Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2022 legislative session started Monday, Jan. 10. This year's session is a short one — only 60 days. However, we have just as much work to do as during our long 105-day sessions held in odd-numbered years.
Just like last year, the state House of Representatives is operating virtually through remote programs like Teams and Zoom. Only two members from each caucus and a presiding officer are allowed on the House floor. Just like last year, the public is not allowed in the galleries nor in House offices, and all committee meetings are being held online.
Legislators and staff who are on the House floor must have proof of vaccination, as well as a booster shot. One of the problems with this requirement is that many legislators do not yet qualify for a booster shot. In fact, I don't qualify for a booster shot until Feb. 23, even though I am fully vaccinated now. According to the requirement, I cannot be on the floor until two weeks after I receive a booster shot, which is March 9, the day before session ends on March 10. I am willing to get my booster shot. However, I am concerned this requirement is preventing many legislators from being on the floor, even though we would like to be there voting for you.
I am staying in Olympia during the session and attending our caucus meetings in person, which are being held on the first floor of the Capitol building. Attending caucus this year is quite different because it is a combination of some people meeting in person, socially distanced at the Capitol, while others are logged in remotely and projected on a wall. Although there are limited opportunities for lawmakers to meet in person, I am still having to vote remotely “Brady Bunch” style in committee and on the floor, like most legislators.
Record budget surplus — Time for tax relief
We now have the largest four-year budget surplus in state history — $8.8 billion, with another $2.2 billion in reserves, and another $1.2 billion in unspent federal stimulus funds. It was disappointing during the governor's State of the State address last Tuesday that he talked mostly about more spending, more programs and larger government, but said nothing about tax relief.
State government is doing very well financially. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about citizens in our district and across the state of Washington — working families who are struggling to make ends meet. Families are paying more for groceries, energy, fuel, and medical costs. We should be giving some of that back to the hard-working families in our state.
We could provide tax relief through expansion of the Working Families Tax Credit, lowering property taxes, and eliminating the Long-Term Care payroll tax.
Getting our ferries fully staffed and back on schedule
A perfect storm of COVID illnesses, retirements, and the governor's forced terminations on Oct. 18 due to his vaccination mandate, have resulted in the loss of many Washington State Ferry (WSF) workers and numerous disruptions and cancellations in the ferry schedules.
WSF Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello told the state's ferry advisory committee last week, “Pre-pandemic this organization was barely getting by. Now throw in the pandemic and it just isn't sustainable. It exposed that we are not a resilient organization.”
That's not what you hope or expect to hear from the leader of our state's marine highways, but it is the current situation — and it needs to be changed! To make matters worse, policies adopted by the executive branch (governor's office) have implemented specific and narrow hiring practices, creating additional employment barriers.
I have introduced legislation to remove barriers in the hiring of new ferry workers and improve working conditions for ferry employees. House Bill 1608 would direct a review and analysis of collective bargaining agreements governing state ferry employees for the purpose of identifying provisions that create barriers and disparate impacts on newly-hired ferry employees. The bill would also require the executive branch to negotiate future collective bargaining agreements to stop doing the things that prevent equity, diversity and inclusion within the ferry workforce.
Prior to the Oct. 18 employee firings, new state ferry workers would be “on-call” for up to two years. This made it so workers were not assured a set schedule, nor full-time hours. That's a significant barrier to recruitment and retaining new employees who need stable and consistent work. This measure would provide a process in which modifications could be identified with the intent to have enough ferry workers to keep boats operational and on time.
Keeping our roads and passes open
If you've checked grocery stores lately, some of the shelves are empty because Washington's mountain passes were closed for several days, preventing trucks from getting through. Not only has the ferry system suffered from worker shortages, but the governor's vaccine mandate for state employees resulted in the firing of more than 400 Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) employees. The mandate also resulted in 48 WSDOT employees “no longer working to support the state maintenance and snow removal efforts in Kittitas County,” according to the county's press release.
