I was blown away at the level of participation at our first two town halls. It was really inspiring to see so many people show up and have a productive conversation about what’s on your minds. It was real people-power in action.
We had nearly 500 people show up in Tacoma and, according to the folks at the Admiral Theatre, we had nearly 1,000 participants show up in Bremerton.
Take a look at some pictures from our first installment of the 2017 town hall tour.
If you haven’t had a chance to attend a town hall, please join me at one of the two next in-person town halls or on my upcoming telephone town hall.
Friday, March 3, 2017
Grays Harbor County Town Hall
7th Street Theater
313 7th St.
Hoquiam, WA 98550
Monday, March 6, 2017
North Peninsula Town Hall (Sequim)
Sequim High School
601 N Sequim Ave
Sequim, WA 98382
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Telephone Town Hall
To participate, please send an email with your name and phone number to email@example.com by 3pm Pacific on Tuesday, March 7. If you sign up before the deadline, you will receive a phone call at 6:05pm Wednesday, March 8 inviting you to participate in the town hall.
As you may know, sometimes I try to bring the town hall to you. Here I am meeting with folks bright and early on the Bainbridge ferry last Friday! Thanks to everybody who took the time to share their thoughts and priorities with me.
Saying goodbye to a Tacoma legend
There are some people who have a truly transformational impact on their community. Melanie Dressel, the CEO of Columbia Bank, wasn’t just always there for others; she helped, she cared, and she made our community better.
That’s why so many people in our region were saddened by the news of her passing. Beyond being the head of a major employer that put the word "community" in a community bank, she dedicated so much time to strengthening Tacoma. From her involvement with the Economic Development Board, Tacoma Chamber and Executive Council to her efforts on behalf of the UWT, the United Way, Bellarmine, and the State History Museum, Tacoma is a better, more vibrant place because of Melanie.
But beyond dedicating herself to organizations, she also invested in people -- myself included. I will always be grateful for her friendship and mentorship. Tacoma has lost a true icon, and I guarantee that she won’t be forgotten.
You can read more about her remarkable life in the Tacoma News Tribune.
Shipyard action worker agenda
One of the best parts of my job is talking with constituents to see what changes can be made to ensure that our communities are thriving. It’s a big part of identifying initiatives on which I can make a difference.
We’ve talked a lot about the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) lately. Not only because it’s our region’s largest employer but also because it has been impacted by policies from the new administration and Congress.
That’s why last week I sat down with shipyard employees and labor leaders to preview for them my Shipyard Worker Action Agenda.
My agenda is a series of proposals I’m introducing to make sure workers are treated with respect so they can continue to protect our national security. It’s only right that we recognize the proud tradition of hard work and service that has been carried out at PSNS for more than a century. That’s why I’m going to push this Congress to adopt this agenda and stand behind our workers.
The agenda includes
- Exempting Shipyard Workers from the Hiring Freeze: There is still tremendous uncertainty around the federal hiring freeze. Thankfully, after I joined several senators in sending a letter to the Acting Secretary of the Navy to exempt shipyard positions from the Navy, they took notice. That’s why the announcement that the Shipyard is accepting applications for over 900 “helper trainee positions” at the shipyard was good news. But our work is not done. I introduced a bipartisan bill that would exempt positions at the Shipyard and related facilities that support its mission from President Trump’s federal hiring freeze. I’m going to keep on this to make sure positions can get filled as smoothly as possible.
- Helping Retired Servicemembers: Since 9/11, those who separate from the military have been able to immediately seek employment as civil servants within the Department of Defense. Unfortunately, this policy ended last year, requiring a 180 day waiting period before a military retiree can work for the Department of Defense. This change in policy has had difficult consequences. Already we are hearing stories like that of a young man who joined us at our roundtable and after serving in the Navy for 20 years, he can’t take a job at the shipyard after he had an offer in hand. That’s not right for him or his family. With that in mind, I’m introducing the bipartisan Military Retiree Employment Act to waive this hiring delay for five years. The bill further addresses several challenges currently observed by federal employees who seek promotions and other opportunities within the civil service.
- Halting Policy that Lowers Compensation for Defense Workers: The Department of Defense has enacted a policy that passes the burden of finding affordable lodging while on assignment onto the individual employee. This change in “per diem” policy has created a disincentive for defense workers to travel and meet our national security needs. With that in mind, I am reintroducing a bipartisan bill to restore the original rates.
