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I hope this letter finds you healthy and well.
We continue to endure unprecedented times. We are all in this storm together, but our experiences and resources vary greatly. I know some of you are really hurting physically, and some have experienced grief or great loss. Others are struggling financially, unable to the access the programs and services that were promised to you by your government. Some of you are still waiting for important answers. I know this is frustrating. I am sorry. And I will continue to push on the executive branch and other state agencies to get your answer and deliver on promises.
The governor took early and aggressive actions, which I believe helped our state's situation and prevented a worse outbreak like we've seen in other states. The recent data shows our personal and collective sacrifices have changed the trajectory of this disease, and it appears the worst-case scenarios—particularly for our health care system—will not materialize. That gives us hope as we construct the next steps to recovery.
This Department of Health website illustrates many of the relevant data points, including the current status for our state, epidemiologic curves, cumulative case and death counts, demographics, test and hospitalization.
Looking ahead: Antibody testing
As we continue to follow the governor's extended “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order through May 4, we must look ahead to what's next. I believe one critical responsibility for our state in the days ahead is to aggressively expand testing for the antibodies a person produces in response to coronavirus.
If we test people who are not displaying symptoms, we will know whether the virus has touched a larger percentage of the state's population than those who have been tested due to symptoms. That will help bring a critical level of accuracy to our state's baseline data, total infection and fatality rates by offering a clearer picture of how contagious and far spread the disease is in our state. It is also important to test people who had coronavirus symptoms but were told to stay home and eventually recovered from whatever ailed them.
This is not just about health. It's also about our economy. Antibody testing is essential to getting Washingtonians back to work and accelerating what is already sure to be a long economic recovery. While there is much to learn about the limitations of testing, what is clear is this is a critical tool needed for informed decisions in both our health care system and economic recovery.
I joined other state lawmakers in sending a letter to the governor on Friday explaining the importance of this concept. I look forward to his response.
Safe Economic Restart Plan
Speaking of the economy, Republicans in the Legislature released their Safe Economic Restart Plan on Friday. The plan outlines three sets of actions our state can take to enable the safe restart of Washington's economy and lay the groundwork for a long-term recovery. It doesn't dictate when we restart our economy, but it provides ideas on how.
We look forward to working with our Democratic colleagues and the governor and his staff to put these pieces in place. Our plan is a working document. I welcome your feedback on it.
I am also grateful for the incredible work being done by every industry sector to help with the economic roadmap. Experts are building phased and thoughtful frameworks for bringing production and jobs back online safely while fueling our economic recovery. Their expertise is essential to help guide government decision making and I hope executive and legislative leadership will heed wise council.
On April 6, the governor joined Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Chris Reykdal to announce schools would not provide traditional, in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. They have asked schools to utilize distance learning models. However, we all know these alternatives cannot replicate the in-classroom model for our students and teachers.
I know our school districts are doing their best in this most difficult situation. My heart goes out to our students who need and miss the traditional classroom setting. I can't image how difficult this must be for our graduating seniors. I also understand the pressure this is putting on families, as working parents juggle their professional and personal responsibilities at home.
OSPI has created resources for continuous learning for both students and families. The agency has also produced a helpful parent guide. This web page also includes other resources that you or someone you know might find useful.
2020 legislative session
In my last two email updates, I held off on discussing the outcomes of the 2020 legislative session because I felt it was more important to provide you information and resources on the coronavirus. The state's official coronavirus website, and the online platform supported by my caucus communications team, continue to provide up-to-date information on this issue. I think you will find both websites to be good resources.
The 2020 legislative session ended on March 12. Like any legislative session, there were successes and disappointments. The supplemental capital and transportation budgets, which are midcourse adjustments to these two-year state budgets, were big success stories. The supplemental operating budget was a disappointment.
Supplemental capital budget
As I have mentioned in past email updates, I am deeply involved in the development of the capital budget as a member for the House Capital Budget Committee. While it's the smallest of the three state budgets, it makes critical investments in K-12 school construction, higher education facilities, mental and behavioral health, the Public Works Assistance Account, housing and community projects. It is funded by: general obligation bonds; dedicated cash accounts; federal funds; and financing contracts.
Last year, I led efforts to craft the bipartisan and historic funding for the mental and behavioral health aspects of this budget. In total, these investments were around $308 million. We should all be proud of the commitment our state is making to build out the infrastructure for these critical systems.