When Kittitas County officials offered to help WSDOT clear slow on state roads that go through the county, the agency declined, saying they could not accept assistance “due to Kittitas County not mandating the COVID-19 vaccination for county employees.”
Kittitas County Commissioner Cory Wright told the Washington Policy Center, “Our snowplow vehicles have one operator — there are no passengers — so the bigger risk is drivers and residents and emergency responders trying to navigate these roads.”
I agree with the commissioner. The public was at a greater risk from the weather than the coronavirus in this case. The county offered to help and it could have done so under an interlocal agreement signed with WSDOT in November. Unfortunately, common sense in this case did not prevail. Those decisions need to be seriously scrutinized and the state needs to make better decisions to ensure the public is safe from the real risk at hand.
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. This measure is a holdover from last year. It passed its respective committees during the 2021 session and now sits in the House Rules Committee, where it could be brought to the floor for a vote.
- House Bill 1949 – Prioritizing higher education capital projects. This is in response to the staffing shortages in hospitals across the state. Washington had workforce problems before the pandemic due to colleges not creating enough health care slots to meet the influx of people moving to our state and growing health care demands of our aging population. My legislation would prioritize and increase four-year universities' health care slots under capital budget requests. Referred to the House Capital Budget Committee.
- House Bill 1950 – Protecting patients from certain unsafe dental practices. Dentists tell me there has been an influx of patients they are seeing who need corrective care after using online “telemedicine” orthodontic services in which they receive aligners, but never see a dentist or orthodontist to determine a correct fit or other underlying problems. Many of these services are out of state, so there is no adequate recourse if complications arise. This bill would require patients to have at least one in-person examination by a licensed dentist before receiving telemedicine services. It would also prohibit these providers from requiring patients to sign an agreement that limits the ability to file a complaint. Referred to the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.
- House Bill 1952 – Concerning the location of housing and associated services that provide aid and assistance to homeless individuals and families. This bill would provide for siting of master-planned communities, known as “Community First Villages” that house people who have experienced homelessness. The siting could be adjacent to an urban growth area or in certain rural areas under the Growth Management Act's “Limited Areas of More Intensive Rural Development.” These type of villages are helping to house chronically homeless individuals, allowing them to move forward with job opportunities, recovery services and more. Pierce County has committed $22 million to a Community First Village in its county budget. This bill provides the support needed to open the doors to these villages. Referred to the House Local Government Committee.
- House Bill 2038 – Supporting children with child welfare services. I've worked with KING 5 Investigative Reporter Chris Ingalls over the past two years to draw attention to problems within our state's foster care system and to promote changes. I'm a foster parent, so I'm well aware of the challenges of placing kids with behavioral problems in stable foster homes. This bill would reduce group home care and help to put these children in foster parent homes where they are in a more stable environment. The measure would improve training and workforce development, as well as recruitment for foster parents. It also would provide enhanced rates for foster parents willing to take hard-to-place kids. Referred to the House Children, Youth and Families Committee.
Your involvement is important!
Although, the public will not be allowed inside the House chamber, nor in any of the House offices during the 2022 session, there are still ways you can and should participate.
The Legislature has implemented a system designed to allow the public to comment on a bill. Go to this page for more information: How to comment on a bill.
You can also sign in to provide written testimony on legislation or testify remotely during a committee public hearing. Go to this page for more information and to sign in: Committee Sign-In – Remote Testimony (House/Senate/Joint)
To learn more about citizen participation, go here: How you can be involved in the legislative process.
Here are some other helpful links:
- Washington State Legislature
- Committee schedules, agendas and documents
- TVW.org – Watch committee meetings and floor action here.
Stay involved and in touch!
In addition to issues I've discussed above, we will also be working to reform the governor's emergency powers, use part of the state's $8.8 billion surplus money to fix our roads, highways and bridges, advance a Safe Washington plan to make our neighborhoods safer from crime and return tools to law enforcement so they can do their jobs, and provide tax relief this year, including lowering property taxes.
Your involvement and input is important to our legislative process. Should you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation, committee hearings, the legislative process or state government, please call, write or email me. I am here to serve and represent you!