- Securing Overtime Payments for Workers: Not all defense civilians receive overtime when they work overtime while travelling overseas for work. That’s not fair. If you work overtime, you should get paid overtime. You shouldn’t be penalized for travelling overseas to meet our national security needs. With that in mind, I’m going to introduce legislation that would ensure that defense workers get the overtime pay they are entitled to when they travel outside of the United States for their jobs.
I’m going to continue fighting for our federal workers, many of whom are our neighbors, to make sure these men and women are treated fairly.
It is no secret that health care and drug costs have skyrocketed in recent years. Many of these medications are literally life-saving. Take Naloxone. If you ask law enforcement officials and emergency responders they will tell you of times it has literally saved lives of someone suffering from an opioid overdose. Those of you who have read my newsletters in recent years know that I’ve made it a priority to ensure that communities have access to these life-saving medications.
Unfortunately, that’s gotten a lot harder.
Kaléo Pharmaceuticals makes Evzio, which is an injectable form of naloxone, used in emergencies of opioid overdoses. However, this drug has increased in price more than 600% in three years, from $960 for a two pack in 2014 to $4,500 today.
This price spike could hurt our communities. We need to keep medications within reach of individuals and families in need. So I joined 71 of my colleagues to send a letter to Kaléo to question the need for these price hikes, and to ask how they will ensure that those who need access to this medicine can actually get it. Please know that we’ll keep at it—and continue to fight to ensure that folks get access to this vital medicine.
Increasing Access to Mental Health
In recent years, the mental health crisis facing our communities has become more acute. Unfortunately, the failure to provide adequate mental health services has put a strain on our social services and emergency rooms. It has meant that people with mental health issues are often showing up on our streets or in our jails rather than getting the care that they need. And it means that families face enormous challenges.
With that reality in mind, I’ve been hard at work to ensure folks can get the help and support they need to be successful, contributing members of our community.
Our region, like others in the nation, is shouldering a heavier demand. According to mental health experts, communities should have 40-60 impatient beds for every 100,000 residents. Unfortunately, Washington State’s average is 10.2. In Pierce County, this number tops out at less than 3 beds per 100,000. In other words, people facing an acute mental health crisis are often not getting the care they need.
That’s why I’m going to reintroduce the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Accessibility Act. This bipartisan legislation would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make loans and loan guarantees for the planning and construction or renovation of a psychiatric or substance abuse treatment facility.
This past week, I joined with local leaders from business, local government, health care, and law enforcement, to discuss how this bill could benefit our communities.
When Congress isn’t in session, I keep working for you. In fact, I had a busy week of running from pillar to post around our district. Check out some of the stops I made!
Thanks to Jennifer Montgomery and Kelle Horn of Pacific Rim Shipbrokers for meeting with me to discuss their business. Not only are they are fast growing company on Bainbridge Island, they're the only woman owned cargo shipbroker in the United States.
It was great stopping by Liberty Bank in Poulsbo to discuss the work they are doing and the national impact of small community banks.
I also had the chance to sit down and chat with the youth of Oasis Youth Center in Tacoma and their Oasis Youth Council. With all that's coming out of the other Washington it was important to me to listen to the voices of the youth affected. My message to them was simple: in Washington, we value equality. LGBTQ youth are supported and loved and I will continue to have their back here and in D.C. I'm proud to live in a state that says we don't discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Thank you for welcoming me into your center and for all you do for our community.
Leaders from Washington State University's Agriculture and Stormwater divisions stopped by my Tacoma office to talk about the Farm Bill and WSU's priorities. WSU does some incredible work in our region and have thriving partnerships in the federal government for research and community development. For example, they’ve provided great suggestions in our effort to recover Puget Sound. I applaud their efforts and am proud to consider myself a partner!
Thanks to the leadership at Bradken Atlas' Tacoma foundry for allowing me to visit for a couple hours to chat about their business and what's happening in our nation's capital. I was happy to be able to hold an employee town hall with some of their workers. I was really impressed with the long tenure of many of their employees. That's a testament to this company's commitment and quality in our community!
I started my Tuesday at the Evergreen State College Tacoma visiting with President Bridges, students, and faculty. The discussion ranged from politics and the economy, to education, immigration, and social justice issues. It's important to have engaged and critical thinkers in our local communities - the program at Evergreen Tacoma provides flexibility and opportunity for our community and students that travel from all over the region. Thanks to Olga Inglebritson for giving me the opportunity to visit!
Finally, a special thanks to Tom Layson for having me on his program, Northwest Now, to talk about some of the big issues facing our nation and some of the things I’m working on. As always, it was a great and informative visit.
OK. That’s it for this time. Please don’t hesitate to holler if I can be of assistance. As always, it’s an honor to represent you.
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