Tom Dent

Rep. Tom Dent, R-13

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With the 2021 Washington State legislative session coming to an end recently, Rep. Tom Dent (R) said the challenges faced by legislators sometimes overshadowed accomplishments. Despite the challenges, Dent said the wins were significant for those who they affect within the district he represents.

The challenge that faced Dent was the same for many legislators during the recent session, with the pandemic upheaving the norms of business for those who work at the capitol. Lines of communication were severed, modified and strained as public gathering restrictions took hold.

Dent said many of the conversations that happen in Olympia to come to mutual understandings on legislation happen in casual settings, such as walks from building to building or even while walking together in a stairwell. That ability was shuttered in the recent legislative session, forcing conversations to happen via phone or more commonly, email.

“Politics is all about communication and relationships,” he said. “Imagine being in your office with a computer screen and a phone lines, and that’s how you’re going to do session with basically 146 other people, plus constituents, the lobbying community and other stakeholders.”

Dent said the communication challenges presented themselves while trying to pass a bill during session that would have extended deadlines for deliverables assigned to a task force researching options for a potential replacement for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He said the dates needed to be extended due to pandemic-related delays, but the bill didn’t pass the Senate. He was able to pass a budget proviso that kept the original bill that created the task force alive.

“We didn’t want to lose the work we had already done,” he said. “We couldn’t get the bill passed because the way the session was this year, but sometimes people just don’t understand what these bills do. When you talk to people via email, it’s not the same. Had we been in Olympia, I would have walked over to the Senate and talked to these people in person, face to face.”

PROGRESS MADE ON BILLS

Despite the communication challenges, Dent was able to pass two companion bills that bolstered the funds available to the Community Airport Revitalization Board, which was created from another bill he sponsored. The board provides loans to small airports throughout the state for improvement projects.

Dent also saw success with a noxious weed bill passing that was three years in the making. In Kittitas County, the bill will help streamline communications between various local and state entities regarding assessment and control of noxious weed populations within the agricultural community.

“We brought it into the system last year, but it wasn’t exactly the way it should have been,” he said. “We rewrote the bill, and I worked on it and put a group together to work on it during the last interim. We had a lot of people involved, county treasurers, auditors, commissioners, farmers, and noxious weed people. You name it, and we had them involved. We rewrote it and rewrote it, changed it and fixed it.”

With the bill passed and the funding in the budget, Dent said the bill will make the lives of agricultural producers much easier in their fight against noxious weeds.

“It’ll make a difference,” he said. “Our county weed districts need to have the ability to assess state agencies on this noxious weed thing, because noxious weeds are a big deal.”

Dent was working on a bill that worked to address the suicide rate within the agricultural sector, saying the sector has the highest suicide rate in the nation. The bill was designed to create resources such as a hotline for sector employees to utilize, but the bill didn’t move during the session.

“What I did get was enough interest to add an amendment onto another suicide bill,” he said. “We’re going to work with the sponsor on that bill, and we’re going to have a task force to study suicide in agriculture, and the uniqueness of our industry.”

An unexpected surprise that came of the session for Dent was the popularity of a bill he created to create an aviation and aerospace advisory committee to address options to move the industry sector forward within the state.

“Aerospace and aviation in the state is a $108 billion a year industry in the State of Washington,” he said. “That’s billion with a ‘b’.”

Dent said he hadn’t planned on introducing the bill until next year, but stakeholders caught wind of his work and encouraged him to expedite the process.

“I’ve never had a bill that generated so much interest and support immediately,” he said. “It was just crazy.”

Despite the overwhelming interest, Dent wasn’t able to receive a hearing on the bill, as it was introduced too close to the end of the session. He pivoted and began to work on a budget proviso that eventually made its way into the budget.

“That’s a big deal for the industry, and it was a huge win for me,” he said.

A STRONG FINISH

Looking back on the accomplishments of the session, Dent said some of the bills he passed may look insignificant to some, but retain great importance for others within the communities he serves. Whether it is moving forward the aviation sector within the state, helping farmers prevent noxious weeds from infiltrating their crops, or providing resources for community members struggling with suicidal thoughts, Dent is confident the bills will have major targeted impacts on the demographics they stand to serve.

“Even though they don’t seem like big wins, they are big wins, and I’m proud of them,” he said.

Looking forward to the coming legislative session next fall, Dent said he retains optimism that more in-person opportunities will open up for legislators as people continue to get vaccinated and the state turns the tide on the pandemic. Until that happens, he said his goal is to remain open and accessible to his constituents.

“You can’t live in a bubble,” he said. “That’s just not living. We have to get to the point where we do what we have to do to stay safe and do the best we can, and hopefully we don’t get COVID. We have to make it where we can meet with the people, and we can do that. We have to let people be people, and I truly believe that. We need to be there in person, and we need to represent the state and our constituents.”

Reporting for the DR since March 2018. Lover of campfires, black labs and good vibes. Proud Humboldt State alum!

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