Washington lawmakers launch mostly remote session
Washington state lawmakers have entered a new legislative session amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and much of their work will be done remotely as leaders attempt to limit the possibility of exposure .
As of Friday, four Democratic senators – Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig and Senators John Lovick, Mark Mullet and Yasmin Trudeau – have announced that they have tested positive for the coronavirus. Billig said he had no symptoms and Lovick described his symptoms as mild. Mullet – who said he had no symptoms – tested positive Monday after a test at the Capitol and said he would work remotely the rest of the week. All four were fully immunized and Billig, Lovick and Mullet were also boosted. Trudeau was due to receive his recall next week.
Last month, the death of Republican Senator Doug Ericksen as a result of his fight with COVID-19 was noted during remarks in both houses, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, who is president of the Senate, said: “Our hearts are heavy with the passing sound.”
When the session officially convened at noon Monday, only four lawmakers were in the House – President Laurie Jinkins, newly sworn-in Democratic Representative Dan Bronoske and Republican Representatives Drew MacEwen and Paul Harris – and 15 were present in the Senate. Accredited journalists were seated in the public galleries watching the floors of the chamber.
In the House, regular testing will be required and only lawmakers who have provided verification of their vaccination – including a booster – will be among the limited number of lawmakers allowed on the ground. In the Senate, lawmakers present will be authorized regardless of their vaccination status but will have to provide a negative test the same day.
House and Senate leaders have said they will reassess their plans every two weeks and changes may occur depending on the state of the pandemic.
Much of this first week will be devoted to committee hearings, which will take place remotely, with public participation. As before the pandemic, hearings and votes on the ground will continue to be broadcast or broadcast live by TVW, the state’s government affairs channel.
“Our time together this session is short and the list of what we all hope to accomplish is long,” Jinkins said in his opening remarks Monday. “It will take all 98 of us in this forum, listening to each other and working together, to address the challenges our state faces, be it the economy, housing, transportation, health care, racial equity or climate change.
The main goal of the session is for lawmakers to develop a supplementary two-year budget plan. Gov. Jay Inslee – who will deliver his state-of-state address on Tuesday – released a nearly $ 62 billion plan last month, and the House and Senate will release their own proposals in the coming weeks.
This budget will likely include more than $ 1 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, with Inslee and Democrat executives keen to use that one-time money – in addition to state funds – to help in areas such as food assistance programs, increase the capacity of acute care hospitals, and provide more social and mental health supports to K-12 students who struggled during the pandemic. Inslee has also offered to spend nearly $ 300 million to contain the ongoing pandemic, on things like diagnostic testing, contact tracing, outbreak response and expanding access to vaccines.
But lawmakers will also address a host of other issues, including potential changes to the state’s new long-term care program – paid for with a tax on employee wages – after criticism has been leveled over the options. withdrawal from the program, as well as those who contribute to the program but may never benefit from it. A bill introduced would delay the tax until July 1, 2023 and refund all premiums collected before that date.
Homelessness and housing policies will also be discussed, as will proposals to reduce carbon emissions in the state. Lawmakers are also planning to make changes to some measures that were passed as part of a massive police reform program last year. Democrats say the bills are working overall, but acknowledged that restrictions on the use of force have hampered officers in certain situations, such as responding to mental health crises, and this session they intend to clarify that the police can use force to help in these cases.
They also plan to ease restrictions on the use of force in cases where police are investigating violent crime, and they say they are open to considering a Republican proposal that would reduce restrictions on car chases.
Republican House Leader JT Wilcox, in remarks to the chamber via a remote video stream, urged the majority to listen to his caucus’ ideas on a variety of issues ranging from the environment to housing and said he wanted to challenge members of both caucuses not to, “fall into group thought.
“Don’t think loyalty to our group or even our caucus is more important than loyalty to our hearts and loyalty to our constituents,” he said.