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Dear Friends,

In these uncertain and unprecedented times, I hope efforts to reach out to you, explain the decisions made by the governor, provide information and resources, and answer your calls, emails and letters have been helpful. Due to election-year restrictions, this is the last email update I will be able to send you until after the November election results are certified by Secretary of State Kim Wyman—unless we are called into a special session.

The last two months have been very busy and a reminder that while our state has a part-time Legislature, the work of a state lawmaker is often full-time. It is a responsibility I take seriously, and I know that is true for others representing you. It is an honor to work on your behalf. Thank you for reading.

Governor Inslee extends his Stay Home, Stay Healthy order to May 31

Last week, the governor extended his stay-home order to May 31. In his news conference, he outlined four phases for reopening businesses and modifying physical distancing measures, including the categories of: high-risk populations; recreation; gatherings; travel; and business/employers. You can find a chart that illustrates the governor’s phased approach here.   

The governor also explained how small counties—including Pend Oreille, Ferry, Lincoln, Columbia, Garfield, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kittitas, Skamania and Wahkiakum—could apply to the Department of Health for a variance from his new order. Some of these counties are already in discussions with the governor’s office. And there are other counties who were not on the initial list that want the same opportunity. These counties understand the importance of safely restarting their economies and saving jobs and businesses.   

On Monday, the governor signed his new order and shared more information on the phased approach to our state’s recovery. And on Wednesday, he released his first risk-assessment dashboard update, which includes much of the data that he says is driving his decision making.

The governor’s authority during an emergency

One question I have received is: Did the Legislature approve the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order and his extensions. The answer is: No. The governor crafted his order in way that did not require the Legislature’s approval to implement or extend it. The Legislature only has a role in temporarily waiving statutes and regulations. You can learn more about these issues here:

Data privacy in the era of the coronavirus  

Part of the governor’s dashboard includes case and contact investigations. Another part tracks disease activity. This include physical distancing adherence trends in our state, including Google mobility data for our state.

Many of you have been reading the news accounts raising concerns regarding the utilization of powerful surveillance tools to aid our coronavirus response and economic recovery. As we look to the next phase of our state’s response, it is important we understand what our governor and state government have planned for Washingtonians and how it might impact their privacy. We deserve clarity on what is being proposed and transparency on how it will be implemented.

With this in mind, I authored a letter to the governor that asks some important questions. My fundamental question was: “Are private technology firms providing data or data analytics that is, or has been, part of executive branch COVID-19 order decision-making? This question is inclusive of, but not limited to, data or data analytics about the movement of Washingtonians, and their awareness of, feelings about, and cooperativeness with social distancing orders.” From there, I ask seven specific questions.

Several of my fellow state lawmakers signed on to this letter because they share my concerns about privacy. We look forward to the governor’s answers. It is imperative we continue to pursue a balance between protecting our civil liberties and our efforts to protect public health. I believe we are innovative and creative—and working together—can accomplish these important goals. 

My concerns moving forward

Protecting our most vulnerable

We know who our most vulnerable populations are in the coronavirus crisis. As one of the my colleagues, Sen. John Braun, points out in his communication piece called Economic Sense: “Long-term care patients and facilities are the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in our state, comprising over 60% of deaths in reporting counties. Yet, despite repeated pleas from the long-term care industry for assistance, little progress has been made. The state is failing this highly at-risk group and we must do better.”

Sen. Braun is right. Our state must be laser-focused on making long-term care patients and facilities a higher coronavirus priority. I encourage you to learn more about the five actions he recommends to better protect our most vulnerable and those on the front lines who are caring for them. You can learn more here. I am supporting these goals to care for our most vulnerable, as are many others in the Legislature.

We must also save livelihoods

I supported the governor’s initial Stay Home, Stay Healthy order back on March 23. I believe his early, aggressive actions saved lives. Our collective sacrifices since then have prevented worst-case scenarios, including our health care system being overwhelmed. And many of our actions will need to continue in the future. But it’s now time for our governor and state to pivot in order to save livelihoods. Please allow me to explain.

Economic and emotional devastation

The longer the governor’s stay-home order stays in effect, the more economic and emotional devastation it will cause. We also cannot ignore the likelihood that it is exacerbating serious problems that existed before the coronavirus hit. For example: lack of access to health care and important medical procedures; homelessness; substance abuse; depression and other mental health conditions; suicide; domestic abuse, child abuse and other crimes; and even consequences such as illegal dumping. We are seeing some of these stories in the news. It is a reminder that when we talk about public health, we cannot only view it through the lens of the coronavirus.

There is real human suffering right now—not only because of the coronavirus itself, but because of the unintended consequences of extended stay-home orders.

Declining tax collections threaten important programs and services

One of the troubling realities about this suffering is that local and state government tax collections are going to be greatly reduced as a result of the economic crisis, leaving government with fewer resources for the important programs and services that address these serious problems. This recent story highlights the hit our state operating budget will take and the difficult decisions that await state lawmakers. We will know more about where our state finances stand on June 19 when the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council releases the revenue forecast.

Safely restarting our economy and lives

Please understand I am not advocating for—or even suggesting—that our state go back to how everything was in February. Things will have to be different as our state safely moves forward with opening its economy and activities. Things like social distancing, personal hygiene, cleaning surfaces, and no large gatherings will continue to be a way of life for us. And we must prioritize protecting our most vulnerable as I mentioned before.

We must find ways to safely restart our economy and lives more expeditiously than the uncertain timelines the governor unveiled last week. I am not trying to be political. What I am suggesting is that we recognize the lessons being provided by medical and economic experts and the experiences from other states and nations, understand the limitations of one-size-fits-all policies, and provide more flexibility for counties with thoughtful plans. They know their communities best, and are working to balance protecting public health, preserving civil rights and develop economic recovery roadmaps for those whose livelihoods have been devastated by this crisis.

Coronavirus information, resources and stories  

The websites below provide coronavirus information and resources. Our state Department of Health also has a phone number you can call: 1-800-525-0127

I also try to read as many stories as I can on the coronavirus and the various responses to it. Here are a few articles you might find interesting:

Please contact me

As I mentioned earlier, this is the last email update I will be able to send you until after the November election results are certified. The exception would be if state lawmakers all called back to Olympia for a special session, which is looking increasingly likely. At that point, I would be able to send you an email update to share information on what is happening in the Legislature.

While I won’t be able to send you any more email updates for a while, you are always welcome to call, email or send me a letter. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance or if you have an idea to share. I look forward to hearing from you.

Warm Regards,

Norma Smith

State Representative Norma Smith, 10th Legislative District
435 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7884 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000