Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Thank you for the opportunity to allow me to once again serve as your state representative for the 26th District. I was honored to be sworn in to office virtually on Jan. 8, due to COVID, and began my fourth term in office on Jan. 11, the first day of the 2021 legislative session.
The state Capitol: Closed to the public and guarded
It was an opening day of session like no other. The Capitol building, which is normally open on the first day of session and welcoming to the public, was closed and surrounded by fences and 750 National Guard soldiers, ordered a few days earlier by Gov. Inslee. I had to clear two checkpoints before being allowed to enter the building. Only legislators, a few staff and a handful of reporters were given permission to go inside.
Once inside, we were directed to a COVID-19 screening area, where we received masks and temperature checks, before being allowed inside the House chamber. I was allowed to sit at my desk on the House floor, but legislators were socially distanced at least six feet apart, requiring some legislators to be seated to the side of the floor, and others in the gallery where the public normally watches proceedings. Our voting was done by voice, not electronically, so we had to yell through the masks to be heard at the rostrum. On a day which is normally full of celebration, the response at the Capitol to the virus and the massive security to keep citizens away was nothing short of surreal.
2021 – A legislative session like no other
The first debate on the House floor centered around proposed rules for this year's session. The rules set the guidelines for the House operations during session and are a mere formality. However, the new rules under House Resolution 4600 made it so the legislative session, including committee meetings and floor sessions, is to mostly be conducted remotely on teleconferencing tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
I am concerned the new virtual format creates too many situations in which technology can fail, leaving my voice, the voices of the public and other legislators stifled. Many of us wanted a more open and transparent plan, but the rules creating this “Zoom” session passed the House 55-39. I voted against the measure.
The new rules mean most lawmakers will be working remotely. I am only one of 15 Republicans in the House who are allowed to work on the Capitol campus. I will be in Olympia during those days that floor sessions are scheduled. Those of us who are on the campus, however, are not allowed to meet in our offices with constituents, lobbyists or staff. All meetings are virtual. The Capitol campus remains closed to the public.
The Senate is holding a “hybrid session,” with some members working from the Senate floor and others remotely. I believe our floor debates should be held safely in person and out in the open for transparency, rather than requiring most lawmakers to log in remotely for floor sessions.
How you can get involved
If there is a positive from this situation, it is that remote citizen testimony becomes much more important and the Legislature and its technical staff have worked to improve and expand our remote testimony capabilities. You can sign up in advance to remotely testify on a bill during committee meetings. You may also submit written comments up to 24 hours after the hearings.
Also, here is a good guide to help you participate: Accessing the Legislature Remotely. Check out these other helpful links:
I was honored to be chosen as the ranking member on the House Housing, Human Services and Veterans Committee. The committee considers a broad array of issues relating to housing, including accessibility and affordability, homelessness, state assistance to low-income housing, housing authorities and the Housing Finance Commission. It also considers issues relating to community development, community investment programs, underrepresented communities, veterans and military affairs, parks and recreation, and emergency management preparedness and response.
I have been working on the homelessness issue for some time, having introduced legislation last year to create a home sharing support grant program and to ensure services are provided to pregnant women who find themselves homeless. This committee is also a good fit for our district because we have many veterans who live in our area.
I am also continuing to serve as assistant ranking Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, and I remain on the House Appropriations Committee. In addition, I was appointed to the powerful Rules Committee, which serves as gatekeeper to all bills passed by committees and decides which ones go to the House floor for a vote.
Read more about my committee assignments from my news release here.
My session priorities
- House Bill 1183 – Home sharing support grants. This measure would create a home sharing support grant program using some money from the state's document recording fee. This program would support home sharing programs that match homeless people with homeowners willing to share space on their property. A public hearing was held yesterday (Jan. 21) in the House Housing, Human Services and Veterans Committee. A vote is scheduled in the committee for Jan. 29.
- House Bill 1200 – Sewerage systems/private operators. Millions of gallons of untreated stormwater and raw sewage have repeatedly been spilled into Puget Sound from municipal wastewater treatment plants in Seattle and along the sound's coastline that have been overwhelmed during rainfall. These spills are an enormous threat to our salmon, our health and our environment. This bill provides that if spills from municipal wastewater treatment plants are not sufficiently addressed and fixed, those operations would be required to be contracted out to private operators. This bill has been referred to the House Environment and Energy Committee.
- House Bill 1205 – Health care/DCYF custody. This measure would require the state fully pay health care costs for foster children, including medical, dental and behavioral health. Currently, the state only pays for up to what Medicaid covers. That leaves foster parents covering the rest of the health care costs. The state should be responsible for those costs. The bill is in the House Appropriations Committee.
I also plan on introducing other bills that give at-risk students more options to return safely back to schools, and create a pathway for foster children to break the cycle of group home care.
Bad bills advancing early in the session
I am very concerned with a series of bills that would raise your taxes and increase the governor's emergency powers. Since much of this session is being conducted online, it's really important that every citizen become involved in their Legislature this year, so that we can stop bad bills from becoming law.
Here are a few examples of bad bills already in the first 10 days of this year's session:
- Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402 – This measure indefinitely extends the governor's authority to operate under certain emergency proclamations he has issued in response to COVID. That means until the state of emergency is revoked or if legislative action occurs, the governor simply continues to have the power to keep those proclamations in place indefinitely. I am concerned this diminishes our ability as legislators to be involved in the decision-making process. The resolution passed the House on Friday with a vote of 54-44. I voted against it. The Senate passed it last week.
- Senate Bill 5096 would enact a 9% income tax on capital gains as small as $25,000. Imagine this scenario: A restaurant owner is forced out of business due to the governor's extended shutdown orders. If this bill passes, that owner would face a new income tax when trying to sell the property. In other words, government would make money forcing such closures. A public hearing was held on this bill last Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
- House Bill 1091 would authorize the state Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program, which could increase the cost of gasoline by 57 cents per gallon and diesel by 63 cents per gallon. This is an incredibly regressive indirect tax that would increase costs to the consumer, hurt our economy, add to the cost of housing, and do little to benefit our environment and air quality. A public hearing was held last Wednesday in the House Environment and Energy Committee.
- On Tuesday, majority party leaders announced plans to increase the state's gas tax by 18 cents a gallon and add a new fee on carbon emissions to pay for a nearly $26 billion transportation package. If enacted, Washington state would have the highest gas tax in the nation, with motorists paying 67.4 cents a gallon in state taxes. Combined with the federal gas tax (18.4 cents a gallon), it would mean you would pay a total of 85.8 cents per gallon in state and federal taxes in Washington state. This would increase costs to everyone and hurt families and our most vulnerable citizens.
We should be getting people safely back to work, kids safely back in school and reopening businesses. People and businesses are suffering from the COVID shutdown and pandemic. The Legislature should NOT add to their burdens with higher taxes and more government regulations. Please get involved in the remote testimony process and help us fight these bad bills!
Please stay involved and keep in touch!
I will provide you with more updates as the legislative session moves forward. I encourage you to contact my office with your questions, comments, suggestions and ideas about state government. While I would normally meet with people in my office, I am still glad to meet virtually with you. You can call my office to set up a Zoom appointment. Some of the best ideas for legislation comes from you. So please stay informed and involved.