This year, the process was again bipartisan. We made some minor adjustments to the mental and behavioral health enhancements from last year to ensure we are deploying resources in the most effective ways—including expanding mental health service capacity for children. We also provided funding for several community early-learning facilities, remedial action grants to clean up contaminated sites, stormwater clean-up projects, and much-needed upgrades to schools at high risk of failing due to earthquakes.
Supplemental transportation budget
The transportation budget funds capital projects, operating programs and debt service. It is funded by: gas taxes; license fees; tolls; bonds; and federal funding.
The supplemental transportation budget that passed this year makes funding reductions in expectation of $30 car tabs eventually being enacted into law (there are still some legal proceedings that need to be settled). However, it preserves funding for special needs transportation, maintenance and the existing project list with minor modifications. This is great news and represents a lot of hard, bipartisan work.
Supplemental operating budget
The operating budget is the largest of the state's three budgets, encompassing K-12 education, higher education, corrections, human services and other operations. It is funded primarily through: state taxes, including sales taxes, property taxes and B&O taxes; federal funds; tuition; and other sources.
The process for the supplemental operating budget was very partisan, resulting in a party-line vote when it reached the House and Senate floors. The final budget passed by the Legislature spends too much and saves too little—especially considering what we know the coronavirus will do to our state tax collections. With this in mind, the governor vetoed 147 items which reduced state spending by about $445 million over the four-year outlook. But that's not enough. State spending has increased by nearly 73% since 2013. While this represents a lot of good programs and services, it is simply not sustainable. A massive budget shortfall is now on the horizon.
It is possible that state lawmakers will be called in for a special session to adjust the operating budget and address other issues exacerbated by current economic realities. I will let you know if a special session is called.
Standing with our families
The most divisive and contentious bill of the 2020 legislative session was the sexual health education legislation. Senate Bill 5395, which passed on a party-line vote and was signed into law, mandates that every public school provide 'comprehensive' sexual health education in all grades by the 2022-23 school year.
Senate Bill 5395 also mandates that every public school either select a curriculum from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's (OSPI) list or choose its own curriculum. If a school district decides to develop or select its own curriculum, it must consult with OSPI and use OSPI's curriculum analysis tool to ensure compliance. In other words: Local school district must conform to a top-down, Olympia approach.
Thousands of parents, students and educators from across the state voiced their legitimate concerns with this bill. And they were ignored by the majority party leadership. The legislation does not provide for adequate local decision making and parental involvement. The overwhelming majority of constituents from our district contacting my office asked me not to support this flawed approach. It also does not acknowledge the sensitivity needed to allow for the diversity of viewpoints and cherished values that shape human relationships in our culture. It was forced upon public school students and parents by a handful of special interest organizations in a disrespectful display of raw political power. Our students, parents and educators deserve better.
Please stay involved with your local school district if you want a more holistic approach to sound sex education.
I discuss other outcomes of the 2020 legislative session in this newsletter, which just hit 10th District mailboxes. It covers other important subject matters, including online data privacy. I wanted to provide you an electronic copy should you want to share it. The sections include:
- An opening letter.
- Protecting public health and restarting the economy.
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) information and resources.
- Following through on investments in mental and behavioral health.
- Safeguarding your online data privacy.
- Protecting our environment for generations to come.
I will not seek re-election in November
In this newsletter, I also share that I will not seek reelection in November. I made this announcement initially on the House floor on March 4. You can watch my speech from that day here.
My colleagues from both sides of the aisle were kind enough to honor me with a House Resolution on the second-to-last-day of the legislative session. I appreciated their thoughtful and heartfelt speeches that day. I will truly miss them and our work.
But what I will miss most of all is you—the wonderful people of our district—and working with many of you to solve problems and improve our communities. Together, we have been successful in strengthening the mental and behavioral health safety net in our state, securing stronger data and privacy protections, defending the most vulnerable, inspiring job creators to stay and grow here, and promoting long-term environmental stewardship. Nineteen pieces of legislation that I introduced became law with overwhelming bipartisan support—from my colleagues and from you.
Serving the 10th District has been my greatest professional honor and privilege. You have put your trust in me since January of 2008 and I will forever be grateful. I can honestly say that I have given my best for our communities and to developing public policy benefiting all Washingtonians. You have my continued commitment to leverage all that we have learned and accomplished in the past to aid our communities and neighbors during this difficult time.
Your full-time state representative
Please know that I will serve out my two-year term, which ends in January 2020, and stand ready to assist and represent you over the next nine months. I am still your full-time state representative. I welcome your calls, emails and letters. Please don't hesitate to contact me.
435 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7884 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000