Bainbridge, a fun meeting with the Poulsbo Rotary, the Village Green breakfast in Kingston last week and a great visit with SWERV (pictured below) just a few days ago – I’ve enjoyed spending time with so many dedicated people who care about making our home a better place.

I had a chance to share a legislative update with SWERV, an informal network of women engaged in their communities.

Below you can find information about how to get involved helping our state on a variety of boards and commissions and a cool project involving peregrine falcons! Thanks for taking time to read this update and I hope to see you out in the community soon!

Warm Regards,

State offers new online Retirement Marketplace

Thanks to legislation recently passed in Olympia, Washington has launched a new tool for people to plan for retirement. The Retirement Marketplace offers small business owners and individuals a simple way to shop for state-verified, low-fee retirement savings plans. It’s estimated that about 2 million workers in our state don’t have access to a plan through their employers, while research shows people with access are 15 times more likely to save. I’m hoping this helps bridge the gap!

Exciting new changes to GET

I wanted to share some updates the Legislature made this year to Washington state’s prepaid college tuition program, GET (Guaranteed Education Tuition). Senate Bill 6087 lets participants who bought into the GET program before July 1, 2015, directly share in unanticipated investment gains that the program experienced in recent years. Beginning no earlier than June 15, GET account holders will have three months to redeem units for what they are actually worth and to roll that amount into Washington’s new DreamAhead College Investment Plan, which works like a 401(k) retirement-savings plan. Once the 90-day period closes, the GET Committee will look at the difference between actual and purchase value of remaining units and award remaining participants additional units accordingly. For more information see Also, a quick reminder that GET will close its 2018 enrollment on May 31.

News: Broadband, budget, women’s health, E-bikes


Here’s a roundup of some local coverage of legislative-related issues over the past several weeks:

New boxes for peregrine falcons

The habitat surrounding the Agate Pass Bridge is prime peregrine falcon nesting ground and new boxes installed by the state Department of Transportation during recent bridge maintenance should help the protected species. The boxes will also simplify cleanup when nesting season ends. Transportation officials report one other added bonus is that the presence of the falcons results in fewer pigeons on the bridge, who tend to leave behind their own unique mess.

A special honor from Washington PTA

One of the most important reasons I ran for office more than a decade ago was my commitment to quality public education and I have dedicated a lot of effort in the Legislature toward this goal, for my kids and all kids. That’s why I was extremely grateful to earn the 2018 Friend of Children Award from the Washington State Parent Teacher Association. The award recognizes an individual or organization for state-level dedication “to all children” in Washington state by supporting the whole child through advocacy, education, family and community engagement, health and well-being, and safety.

This means so much coming from the thousands of dedicated parents across the state. For more than a century, parents have helped guide our public school system, and the work must continue both in your own schools and at the Capitol in Olympia.

Repairs at Bainbridge ferry terminal

State ferry officials have discovered a broken pile at the Bainbridge terminal that will need to be fixed in the coming weeks. They will be reinforcing the overhead loading walkway to compensate for the bad pile. Next year, the state is planning a comprehensive restructuring of the walkway – learn more by clicking here.

Volunteer on a state board or commission

The governor is looking for people with unique talents, skills and experience to serve the state by participating on boards and commissions. These groups take on a wide range of challenges dealing with natural resources, health care, transportation, criminal justice, technology — the list goes on. Anyone interested in being appointed will need to fill out this application. Please explore the Boards and Commissions Profiles if you are interested in learning more about the many opportunities to serve!

May 18th, 2018|E-News|
  • Permalink Gallery

    Legislature enables KPUD to protect rural broadband customers

Legislature enables KPUD to protect rural broadband customers

OLYMPIA – Kitsap Public Utility District will be able to ensure more residents have reliable access to retail broadband service under a measure passed this week by the Legislature.

Current state law allows counties to own and operate broadband networks, but they can only sell wholesale access. ESSB 6034, sponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, will make Kitsap the first county in the state to allow the retail sale of broadband by a public utility district.

“There are many residents on the Kitsap Peninsula who feel ignored by the big telecom companies. This is a smart approach that will make sure every resident has access to robust, fast internet connections. In the end, we all share the same goal of universal access at an affordable price and this is another step forward,” Rolfes said.

