About 100 people showed up Saturday afternoon to hear state Reps. Matt Shea and Bob McCaslin Jr. and state Sen. Mike Padden give a legislative update at a town hall meeting organized by Donna O’Leary, 4th Legislative District leader for Subdistrict 4A.
It was a time for area residents to hear about the lawmakers’ thoughts on local, state and national issues.
Padden praised Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins and the City Council for running a business-friendly city, and opened the meeting by talking about Senate Bill 5005, which would allow irrigation rights to be transferred to municipal water use.
This is a big issue in Spokane Valley where more than a dozen irrigation and water districts provide municipal water.
Padden also mentioned Senate Bill 5320, which calls for parental notification when an underage woman seeks an abortion.
McCaslin supports a bill that would allow for schools to be sited outside the urban growth boundary established by the Growth Management Act.
“It’s hard to find property inside the boundary,” McCaslin said. “It makes sense to move the schools out and then build neighborhoods around them.”
McCaslin, who worked in early-childhood education before becoming a legislator, also encouraged people to volunteer at schools.
“Having that classroom buddy also lowers the class size,” McCaslin said.
Shea, who rarely makes public appearances in his district, said the country is poised for an influx of manufacturing businesses and jobs, now that Donald Trump is president.
And he calmed those worried about bills in the state Legislature that would ban assault weapons and require licensing, saying that they don’t have the votes to make it into law.
Shea called Spokane Valley’s at-grade railroad crossings “a safety issue” and promised to work on getting funding together for the Barker and Pines Road over- or underpasses.
Someone in the audience asked if the Growth Management Act will go away because of the changing political climate.
Shea said it creates a variety of problems, including school siting problems.
And Padden took it a step farther: “People ought to be able to live where they want to live,” he said, to cheers from the audience.
The town hall took place the day after the Trump administration announced travel restrictions on some countries with predominantly Muslim populations.
Another audience member asked what steps, if any, the legislators would take to protect the refugee families who already live here.
“People should not be discriminated against because of religion,” Padden said.
Shea shared that several of his wife’s family members from Ukraine are in the process of immigrating.
“Ukrainians will continue to come and be protected,” Shea said.
There was some discussion about Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education. Some questioned her ability to do so and worried that the voucher system DeVos proposed to replace public education would be too expensive for most, and discriminate against students with special needs.
McCaslin said it’s too early to judge DeVos, and Shea said that the federal government can’t de-fund education.
Shea added that government should “get out of the way of teachers.”
The town hall meeting was planned by O’Leary – a longtime Spokane Valley Republican – and though some said the tone of the meeting was sometimes divisive, O’Leary was happy.
“This turned out great,” she said.
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