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6th District representatives talk about recent session


It’s difficult to cover all the issues of a 105-day legislative session in 90 minutes, but Eastern Washington 6th District representatives Jenny Graham and Mike Volz gave it their best in a June 6 meeting with Cheney Free Press editorial staff.

While the discussion swung from the budget to education to mental health issues, both representatives — Volz serving his second term and Graham her first — touched on several that were of importance to them. Volz pointed to a lack of transparency with much of the legislation, particularly the way it was introduced, noting that legislators received the state’s operating budget on day 104, with not a lot of time to pick through the finer points.

He also noted there were a lot of “title only bills,” legislation introduced without a lot of content. That didn’t allow for much opportunity to vet the bills or for citizen comments, Volz added.

“That was a frustrating thing,” he said. “That in and of itself was a reason to vote no on a variety of things.”

As a freshman legislator, Graham pointed to an early success in passage of a bill protecting the privacy records of work-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other industrial insurance claims from unnecessary exposure. House Bill 1909, passed unanimously by both chambers and signed into law in April, allows employers or duly authorized representatives to review these claims, but establishes a $1,000 civil penalty for each occurrence if they reveal any mental health conditions in claims to any person other than authorized representatives.

Graham also said she voted against bills requiring vaccinations for certain diseases by removing exemptions for things such as personal beliefs, an issue she seemed particularly passionate toward due to some past events within her family. Graham said she wasn’t anti-vaccine, but felt those who were made good arguments regarding safety issues and impacts from vaccines that had not been properly tested.

“If you’re buying a product, don’t you want a product that’s going to be as effective as they say it will be,” she asked. Graham said she was supportive of finding a way to get vaccines approved through third-party testing.

Volz also voted against the vaccines bill, but did not comment.

Both representatives were critical of some of the measures introduced this past session that affected K-12 education. Volz said legislative fixes during the past two sessions have almost brought the state back to a pre-McCleary decision funding model, creating situations that may not be sustainable.

“What goes up, must come down and there will be a lot of empty promises,” he added.

Both pointed to a need to create a broader-based education system by increasing the focus on trade-school instruction to rival that put on attending college, with Graham saying “talent should be recognized” whether it’s collegiate or trade motivated.

Both legislators also brought up the differences between Western and Eastern Washington residents and economies, noting that what might work legislatively in South Puget Sound might create hardships for people in Spokane County. For Graham, the lack of knowledge on the part of some legislators about the impacts of legislation on Eastside residents was somewhat of a pet peeve.

Finally, both representatives were asked if they had experienced any fallout from a controversy surrounding fellow Eastern Washington Rep. Matt Shea. Shea, who represents the 4th District in Spokane Valley, has been under investigation for comments he made in a private texting session about possible physical attacks and surveillance on political enemies.

Volz said he was hopeful an investigation by the Republican caucus would make the issue clearer, but that in the end, whether the representative stays in office wasn’t something for him to decide.

“That’s between him and the voters,” he added.

Graham said things of this nature occur on both sides of the aisle, although she didn’t provide any examples of similar threats from Democratic legislators. Graham said it’s her job to represent everyone in her district, and that she has a responsibility to meet with those who don’t hold the same views as she does.

John McCallum can be reached at


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