KPUD has built 200 miles of high capacity fiber optic cable throughout the county since 2000, but has been unable to fully protect customers who find themselves with no reliable internet service provider. Several communities have petitioned the Board of Kitsap PUD to extend broadband infrastructure into their neighborhoods. They have formed their own local utility districts and assessed themselves – some as much as $14,000 per property – to finance the cost of infrastructure construction.

“While we continue to build out this infrastructure, we want to be able to ensure these customers are not stranded should no private internet service provider (ISP) agree to provide retail service over the district’s network,” said Bob Hunter, Kitsap PUD General Manager. “Our goal is to see robust competition among ISPs that operate on the district’s open-access network, but this legislation is needed to safeguard the substantial investments our citizens are making.”

ESSB 6034 will allow Kitsap PUD to provide retail service to these communities in the event that no private internet service provider agrees to provide service or services being provided by a private ISP do not meet established service level standards.

“It’s a really about consumer protection, especially for our residents in rural areas with limited options. It’s absolutely vital that every citizen has the ability to get online,” Rolfes said.

March 22nd, 2018|Uncategorized|

Community projects, property tax relief, and ferry upgrades

Dear Neighbor,

Last week, I shared some highlights of the 2018 supplemental operating budget that invests in education, mental health and jobs as well as the final piece of funding to satisfy the McCleary ruling, the states constitutional obligation to amply fund K-12 education.

In this newsletter, I will touch on the 2019 tax cut and the important community investments we made this year with the capital construction and transportation budgets.

Property tax reduction in 2019

I know many people are feeling the burden of increasing property taxes through a combination of rising home values and the new state property tax enacted in 2017 to help fund public education. This year Democrats passed legislation to provide $391 million in tax relief in 2019 through a one-time state property tax rate reduction of $0.30 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. This equates to roughly the amount of unanticipated increased taxes collected by the state due to the strong economy in the Puget Sound region.

Its modest relief, but combined with future lower school levies, I hope it will ease the burdens that families felt this year. While there was a lot of rhetoric around adding this money to the rainy day fund rather than cutting taxes, it seemed fair to not collect it from taxpayers in the first place. Meanwhile, the states reserves are projected to stand at over $2.4 billion at the end of this fiscal year, the highest in state history.

Capital budget

In January, Democrats forged a compromise on the long-delayed capital construction budget [ ], which included $1 billion for public schools to help reduce K-3 class-size, among other goals. It also made key investments in public health, environmental cleanup, and funding for community parks and libraries.

Our supplemental capital budget, passed last week will add several additional projects to the list of community investments:

  •  $500,000 to help fund a new community/school theater in partnership between Central Kitsap School District and Central Stage Theater.
  • $460,000 to complete the pedestrian link at Poulsbo’s Fish Park.
  • $300,000 for Kitsap Humane Society animal shelter expansion in Silverdale.
  • $180,000 for Hawley Cove trail and beach access improvements to expand access for all park users, including the mobility impaired.
  •  $31,000 for the redevelopment of dock facilities at Port of Indianola.
  • $280,000 to study ways to keep Bremertons economic vitality strong as Harrison Medical Center transitions many services to the new Silverdale campus.

Transportation budget

This yearssupplemental transportation budget makes modest but critical investments in Washingtons ferry system, State Patrol and congestion relief.

Ferry investments include $600,000 to begin the process of converting three Jumbo Mark II class ferry vessels the Puyallup, Tacoma and Wenatchee from diesel to hybrid electric. The budget also invests $2 million in the M/V Hyak to maintain service and fleet capacity while the M/V Tokitae and M/V Samish are out of service for warrantied repairs.

An investment of $4.4 million is made in state trooper basic training, to help the State Patrol reach its authorized trooper staffing level of 672 by the end of next year.

Locally, the budget will provide $500,000 to create a plan to modernize State Route 303, the heavily-traveled 9-mile state highway connecting Bremerton to Silverdale. The highway is the primary transportation route for Bremerton shipyard workers. The plan will help the community and transportation officials identify projects that will reduce congestion and improve safety over the next two decades.

Thanks, Lillian!

Senator Rolfes with Page Lillian Leche.

I want to thank Lillian Leche, a sophomore at North Kitsap High School, for helping out around our office during the final stretch of the 2018 session.

Its always a privilege to host students who participate in the Legislatures page program. It offers a hands-on opportunity for students to find out how state government works.

March 16th, 2018|E-News|