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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We are rapidly approaching the second month of the scheduled 105-day remote legislative session, which began Jan. 11.

Participating in the virtual session

As I noted in my last email update to you, the Capitol building is closed to the public and all but a handful of legislators and staff. Most lawmakers are working remotely via virtual programs, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. I am only one of 15 Republicans in the House allowed to work on the Capitol campus. I have been in Olympia during floor sessions. However, we are not allowed to meet in our offices with constituents, lobbyists or staff. All meetings are virtual.

Nevertheless, it is of the utmost importance to me to hear from you, your neighbors and all of our citizens across the great 26th Legislative District. Please call, write, or email my office with your questions, comments and concerns about legislation and state government.

I also highly encourage you to take advantage of the ability to remotely testify on legislation. Here is a good guide to help you participate: Accessing the Legislature Remotely.  Check out these other helpful links:

Providing needed COVID relief for families, businesses, schools

Last year, the legislative session adjourned in March around the time the pandemic struck our state. We had no idea at that time how severe this would be, or how long closures of businesses would continue. By June, it became apparent this would be long-term. Many lawmakers wanted to return in a special session to provide needed financial relief for our struggling small businesses and families.

Unfortunately, the governor did not call a special session and there was not enough support in the House and Senate for the Legislature to call itself back. So when the 2021 session began, many of us were eager to get started on a package that would help Washingtonians.

On Monday, the House approved a federally-funded $2.2 billion COVID-relief package. House Bill 1368 includes:

  • $240 million in small business grants.
  • $668 million to school districts. To incentivize reopening schools, I offered Amendment 23. This would have provided half of the additional funding of nearly $157 million when a reopening plan was established. The other half would be provided once schools reopen. Watch my floor speech here. Unfortunately, the amendment was rejected.
  • $50 million in child care provider grants.
  • $46 million for private schools.
  • $30 million for emergency food assistance.
  • $12 million for disaster cash assistance.
  • $506 million for testing and distribution of voluntary vaccines.
  • $365 million in federal and state rental assistance and help for various housing-related programs.

I was among four Republicans who voted in support of House Bill 1368. While I believe the funding should have been allocated differently, I chose to put people before politics, voting yes to provide immediate needed relief. The bill passed 61-36.

Addressing the rental housing moratorium

On March 18, 2020, as the pandemic crisis was beginning to sweep across Washington and the nation, Gov. Jay Inslee issued Proclamation 20-19 to prohibit evictions by all residential property owners renting their housing properties to tenants. Although the proclamation is set to expire on March 31 of this year, that's an entire year in which many tenants have not paid their rent, because they knew they could not be evicted. More than 171,000 Washington renters are behind in rent.

This is a huge financial problem, because many property owners are still paying mortgage on those properties without receiving income from them. That's tens of thousands of dollars, in many cases.

These are issues I am dealing with as the ranking Republican on the House Housing, Human Services and Veterans Committee. To make matters worse, Senate Bill 5160 would extend the moratorium for two years after the pandemic health emergency ends. Other legislation would make it even more difficult to evict after the moratorium ends. If these bills pass, I expect many rental property owners would either sell or let those properties go into foreclosure with the bank if they are not able to collect the back rent. This will mean even less rental housing on the market at a time when we are having one of the worst homelessness crises in state history.

I am supporting House Bill 1228, which would establish the Emergency Rental Assistance Grant Program to help renters catch up. It also creates a path to end the moratorium.

A pathway for foster children to break the cycle of group home care

As a former foster child, I know how emotionally difficult it is to be in the state's foster care system. It can often be difficult to place young people with behavioral problems. Often, they end up in residential group homes or even hotels. Not only is this an exorbitant cost to the state (about $2,000 a night for hotels, and $13,000 to $36,000 a month for group homes per month to place a child), it's not always in the best interest of these children, who feel alone and abandoned, and then act out even more.

There are foster families willing to take in hard-to-place children, but we need to make sure they have the support to do so. The basic rate paid to foster parents to take in a child 12-years and older is $810 a month. Those levels may increase to just over $1,600 a month for children at Level IV, who exhibit the most extreme forms of physical, mental, behavioral and emotional conditions that require increase work, care and supervision. However, the formula to allow for those higher levels is defective and cumbersome. Most foster homes never receive that level of support.

A foster home is a much better and more stable environment than group homes and hotel stays. That's why I have introduced House Bill 1347, concerning exceptional foster care maintenance payments. This bill would require foster maintenance payments to be automatically paid at the highest level for children exhibiting certain behaviors. The rates would eventually be renegotiated with foster parents with the goal of maintaining stability for the child.

A public hearing was held Monday in the House Children, Youth and Families Committee. You can watch my testimony here. This measure would not only be a savings of tax dollars, but most important, it would provide more effective foster care placement in a stable home for these children. The committee is scheduled to vote on this bill next Thursday, Feb. 11.

My other bills

Here is a list of other bills I have prime sponsored and their status:

  • 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 Jan. 21 in the House Housing, Human Services and Veterans Committee.
  • 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, but a public hearing has not been scheduled.
  • 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, but a public hearing has yet to be scheduled.
  • House Bill 1366 – In-person instruction. This measure would require school districts that have discontinued in-person instruction due to an emergency, to prioritize instruction for certain students when in-person instruction resumes, including foster care children, students who are homeless, ESL (English as a second language) students, and those with disabilities who are under 504 and IEP plans. A public hearing was held Tuesday and this measure is expected to be voted out of the House Education Committee on Feb. 9.

Please stay in touch

I encourage you to become involved in our legislative process. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips. You can begin at leg.wa.gov where you can look up bills, committee hearings and how to participate. Go to my website for the latest information on bills I've sponsored. Call, write and email my office. My contact information can be found below.

It is my honor to serve and represent you and the citizens of our 26th Legislative District!

Sincerely,


Michelle Caldier

State Representative Michelle Caldier, 26th Legislative District
RepresentativeMichelleCaldier.com
122H Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
michelle.caldier@leg.wa.gov
360-786-7802 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000