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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The state Legislature convened for the 60-day remote session on Monday, Jan. 10. For the House of Representatives, at least for the first few weeks of session, that means another fully virtual format, similar to last year. It goes without saying that online, virtual sessions are far from ideal — primarily because it shuts the public out of in-person participation and observation of the lawmaking processing.
Under the recently approved House plan, only two members from each caucus and a presiding officer will be allowed on the House floor. Admittance to the floor for members and staff will not only require proof of vaccination, but also a booster. Further, the public will be locked out of the House galleries, unable to observe, in-person, any floor debate. Members of the press, however, unlike the public, will be allowed in the galleries if they show proof of vaccination.
The Senate has a different set of rules which requires members and staff working on campus to receive a negative COVID-19 test before entering Senate facilities. Access to the public galleries is still under review. Both in-person committee hearings, caucus, and staff meetings will not be permitted.
The Senate and House will rely heavily on Zoom to conduct meetings. Committee hearings will be held virtually, and constituents allowed to testify remotely. In two weeks, the Senate and House will review their floor and session operation guidelines and, possibly, make modifications.
Working online for the second year in a row is not good. Another virtual session further erodes the public's right to be present when statewide public policy is debated and decided. Keeping the public's safety in mind, in the weeks to come, whenever possible, I will advocate for a return to more in-person work and “normalcy” at the state Capitol.
Hot topics and debates during the 2022 session
Some of the toughest policy choices our state has faced in years will take place this session. I've spent the last several months meeting with, talking to, and hearing from constituents about the topics listed below.
Here's a quick rundown of some of the big debates that will take place in the coming weeks:
- Reforming the anti-cop “reforms” put in place last session by the majority party: Our communities are less safe. Among other problems, the bills approved in 2021 prevented law enforcement from pursuing suspects and assisting with mental health calls. That needs to change. Learn more here.
- Repeal of the Long-Term Care Act: This program is fundamentally unfair. The payroll tax is regressive and needs to be repealed. Learn more here.
- Emergency Powers Reform: The framers of our state government never intended for the current governor to wield the kind of power he's maintained for nearly two years now. The public should have a voice in how to move forward. That's the job of the Legislature. Learn more here.
- Budget surplus of $8.8 billion + $2.2 billion in reserves + $1.2 billion in unspent federal stimulus: While many individuals and families continue to struggle, the government remains flush in cash. Tax relief is needed.
- Approving the work completed by the Washington State Redistricting Commission: Although the commission missed its deadline, the Washington State Supreme Court approved its bipartisan consensus on political district-making. The Legislature now has 30 days to review the maps and approve or disapprove the commission's proposals for congressional and legislative district maps for the coming decade.
Your involvement matters
Meeting remotely has its challenges, but it doesn't mean you can't get involved. We each have a part to play in supporting beneficial legislation that will enable all Washingtonians to prosper.
Here's a list of some resources to keep you informed about the activities of the Legislature:
- Read or sign up for the Capitol Buzz or the Ledger, a legislative news aggregator
- Watch TVW Coverage of House Sessions
- Watch TVW Coverage of Senate Sessions
- Testify in a committee (Virtually)
- Share your opinion on a bill
- Find ADA accommodation and information
Want to learn how to track a specific bill? Here are some resources to get you started:
- Go to leg.wa.gov
- On the left-hand panel, click “Bill Information.”
- If you know the bill number, enter it in the search field and hit enter.
- Don't have a bill number? Under the section “Standard Reports,” you'll find alternative tracking tools. You can search based on topic, legislative digests, cross-references, and within a specific biennium.
- If you click on the House Floor Activity Report, this helpful tool gives you a detailed list of all bills scheduled to be heard on the House floor each day.
Community News | Medic One ribbon cutting
Congratulations to Medic One on their long-awaited new Station 99. The elected board of the Kittitas County Hospital District No. 2 and Medic One staff worked together with the City of Cle Elum to bring this community improvement request to the Legislature for funding. I was happy to be a part of the team that took it across the finish line, working to get more than $750,000 into the capital budget for the project in 2021.
The ambulance station, expanding from a 2-bay to a 6-bay garage, will serve the growing population of rural Kittitas County and is the only advanced life support service in the upper part of the county. I was honored to be a part of the ribbon ceremony that officially opened the station.
Winter storms, snow, and WSDOT
Heavy snow recently forced the closure of Snoqualmie, Stevens, and White passes. Here's the reality with snow: sometimes, it just needs to move. Unfortunately, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is having problems finding enough people to work during these dangerous conditions.
Some 30,000 vehicles travel Snoqualmie Pass on a typical travel day. Closures don't just impact safety, but commerce and interstate travel. It doesn't help that several WSDOT workers were fired a few months ago because of the vaccine mandate put in place by the current governor.
As you know, our region recently got pummeled with record-breaking snowfall. Days before the start of the legislative session, I found myself among the many drivers stuck during the snowstorm. Not only could I not get across the pass to Olympia, but I also found myself in Wenatchee on an uphill slant with the wheels of my truck buried in a six-foot snow embankment.
We need to put the traveling safety of Washingtonians first. The loss of WSDOT workers caused by the vaccine mandate needs to be addressed. Heavy snowfall has been predicted in the coming days for large swaths of our state. Imposing these mandates has caused critical labor shortages. If not addressed properly, it will continue to cause travel disruptions and dangerous conditions for drivers across the state.
Neighbors helping neighbors
There's a second, more encouraging, part to my story. I had dared the trip from my home in Quincy to Wenatchee in the slush, ice, and snow to get the booster shot now required to be on the House floor to conduct legislative business. Due to weather, the clinic was closed.
Frustrated, I headed home — that's when my truck got stuck. Within minutes, I had help. Not from WSDOT, but from a friendly driver that pulled over to assist me. First one driver, then another, and yet another stopped to shovel and push my truck to safety.
Why am I sharing this? Because I love the heart and generosity of the people of Central Washington. Those drivers did not get paid to help. Nor, more than likely, will they ever realize how much they assisted me that day. They braved the snow and ice simply because they wanted to lend a hand to a fellow traveler. Acts of kindness are natural and normal where we live. That makes me incredibly proud to represent the 13th District in Olympia.
Stay in touch!
In the weeks ahead, please remember that your input in the legislative process matters. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions about legislation, committee hearings, or the legislative process — please call, write or email me. I'm happy to help.
Thank you for your steadfast support and encouragement.
470 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7808 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000