Dear Friends, 

It is so wonderful to sit down and talk directly to you all again. We’ve been out around the 40th LD this year, and I’m excited to share with you some of our recent accomplishments, and some exciting things to come.

First, I want to take a moment to commend Governor Inslee, the Washington State Department of Health, and everyone involved in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. From the researchers who developed the vaccine to the frontline workers administering it, this has been an incredible achievement for the country, and for the entire world.

If you haven’t already been vaccinated against COVID-19, you can find all the information you need at the Department of Health’s website, here.

Getting vaccinated is the best way that we can protect our loved ones and our communities, and it will allow us to remain safe as we continue to open our state back up this month.

We’ve gotten through the COVID-19 pandemic this far together, and that’s exactly how we’ll see it through to the end.

Keep reading for more on this Fantastic Friday.  

“Stay Safe, Stay Healthy”
Rep. Debra Lekanoff

Net Ecological Gain & Quiet Sound Echo Provisos

Net Ecological Gain Proviso:

As we saw last winter, while the world slowed down and we began working remotely, mother earth took a great big breath as our natural world began to heal in the absence of people.

It’s important that we return to normal – or as close to normal as we can – but as we move forward, we should feel a renewed sense of commitment to protecting our environment and doing everything that we can to promote and preserve healthy ecosystems.

NEG is vital to the sustainability of the habitat from the watersheds to the shorelines of the Salish Sea.

It’s with that in mind that I’ve been proud to continue pushing for net ecological gain in our environmental legislation, and a proviso that I’ve submitted will include more than $150,000 to the Washington State Academy of Sciences to use current evidence to inform standards for no net loss and net ecological gain to guide the state’s growth management.

The academy’s work will include:

  1. Development of a conceptual framework;
  2. Consideration of data that exist or need to be updated, as well as gaps and uncertainties in the data to establish a baseline for future growth;
  3. Recommendations for setting environmental baselines;
  4. Recommendations for indicators to assess no net loss and net ecological gain;
  5. Recommendations for establishing a monitoring system;
  6. Recommendations for incorporating climate science predictions into no net loss and net ecological gain standards

The Washington State Academy of Sciences (WSAS) is a not-for-profit organization of more than 300 elected members who are nationally recognized for their scientific and technical expertise. Their goal is to provide expert scientific and engineering assessments to inform public policy making and works to increase the impact of research in Washington State.

I am thrilled to help support the great work done by the Washington State Academy of Sciences, and we should all be glad to have them working diligently for the sake of growth in our state.

Quiet Sound Echo:

Another area that requires our attention moving forward is maintaining the reduction in the noise in our oceans brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When cruise ships were unable to sail through waters, we saw blue whales, dolphins, orcas and more returning to waters where they hadn’t been seen in decades. I’ve submitted another proviso that will help address noise pollution in our oceans.

The proviso will include $250,000 solely for the purpose of responding to the recommendation of the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force in order to implement shipping noise-reduction initiatives and monitoring program and coordinating with the ECHO program and Canadian and U.S. authorities. The goal of the partnership will be to reduce the cumulative effects of acoustic and physical disturbance from large commercial vessels on Southern Resident Orcas throughout their range in Washington State.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority launched the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program in 2014 to better understand and reduce the cumulative effects of shipping on whales throughout the southern coast of British Columbia, and I am excited to have them as a partner in developing our own program to protect our southern resident killer whales.

We are blessed with the incredible splendor that surrounds us here in the 40th LD, and throughout Washington State. It’s so important that we do everything that we can to protect and preserve the natural world so that it can be enjoyed by our children’s children just as we enjoy it today

Building Capacity to Honor Our Loved Ones

For many years in our smaller counties, Washington’s elected prosecutors have essentially acted as coroners, investigating suspicious and unusual deaths when they weren’t trying cases. This is both difficult for the prosecutors, who are often undertrained in this area, and creates a conflict of interest as they prosecute those cases.

Now I’m happy to say that, with the hard work of a lot of incredible people, Governor Inslee has signed a bill into law that will phase out that practice. Starting in January 2025, counties with fewer than 40,000 people will either elect or appoint a coroner, or contract with neighboring counties for death investigation services. 

The new law establishes stricter training and certification requirements for coroner and medical examiner offices statewide. Full-time personnel affiliated with those offices must complete training through a state academy within a year. Part-time personnel have up to 18 months to complete the training. 

Along with this reform, the law also includes $150,000 in funding for Skagit County to build the necessary capacity to handle and honor our deceased loved ones. For too long we have not had the capacity necessary, and I’m proud to have worked to help ensure that all those in Skagit County may rest in peace.

I want to say a special thank you to Skagit County Coroner Haley Thompson and San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord! They both were tremendously helpful and supportive in getting this bill passed, and it would not have been successful without their tireless advocacy. Thank you Haley and Randall!

Addressing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Crisis

With the announcement last month of a new 21-member task force created to assess systemic causes behind the high rate of disappearances and murders of Indigenous women, Washington State is taking a strong step forward  to address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).

The task force will be led by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and it has been a pleasure working with him to ensure that we properly address this human rights issue. Since 2019, the Attorney General’s office has convened tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement to discuss how best to address the issue, and the new task force will bring together all governing bodies to build on those discussions, and to find a wraparound approach.

Photo courtesy of Washington State Legislative Support Services.

A 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) found seventy-one cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Washington State – the second highest of 10 states included in the analysis. Forty-five of those cases were in Seattle, the highest number of the 71 cities surveyed.

The study found that many cases weren’t reported, or were misreported due to racial misclassification, poor relationships between tribal communities and law enforcement, poor record-keeping protocols, and other factors.

This isn’t an issue for local communities or tribes to deal with alone – this is a crisis for tribal, federal, state, and local governments to address together. This is a crisis that ignores borders and extends to Indigenous communities in Canada.

We must act now before we lose another daughter, mother, auntie, or grandmother.

Nooksack River Adjudication

Towards the end of April, officials with the Department of Ecology (DOE) said that a review and court ruling of water rights along the Nooksack River basin is likely to be approved by the state legislature. This adjudication process will likely put an end to decades of lawsuits and water rights claims along the primary waterway in Whatcom county.

A report from the DOE said that the Nooksack River supplies water for the public utility districts of about 80 percent of Whatcom county’s residents. It provides irrigation for thousands of acres of farmland and stockyards. The river is also home to a population of endangered salmon that must be maintained for treaty obligations, and for our southern resident orca whales.

This will be a vital legal decision that needs to be made for Washington State. The model that is eventually implemented will impact what future water settlements will look like across the state, and will create a roadmap for future water adjudications in other watersheds.

This will be an incredibly important decision, and I am confident that all interested parties will be able to come to the table together and make their voices heard.