Nov. 10, 2021
Hello Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this finds you and your family well. It was good to see people from our legislative district take part in the recent Tax Structure Work Group meeting for our corner of the state. I had hoped there would be discussion about real tax relief, and not just trading relief from one tax for paying a new tax, or an increase in an existing tax. That was not to be, but fortunately, the bipartisan property-tax exemption bill I’m sponsoring (Senate Bill 5463/House Bill 1579) will serve as a hook for such a discussion during our 2022 session.
The never-ending state of emergency: 620 days and counting
Governor Inslee was all about the “metrics” when it came to restricting our state economy for the better part of a year. More recently he pointed to data when imposing the most extreme vaccine mandate in the nation. But when it comes to the state of emergency we have all endured for 620 days, as of today – well, the governor says there are “so many” metrics involved that he doesn’t know when it will end. That sounds like a convenient excuse for maintaining his grip on our state, and it’s frustrating.
Some of this frustration was recently expressed on my legislative Facebook page in a comment by a constituent about the powers the governor has during a state of emergency. Here’s the relevant part: “…I’m perplexed as to why you and some other Republican Senators ever thought it would be a great idea to give the Governor the additional “catch all” emergency power rights in 2019.”
Something did happen in 2019 involving the governor’s emergency powers, but it meant more authority for the Legislature, not the governor. By passing Senate Bill 5260, we gave our branch the ability to review the emergency proclamations from the governor that suspend laws and regulations. Before 2019, the governor’s proclamations weren’t subject to any oversight from legislators.
In hindsight, I wish we had also given ourselves the authority to review and act on the other category of emergency proclamations: those that prohibit certain behaviors (like indoor dining, or employing someone who isn’t fully vaccinated). That is exactly what my Senate Bill 5039 would do.
To be clear, SB 5039 would not affect how a state of emergency is declared or ended. Some of my colleagues are focusing on that angle, by introducing bills that would limit the length of a state of emergency unless legislators act to extend it. What’s common between my bill and theirs is a desire to amplify the voices of the people, by making sure the legislative branch has more involvement in decisions that can change so many lives.
Will governor impose tighter vaccine mandate on all job providers?
The governor’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate didn’t allow a testing option, which made it the most extreme mandate in the nation. Instead of realizing that the lack of a testing option was the last straw for many public servants and first responders, Governor Inslee suggested the workers who opposed his mandate were listening to “hallucinations on the internet.” These are people he was publicly praising in 2020, for being on the front line, and it was unbelievable how easily he turned to disparaging them publicly.
I’m now wondering whether Inslee will go along with the Biden administration, which as of Jan. 4 will require employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests for COVID-19 on at least a weekly basis. After all, the governor is on record as believing testing is not effective or sustainable. Why would he bend now and go along with the feds? (Although, as of this past Saturday, there has been a temporary stay by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on President Biden’s mandate, citing “grave statutory and constitutional” issues. There is hope!)
Late last month the state Department of Labor and Industries set the stage for the governor to extend his vaccine mandate to all those who provide jobs across our state. It did so by effectively extending the emergency rules that allow enforcement of COVID-19 proclamations in the workplace.
I’m concerned Inslee may be looking to exert even more control over the private sector, across a wider set of topics, than anything the Biden administration is planning. Washington’s job providers have reason to wonder: Are they next for a no-testing-only-jabs mandate? Would Inslee impose a mandate on companies with 50 or more employees? 25? What else does the governor have up his sleeve that would need L&I enforcement? We should be very concerned.
Long-term care payroll tax should be repealed
Nov. 1 was the deadline for workers in our state to apply for an exemption from the new Long Term Care payroll tax. The tax collection is to begin Jan. 1. It will take $290 each year from someone earning $50,000 annually – for as long as that someone works in Washington.
I never thought state government needed to get deeper into the insurance business than it already is, which is why I voted against the enabling legislation in 2019. To make things worse, the state has had the better part of two years to find and fix the many flaws in this program – and failed. Plus, the program is already on track to be underfunded by billions!
It’s to the point where the Legislature should repeal the whole thing. At a minimum there should be a delay, which is why I and 22 other senators (R and D) recently wrote the governor asking that he do something positive with his emergency powers, by hitting the pause button on this controversial and problematic program. And guess what – his office claimed he doesn’t have the authority!
Rules for 2022 session still limit the people’s right to transparency
During this past legislative session, the people we serve were prohibited from setting foot in Senate buildings and on the grounds of the Capitol, where they would normally be able to meet face-to-face with their legislators. Senators and staff were discouraged from traveling to the Capitol to do their work in person. Our policy and budget committees met remotely. Voting sessions in the Senate chamber were conducted in a hybrid format, with restrictions on the number of senators who could be physically present. The lack of transparency and public participation could be seen in the controversial legislation that emerged, like the capital-gains income tax and the new policing “reform” laws.
This week the special committee that sets rules for the operation of the state Senate adopted new guidelines for our 2022 session – and they are hardly better for transparency and public participation.
Voting in the Senate chamber will be all in person, with proof of vaccination required (and there is a testing option). But no more than 12 members of the public will be allowed in each of the galleries overlooking the Senate chamber (with safety protocols in place). I look forward to having meetings with people in my office – up to three from the public at a time. But again in 2022, policy and budget committees will meet remotely, which greatly limits public input on legislation (and the ability of legislators to interact).
For perspective, the restrictions for the 2021 session were adopted when COVID vaccinations were still in the testing phase, and Governor Inslee was about to retighten restrictions on indoor dining, and indoor gatherings, and issue a travel advisory, all ahead of the late-year holidays. Compare that to now, when more than 72% of Washington residents age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, and people are able to go most anywhere they want – including pro football and hockey games with thousands of other people. I’m not seeing enough reasons for restrictions at the Capitol to be nearly as tight as last year’s. Do you?
I hope you can take a moment tomorrow to observe Veterans Day. As the daughter of an Air Force veteran, I know firsthand the sacrifices veterans and their families make in the course of serving our country. If you see a veteran say thanks!
If you have a question or concern, please contact me by email, letter or phone. To make an appointment for a virtual meeting, please send me an e-mail! Stay safe!
Yours in service,