Dear Friends, 

We’re just days away from the end of 2023. In so many ways, this has been a strong, productive year. Though we have not been without our hardships, I am proud of all that we have accomplished together, and know that there are even better things as we look ahead to the 2024 legislative session and beyond.

It is truly the honor of my life to serve as your representative in Olympia, and I cannot wait to roll my sleeves up and get back to work in the new year.

Today, I want to take a look back at some of the highlights from 2023, and that’s what the bulk of this newsletter will be about. First, however, Governor Inslee recently responded to San Juan Councilors regarding Washington State Ferries (WSF) service to the San Juan Islands, and I want to share a part of that letter with you today.

According to Governor Inslee’s letter:

“Even before WSF’s current challenges, my budget proposals requested WSF funding at a level meant to avoid its current crewing and vessel issues. I am pleased the legislature has joined me in providing funding for programs to develop new licensed deck and engine room officers (WSF’s largest current constraint) and authorizing the building of five new vessels.

One successful new program is the Able-bodied seafarer (AB) to Mate program which moves ferry employees more quickly through required training. Due to this initiative, we will fill 30 new mate positions next spring. Without the program, it is likely WSF would have had only six new mates. While these actions will improve WSF’s service in the long term, I appreciate your focus on shorter term solutions.”

The letter goes on to address specific concerns outlined by the San Juan Council – including increasing accessibility for priority medical loading, establishing a passenger-only ferry service between islands, establishing a reliable emergency schedule, and more.

Today I want to extend a thank you to Governor Inslee for his continued support and work to bring the Washington State Ferries to the standard we know that we can meet.

Thank you, Governor Inslee, for stepping in and always being consistent in your tenor. We are so grateful for your ongoing work, and the atmosphere you create where we can find solutions together to address this crisis of the Washington State Ferry system.

As we look into the next legislative session in early 2024, this work is at the top of my mind. I’ll be reaching out to other legislators and local officials to find the best path forward, and will keep you update every step of the way.

For now, I hope you have had a wonderful holiday, and will join me in looking back on some of our highlights from the past year.

Keep reading for more on this Fantastic Friday. 

“Stay Safe, Stay Healthy” 
Rep. Debra Lekanoff

Rise Above Supporting Native Youth

October 20, 2023

Last week, we talked in depth about the ongoing opioid crisis happening here in Washington, and across the country. It’s so important that we work on all levels to address this terrible tragedy, and today I’d like to take a moment to discuss some of my ongoing work.

Through my work, I am focused on providing partnerships at all, governing body levels to address the opioid crisis within Washington state. An area that I am particularly focused on is helping provide preventative programs for Native American youth, who have been one of the most heavily impacted communities.

A green and white striped backgroundDescription automatically generated

It has been my pleasure to partner with the Rise Above organization, Jackie McCormack, and Brad Meyers as we work to reach thousands of Native youth who are facing a crisis to rise above and build a stronger future for themselves, their communities, and their families.

A group of people standing in a roomDescription automatically generated

Rise Above brings a partnership with Seattle Supersonics legends, such as Lenny Wilkins, George, Karl, Del, Elliot, and Vin Baker. Recently, I had the opportunity to travel out to Milwaukee to visit with Vin Baker and his foundation and to tour the wellness center into which he has invested his time and resource.

A person and person standing in a gymDescription automatically generated

The center will reach up to 1,800 victims of addiction who are facing this disease who will come through this wellness center each month. These unique partnerships between governments, private investors, nonprofits, and industry are my vision of addressing this terrible circle of addiction and suffering.

It was such a pleasure to join this incredible organization in Milwaukee, and I game away heartened and motivated to bring similar resources to the communities that need them here in Washington.

Together we can accomplish so much, and only when we all reach out a hand to those who have fallen can we all stand up and move forward towards a healthier, happier tomorrow

Protecting Southern Resident Killer Whales 

April 7, 2023

Over the past few months, we’ve talked a lot about different bills that are working their way through the State Legislature in Olympia. There are so many important things being considered during this legislative session, and I’m proud of the work that my colleagues and I have done so far.

This week, I want to discuss an incredibly important bill that we are working on – SB537, which would help to protect our Southern Resident Killer Whales.

SB537 has already passed the State Senate, and we are currently working on it in the People’s House. It would require that recreational and commercial boats follow the same regulations that whale watching boats are required to follow – namely, maintaining a distance of at least 1,000 yards from any Southern Resident Killer Whales.

A group of whales swimming in the waterDescription automatically generated

This is an important step to take to protect the beautiful creatures who call our shores home. We know from generations of experience living alongside these Killer Whales – and from a 2022 Report from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – that bringing our boats and ships too close to the Southern Residents can have incredibly harmful effects.

The 1,000-yard buffer is the best way we can support their survival. We have observed that these Orca are heavily impacted by noise and disturbance. Female Killer Whales will stop hunting and feeding their babies when there is too much noise in the surrounding water, instead taking the time to move and try to find a quiet place to nurse and hunt.

With 1,000 yards between our ships and these whales, the noise is found to be less impactful on their habits and mannerisms. This is a clear step that we should take in order to protect our seafaring neighbors, and I am proud to support this legislation.

A group of whales swimming in the waterDescription automatically generated

An important point to mention as this bill is considered – tribal and commercial harvest fishing vessels will be exempt while harvesting, as it would be dangerous for the fishing boats and whales if abrupt action needed to be taken while gear is in the water.

It will take a strong 40th team – and I am glad to have my colleagues from the 40th alongside me in Olympia for this important mission – to save our Southern Resident Killer Whales, and I am confident we will have real bipartisan support as this makes its way to Governor Inslee’s desk.

