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Sen. Pearson talks about upcoming session

Sen. Kirk Pearson. - Courtesy photo.
Sen. Kirk Pearson.
— image credit: Courtesy photo.

State Sen. Kirk Pearson of the 39th District took some time to talk to The Marysville Globe and The Arlington Times about the 60-day state legislative session that’s set to commence on Monday, Jan. 13, as well as his own priorities moving forward.

“It’s going to be fast and furious,” Pearson said on the upcoming session, which he does not believe will be followed by a special session. “Looking to the big picture, we’re going to be focusing on transportation, the general fund budget and the capital fund budget.”

Looking to last year’s legislation, Pearson expressed pride in the $1 billion in funding that was secured for K-12 education, as well as a halt on college tuition increases for two years, which he deemed a significant achievement even as he jokingly acknowledged that his own son graduated from college too early to benefit from it.

“The last time we didn’t have a tuition increase was 1986,” said Pearson, who credited the coalition of his fellow Republicans and Democrats with partnering on behalf of common interests. “We have Democrats and Republicans co-chairing committees.”

Pearson himself has served as chair of the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, as vice-chair of the Human Services and Corrections Committee, and as a member of the Law and Justice and Rules committees, the latter of which has afforded his greater discretion.

“Unlike the House, the Rules Committee in the Senate is a real gatekeeper in terms of determining the flow of bills,” Pearson said. “If I see bills that benefit Arlington, I can pick them out for floor action.”

On the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, Pearson bolstered the revenues of state parks by $27 million through methods such as the bundling and discounting of Discover Passes, and on the Law and Justice Committee, he’s pushed for stronger domestic violence and second-degree manslaughter legislation.

“The top-of-the-line sentence for second-degree manslaughter is two and a half years,” Pearson said. “We need to raise those sentences, because life is worth something.”

Pearson freely admitted that the state budget that was passed last year was “not perfect,” but he nonetheless proudly touted it as proof of what the two parties can accomplish jointly.

“People in Olympia are actually very cordial,” Pearson said of his experience in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. “We may have our differences, and we certainly have strong opinions, but we all work well together.”

As a committee chair in the Senate, Pearson was able to keep a promise he’d made to himself in the House, by prioritizing speakers who had traveled the farthest.

“When you have someone who’s taken time off from work to come all the way from eastern Washington, it’s not right to give them only a minute to speak,” Pearson said. “We need to show citizens that their legislators value the role that they play. A lot of the bills that I’ve introduced have come from citizens who have brought these issues to our attention.”

When asked about the recent negotiations between Boeing and its Machinists Union, Pearson expressed his relief that the contracts were resolved, not only on behalf of Everett and Snohomish County, but also the state as a whole, even as he sympathized with the workers’ objections to forfeiting their pensions.

“I was convinced Boeing was serious about leaving the state,” Pearson said, noting the impacts of competition from Airbus, as well as from right-to-work states. “If we lost those jobs, it would impact subcontractors and vendors throughout the state, including the Arlington Airport and Marysville. I wouldn’t want to see local families suffer, and Boeing’s donations have trickle-down benefits to the United Way and school districts.”

Pearson likewise framed his reservations regarding a raise in the minimum wage as motivated by concern for the state’s most vulnerable prospective employees, by citing the disproportionate unemployment levels of women, minority members and young people in the current economy.

“Every time the minimum wage goes up, I get calls from small businesses,” Pearson said. “They want to hire more people, but raising the minimum wage affects their ability to do so.”

While Pearson would prefer to provide improved access to higher-wage jobs, rather than raising wages on entry-level jobs, he reiterated that news reports of partisan bickering between Republicans and Democrats are overblown.

“During the final stages of the budget, everyone met at Rep. Dan Kristiansen’s office, which we called Switzerland because it was neutral ground,” Pearson laughed, alluding to his fellow Republican in the 39th District. “The leader of my caucus, Sen. Rodney Tom, is a Democrat. I served with him in the House, and he supported my ideas even then. If you watch MSNBC or Fox News, you probably see a lot of fighting going on in Washington, D.C., but it’s not that way in Olympia. Both sides can shake hands and come to amenable agreements.”

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