Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this newsletter finds you safe and healthy. I wanted to take a few minutes to provide a short update of our telephone town hall scheduled for this afternoon, where we stand now on the coronavirus restrictions and how we can restart our economy, and some surprising news for me from Clark College. I also provide information about the accomplishments and disappointments of the 2020 legislative session. Thank you for reading.
Ninety days in which the world changed
A lot has happened since Rep. Corry and I held our last telephone town hall on Feb. 4. At that time, few people had heard about the coronavirus, which was spreading across China, but had not yet reached our shores. Our state's unemployment rate was at a record low, state tax collections were at a record high, and the state budget was enjoying a $2.4 billion surplus.
Since then, we completed our legislative session March 12, with one of the last bills we passed providing $200 million to assist with the COVID-19 response. Right after session finished, Gov. Inslee closed schools and on March 23, he enacted his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has now swelled to 15,462 in Washington with 841 deaths, but has now appeared to stabilize because of everyone's sacrifices. More than 230,000 small businesses across Washington were shut down March 25 by order of the governor. And now, a record number of unemployment claims are overwhelming our state's system at the Employment Security Department.
Join us for a telephone town hall this afternoon (Wednesday, May 6)
Due to these coronavirus-related issues, Rep. Corry and I decided to hold a telephone town hall this afternoon to hear from you. We'd like to hear your concerns, answer your questions, and discuss the path forward to getting our state safely re-opened, while protecting people's health. Please join in by calling us between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. at (509) 408-2384. You can listen to the program and any time you have a question for us, press * (the star key) on your telephone keypad.
My involvement since the coronavirus emergency broke out
Since the legislative session ended the first half of March, I've been working non-stop answering questions from constituents and assisting where I can. I have participated in frequent conference calls with state officials, community leaders, first responders, heads of agencies, school district officials, health agencies, other legislators and the governor's office, as well as video calls with various people. I was appointed to the Recovery Legislative Task Force, a bipartisan group working to find ways to help our state recover from this emergency. I have been on KIT Radio in Yakima every Thursday morning at 7:15 a.m. providing updates, as well as on KLCK in Goldendale every Friday morning at 8 a.m.
As your state representative, I have also been doing my best to try to understand the numbers of this virus, how it is affecting the people I serve, the impacts to our local economy, as well as the governor's actions. We want to provide the greatest freedom possible for our citizens, while still stemming the virus infection rates.
Safely restarting our economy
I share the frustration of many that the governor has closed all but “essential businesses,” My family and I have businesses that are closed or partially shut down.
I care about lives. I also care about livelihoods. I know the shutdown can only last so long before many businesses are beyond the point of recovery and will never return. Many people I talk with want to safely go back to work, safely restart their businesses and try to get back to normal, whatever the new normal may be. We know we can't just flip a switch and be back to the way things used to be. However, there are safe ways to restart our economy and reclaim our lives.
In April, I was appointed to a bipartisan, bicameral task force to restart Washington business in a safe manner. On April 17, legislative Republicans released their Safe Economic Restart Plan. The plan recommends three sets of actions our state can take to safely restart our state economy and create the foundation for a long-term recovery.
Several other states, including Colorado and Idaho, are safely reopening their businesses. Both California and Oregon have allowed more businesses to stay open than Washington over the past couple of months. Certainly, we should be able to safely open more of our economy than Gov. Inslee has allowed.
The governor's Four-Phased Reopen Plan
After being urged by legislative leaders in all four caucuses, the governor finally released a reopening plan Friday — a four-phase approach with Phase 1 possibly being implemented fully by mid-May. However, he did not give a firm timeline on the next phases, except to say it would be a minimum of three weeks between moving to the next reopening phase at the minimum. See his Four-Phased Chart here. At best, this means mid-July before our state is fully reopened, and more likely later in the summer or even early fall.
In addition, he identified 10 counties, including Skamania County, that could apply for a variance to reopen sooner within the phases. There are concerns that due to the recreational opportunities in Skamania County, an early reopening could attract people from the Portland area, which has 769 confirmed cases of the virus. However, Skamania County is in the process of applying for the variance.
- COVID-19 disease activity.
- Health care system readiness.
- Testing capacity and availability.
- Case and contact investigations.
- Risk to vulnerable populations.
Yesterday, the governor announced three advisory groups to report on the progress and status of state efforts. They include:
- Public Health and Health Care System Group
- Safe Work and Economic Recovery Group
- Social Supports Group
Many state parks re-open yesterday, along with fishing, hunting
It's wonderful to see more sunshine and spring weather these days. Yesterday, more than 100 state parks reopened for day-use recreation, although not yet along the Columbia River Gorge. All ocean beach parks also remain closed for now. Fishing, hunting and public access to wildlife areas and boat ramps also reopened yesterday after being closed since the first part of March due to the COVID-19 restrictions implemented by Gov. Inslee. This is a welcome relief for many of us who by now have “cabin fever,” as we have been complying with the governor's “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order since March 23.
Is a special session imminent?
As noted above, one of the last bills we passed during the 2020 legislative session appropriated $200 million in coronavirus assistance. By now, we know that's not sufficient. We also recognize the impacts the shutdown will have on state revenue. The state Economic Revenue and Forecast Council will be releasing its quarterly revenue report June 17. This will give us foresight to state revenue generated from our economy.
It's expected the governor will call us back into special session sometime this summer or in the fall to address what is expected to be a major impact to our state's operating budget. I serve on the House Appropriations Committee and am closely watching our budget situation. With possible additional federal dollars coming our way and $2.6 billion in our state's Budget Stabilization Account (rainy-day fund), it's my hope we might be able to stave off massive cuts in the state operating budget for a while. However, it's likely we will need to make reductions in the current budget. We also need to resist calls for any new taxes or tax increases that would put even more burdens on families and businesses that are already hurting in this coronavirus economy.
Clark College Foundation provides a nice surprise
I was humbled and honored to be chosen by the Clark College Foundation as a recipient of its prestigious Outstanding Alumni Award for 2019-2020. The award recognizes Clark College alumni who deliver exemplary service to the community and Clark College, and exhibit personal and professional achievements.
I graduated from Clark College in 1988. The college changed my life and gave me a solid foundation for all the activities I am involved with. A counselor at Clark told me, “You can do anything you want. There's no limit.” The professors inspired me to find my passion and do my best to make the world a better place. I've taken that advice to heart in all that I do.
In January, the foundation released a podcast that featured my efforts of passing legislation to help find and solve cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. You can listen to that podcast, entitled, “Beyond the Tragedy,” here.
I'm very grateful for this alumni award, which will be presented in October due to the coronavirus emergency. You can read more details about this award here.
Read about the 2020 legislative session in our mailed newsletter
Although it seems like a long time ago, the Legislature met in session for 60 days from Jan. 13 to March 12. We had significant accomplishments during the time we worked on your behalf in Olympia. Rep. Corry and I recently completed a newsletter outlining those accomplishments and disappointments. Our 2020 Legislative Report most likely has arrived in mailboxes across the 14th District. If you haven't received that report, I encourage you to read it here.
Due to election-year restrictions that begin May 11, this will be my last email update to you until after the November election results are certified. The exception is if we go into a special session. However, I can respond to constituents who contact me throughout the year. I welcome your emails, calls and letters.
My new legislative assistant is Reni Michael. She will be the friendly voice on the phone if you call my office in Olympia. Right now, the state Capitol campus buildings are closed and staff are working from home. However, you are able to leave a message and we will be happy to return your call. My contact information is below.
Thank you for allowing me the honor to serve as your state representative!
Honored to serve you,