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Due to election-year restrictions, I have not been able to send you one of these email updates since May. Now that these restrictions have been lifted, I am free to communicate with you via this communications tool.
Let me first acknowledge that it is heartbreaking to know that as we prepare for the 2021 legislative session there are real concerns over Capitol Campus security in Olympia. We don't want to see what happened in Washington, DC this week happen in Washington state. You may also have heard about protestors breaching secured grounds here on our Capitol Campus this week. These actions do not reflect the American values we cherish, and I hope you will join me in condemning any form of political violence or threat of it.
Since I am leaving the Legislature next week, having chosen not to run again last November, it is important to me to provide you a brief overview of how the 2021 legislative session will be structured, and how important it is for you to be involved. I would also like to provide you an update of the unprecedented events that unfolded during the interim.
In these challenging times, I hope this letter finds you well as families and our communities continue to deal with the health and economic challenges presented by the coronavirus. Some of you have experienced hardship and grief; I am saddened by your stories and the journeys many of you have shared.
A spike in coronavirus cases in early November led to the governor issuing lockdown orders that run through January 11. On Tuesday, he announced a new “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” plan. These orders have changed the way we interact with friends, families, church, businesses, and state government. They have also underscored the need to have an essential discussion this legislative session on the governor's emergency powers, including whether they need to be modified and how the people's representatives in the Legislature can play a greater role during emergencies. It is an important debate that I encourage you to follow.
I have heard from so many with multiple views regarding the governor's actions, but what we can agree on is that with recent developments there is reason for hope. First, it appears there was not a post-Thanksgiving surge in cases in Washington state according to our state Department of Health. Secondly, we have seen significant improvements in therapies and our understanding of treatment protocols efficacy. Thirdly, for those waiting, vaccines have been approved and deployed around our state. Finally, more emphasis and overdue guidance is being given to re-opening schools safely for in-person instruction. Children need to be back in their best learning environments.
What I have heard
While I have not been able to send email updates like this one out, I have been able to respond to the emails, calls, and letters I have received. Some of you have shared your personal stories with me and I appreciate it. I have heard from many who believe the governor has overstepped his constitutional authority and do not believe one person should make so many important decisions for months on end by proclamations and orders. I have also heard from others who support the governor's actions and believe he has done his best to protect the health of Washingtonians. Please allow me to share what I believe.
Why a special session was needed
While I have supported some of the governor's decisions since March, I, and many others from both sides of the aisle, believe he should have called a special session months ago to get input and support from state lawmakers – like many other states have done. So many Washingtonians have felt shut out of major decisions and a special session would have given them a voice during this pandemic.
The Legislature could have made decisions, amplified voices, and ultimately helped the governor earn support for actions, but he never gave state lawmakers a chance. For example, the Legislature could have adjusted the operating budget to better position our state financially and provided constitutional guidance for the massive amount of federal dollars that were sent to, and spent by, the state.
A healthy debate how to best assist workers and small businesses, using state resources, as they navigate these economically uncertain times would have had significant value. I believe state lawmakers would have stepped up to the challenge, provided bipartisan creativity, and put forward a package that sent the right message to those economically hammered by this crisis. State lawmakers have a constitutional responsibility to serve those we represent.
Employment Security Department and unemployment benefits
While the tireless actions of many state and local health officials have represented the best of our public employees, the high-profile failures at our state Employment Security Department erode the public's trust in state government. Even today, ten months into the pandemic, the state agency continues to have problems and thousands of Washingtonians are still waiting for unemployment benefits. This is unacceptable.
While the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars due to fraud was stunning, the delay in getting unemployment benefits to Washingtonians in desperate need is heartbreaking. To hear that our state Employment Security Department initially obstructed our State Auditor Office's audits into these problems is infuriating. We must find out what happened, expect accountability, learn from it, and prevent it from ever happening again. I anticipate state lawmakers will address these issues and your stories and input will inform those efforts.
The 2021 legislative session
The upcoming legislative session is scheduled to begin on January 11 and run 105 consecutive days. The Washington State House of Representatives released its COVID-19 Session Operations Plan on December 11. Here are some of the details:
- House facilities will remain closed to the public.
- Floor sessions and committee meetings will be held remotely.
- Each caucus (Republican and Democratic) may designate up to 15 members to work remotely from their assigned office on the Capitol Campus.
- Staff must telework during the 2021 legislative session.
This will be a challenge for everyone, but especially for new, incoming members. The House and Senate, as institutions, must balance public health with the need to conduct the Legislature's business in transparent and accessible ways. I am greatly concerned that your voices are heard. The people's involvement in the legislative process cannot be limited by this pandemic. We must find ways, through technology, for people to feel connected to their state lawmakers and Olympia.
As I mentioned above, there will be an important debate this legislative session on the governor's emergency powers – including the Legislature's proper role in these situations. You can learn more about these powers here. You can also find information on the Legislature's limited role in temporarily waiving statutes and regulations at this link. A few bills have already been prefiled relating to this issue.
Please know that House committees have been restructured, and so important policies may travel a different course through the process. It will require of all of us, as constituents, extra diligence. For example, the Senate is once again hearing a problematic rewrite of last year's Washington Privacy Act. Once again, it purports to provide privacy protections but continues to be corporate-centric with loopholes and exemptions. This year, it will come to the Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee in the House.
On January 11, my successor – Representative-elect Greg Gilday – will begin his term. I know Greg will do a great job representing the people and communities of the 10th Legislative District. Senator Ron Muzzall and Representative Dave Paul will also continue their service. I know all three of these state lawmakers will give their best to serve you and provide assistance on important issues to each of you.
You can find House committee schedules, agendas, and documents here. General information about the Legislature can he found at this link. This is also a new and helpful online resource for accessing the Legislature remotely.
As I conclude 13 years as your state representative, please know it has been an honor and privilege to represent you – your stories, shared knowledge, passion on important issues and willingness to give of your time and energy have been inspirational. Together, I know we have made a difference for the people of the 10th Legislative District and Washington state.
435 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
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