Honoring Billy Frank Jr. 

April 14, 2023 

Those of you who have subscribed to my newsletter for the last few years may remember discussions we’ve had about replacing the statue that Washington has in the Capitol building in Washington D.C.

Now, I’m excited to tell you that my bill has passed off the Senate floor unanimously!

A person wearing a blue shirtDescription automatically generated

I have worked closely with a number of my colleagues from the legislature and tribes on legislation that would replace Washington State’s statue of Marcus Whitman at the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. with a statue of Billy Frank Jr. 

Billy Frank Jr. embodied the spirit of Washington State in so many ways, working his entire life for the causes of equality, justice, and protecting the environment. Through his fight to protect tribal treaty rights, he also worked to protect the natural resources that so many cultures are based upon.

We all owe Billy Frank Jr. our deep thanks for his work in protecting our salmon and helping their recovery efforts across the state. Billy understood that salmon don’t see political parties, that their health and success are incredibly important to all of Washington State.

National Tribal Opioid Summit 

August 25, 2023

This week, the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB) hosted the National Tribal Opioid at the Tulalip Resort, bringing together experts and officials from around the Pacific Northwest to map out the path forward. The Summit recognized that Washington state, and our nation are facing an opioid and fentanyl crisis and it will take all governing bodies working together to solve it.

It was incredible to hear from so many people who work tirelessly on this issue at every level of our society – from the community organizing level, all the way up to the halls of Congress. Senator Cantwell and Congressman Larsen both spoke to the Summit, sharing federal recommendations to address the crisis across both the state, and the nation.

New data has shown that Washington had the biggest increase in drug overdose deaths of any state in the most recent reporting period, jumping up by 24%. This was by far the worst increase in the nation, and warrants additional, immediate action on the ground here in Washington.

For more information on the new data and increase in overdose deaths, check out this Seattle Times article.

A group of people sitting at a tableDescription automatically generated

The national opioid epidemic is an incredible threat to public health across the country, and its impacts are deadly to our communities from coast to coast.

Our American Indian and Alaska Native communities have been particularly hard hit, and it is so important that we take strong action to provide the resources necessary to combat this important issue, and to support those who need it most.

I was so grateful to be surrounded this week by so many people dedicated to a single goal – supporting our tribal communities as they address the opioid epidemic. We must always do everything within our power to support both the next seven generations to come, and those who are here right now.

Supporting public health and the health of our communities will always be a priority of mine, and I am so thankful to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many incredible individuals in this work.

A group of people posing for a photoDescription automatically generated

According to the NPAIHB website:

“In 2019, NPAIHB completed our ‘Tribal Opioid Response: National Strategic Agenda.’ However, over the past three years, substance use and overdoses have increased significantly; synthetic opioids have become a major threat to the health and well-being of Tribal citizens. In response, NPAIHB Chairman Nickolaus D. Lewis (Lummi Nation) began asking Health and Human Services (HHS), Region 10 to support a Northwest Tribal Opioid Summit. What has become strikingly clear is that a national Tribally-driven opioid summit with Federal, Regional, and State decision-makers is needed to comprehensively address this crisis.

NPAIHB and Tribal leaders recognize the pain and heartbreak of losses in our communities, the anxiety of behavioral health prover shortages and provider burnout, and the lack of culturally specific substance use treatment and recovery programs. The summit program will address the need for increased funding and policy changes to collectively and strategically address this crisis.”

For more information on the summit, click here.

Thank you to Teri Gobin, Chair of the Tulalip Tribes, for hosting this incredible event, and to all the incredible speakers from across the country who came out to discuss this ongoing crisis.

It is because of you and your work that we will be able to beat this crisis of addiction in our communities, and I am ready to take on that difficult work side by side with you all.

Keep an eye out for future updates on this front.

New Orca Classes for Adults!

October 27, 2023

Now, I’d like to let you know about two new classes for adults from The Salish Sea School – Orcas of the Salish Sea, and Bigg’s 201!

A collage of whales in the waterDescription automatically generated

Orcas of the Salish Sea “is a six-month (Jan.-Jun. 2024) experiential learning series that will get you on the Salish Sea six times, build a deeper knowledge about the orcas of the Salish Sea, connect you with local organizations studying orcas of the Salish Sea, introduce you to environmental issues affecting local marine life, connect you with a community of other adults passionate about orcas, and provide ideas about the ways you can help!”

Bigg’s 201 “is a 4.5 month adult science research experience running from January to May 2024. In this course that combines virtual lectures and in-person field trips, you will work with whale biologist Monika Wieland Shields to improve your scientific literacy through an in-depth exploration of Bigg’s killer whales of the Salish Sea. Regardless of your background, this class will help you practice reading and understanding scientific papers, give you a chance to try collecting whale behavioral data in the field, and let you explore real-world sightings data to create graphs and maps as you follow a specific Bigg’s family group.”

Here is a quick write-up from their website:

“We are so passionate about introducing our community to the incredible classroom right outside our doorstep. Our hope is that our programs initiate a desire to protect and restore the Salish Sea. We believe experiential lessons combined with marine conservation education is essential to producing a healthy marine ecosystem. The curriculum rotates throughout the year but will span the marine ecosystem, from water quality to whales.”

This is such an incredible opportunity! If you are at all interested, I do hope you will look into it. The Salish Sea School does such an incredible job educating our youth on this incredible place we call home, and I am so glad that they are extending their offerings for adults as well.

For more information on the school and their work, click here.