Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now into the second month of the 2021 legislative session and approaching our first major deadline. Monday, Feb. 15, was house of origin policy cutoff. Any policy bills that did not pass by 5 p.m. Monday from their respective committees in the chamber (House/Senate) where they were introduced may be “dead” for the year. The fiscal house of origin cutoff is Feb. 22, for bills that involve appropriating money.
Committees are working hard to hold public hearings and voting bills out to go to the Rules Committee, where all committee-approved bills go before heading to the floor for a vote.
A virtual session
This legislative session is uniquely virtual. All committee meetings and floor action in the House are being conducted remotely.
Only a handful of state representatives are working from the Capitol in Olympia because of concerns over transmission of COVID-19. They are largely sequestered in their offices and are not allowed to have in-person meetings with staff, lobbyists and constituents. The Capitol and other buildings on the campus are surrounded by an eight-foot fence and are closed to the public.
Working remotely has its challenges. Internet reliability can be spotty. Within the first few days of session, a big wind and snowstorm across Eastern Washington took out power and internet in numerous legislative districts and some legislators missed committee meetings because they could not log on. The process is also much slower when 98 lawmakers are voting remotely. Our priorities cannot be met when we are fighting to stay online.
My bills and session priorities
I have introduced several bills on your behalf during the 2021 session. They include:
- House Bill 1244 – This bill would prohibit civil penalties from being issued for first-time violations of workplace standards regulated under emergency procedures. The measure says that if the Department of Labor and Industries finds a violation during an emergency proclamation, it would provide the employer with a written warning — not a fine — and give the employer educational materials to help come into compliance. The measure is awaiting a public hearing in the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. Read more about this bill from my press release.
- House Bill 1315 – This measure would create a joint legislative task force to identify the role of the workplace in helping to curb domestic violence. This is the same measure I introduced last year, which passed the Legislature. However, it became one of the 147 bills Gov. Inslee vetoed to save money to address the COVID-19 crisis. The bill passed the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee Monday and is now in the House Rules Committee. Read more about this bill from my press release.
- House Bill 1354 – This bill would bring experts together to review every suicide in Washington involving young people up to the age of 24. We want to know why these people committed suicide and the circumstances the led to those deaths. If we can understand the “why,” we can work to reduce youth suicides, which have also increased during the COVID emergency. The measure passed Monday from the House Children, Youth and Families Committee. It has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
- House Bill 1357 – This bill would require the Secretary of State's office to distribute a voters' pamphlet at the same time as election ballots to registered Washington voters living and working overseas. The bill passed the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee on Feb. 11, and is now in the House Appropriations Committee. Learn more about this bill from my press release.
- House Bill 1448 – This bill would prevent unemployed volunteer firefighters from losing their unemployment benefits or having those benefits reduced because they have received payments for their volunteer service. This measure is awaiting a public hearing in the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.
- House Bill 1449 – This bill would create the crime of coercive control. This is another of my bills to address the issue of domestic violence and provide more tools to protect victims. A person could be found guilty of coercive control if that person engages in conduct that would limit or restrict the behavior, movement, associations, or accesses to personal finances of a family or household member, or intimate partner, without consent. The crime would be a gross misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year in confinement. A public hearing was held on Feb. 9 in the House Public Safety Committee.
- House Bill 1452 – This measure would encourage school boards to adopt policies that would enable students in the graduating classes of 2021 and 2022 to earn physical education credit through community service actions. The bill addresses the challenges of earning PE credits during the pandemic when most students are doing remote learning and are not in a gymnasium. This measure is in the House Education Committee awaiting a hearing.
- House Bill 1455 – This bill would prohibit the Employment Security Department and Labor and Industries from requiring and using full Social Security numbers from citizens who need their services. For more details about this measure, scroll down and read “Data breach in State Auditor's office.” The bill passed Monday from House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. It is now in the House Rules Committee awaiting further action.
- House Bill 1497 – This measure would place further restrictions on telephone solicitors, including no calls before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., no selling of the called party's name and information, removal of the called party from the solicitor's list upon request, and no further calls within at least one year after that request has been made. Fines up to $1,000 may be issued under the bill, which also allows civil suits to be filed against telephone solicitors who violate the rules. It's time to stop annoying unsolicited calls, especially those who are seeking to scam you out of your money. A public hearing was held Monday in the Consumer Protection and Business Committee.
- House Bill 1527 – This measure would seek to provide planning efforts to prevent electrical grid inadequacy and rolling blackouts, such as those experienced last year in California. Several studies show the Pacific Northwest could experience a large energy capacity shortfall by 2030. Under the bill, the state Department of Commerce and the Utilities and Transportation Commission is directed to hold a yearly meeting with utility companies, regional planning organizations, transmission operators, and other stakeholders to discuss the short- and long-term adequacy of energy resources to serve the state's electric needs. The bill also requires the 2021 meeting to address the risk of blackouts and inadequacy events like those experienced in California in 2020. The measure has been referred to the Environment and Energy Committee.
For more information about these and other bills, watch my Legislative Video Update program.
COVID relief legislation
On Monday, Feb. 1, the majority party in the House passed House Bill 1368 that would allocate $2.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding. Many of my Republican colleagues and I shared the view that the bill doesn't go far enough. We offered a different plan, the REAL Recovery for Washington Act, which would have provided $1.8 billion more than the Democrats' plan, for a total of $4 billion in relief for working families, small businesses and public health.
During debate on House Bill 1368, House Republicans offered six amendments that focused on:
- safely reopening schools;
- assisting students who have fallen behind;
- providing rental and utility assistance;
- easing financial burdens on working families;
- helping child care providers; and
- supporting small businesses.
Unfortunately, only one amendment was accepted by the majority party. We haven't given up and will continue to push for more relief to for our struggling businesses, families and students.
For a comparison of the two plans, see the chart below.
Data breach in State Auditor's office
On Feb. 1, the Washington State Auditor announced that a security incident might have exposed sensitive data belonging to Washingtonians – including personal information from about 1.6 million unemployment claims made in 2020. You can read the Washington State Auditor's news release here.
I believe this is completely unacceptable, especially after the fraudulent claims last summer within the state Employment Security Department (ESD). That's why I have introduced House Bill 1455 that would prevent ESD and the Department of Labor and Industries from using full Social Security numbers and replace them with other forms of personal identifiers, such as only the last four digits of the Social Security number. Private businesses, such as mine, have been doing this successfully for years. This bill passed out of committee Monday and could soon come to the House floor for a vote.
If you've had an unemployment claim with ESD, here are some links to information on what you can do if you think you might be affected.
- Office of the Washington State Auditor
- About the Accellion data security breach | What you need to know
- What you can do if you are concerned you are affected
- Office of Financial Management | State Auditor's Office data security incident
- Office of the Attorney General | Identity theft/privacy
- Federal Trade Commission | Identity theft
- TVW webcast of Auditor McCarthy's conversation with journalists on Feb. 1, 2021
- What you can do if you are concerned you are affected
All counties now in Phase 2. What about Phase 3?
Our communities have been working hard to follow the guidelines and do the right thing. On Thursday, Gov. Inslee moved all but six counties to Phase Two, effective Feb. 14. However, over the weekend, the Department of Health, announced a Walla Walla hospital had been misreporting COVID admissions. So it moved the remaining six counties to Phase 2, including Yakima County.
For counties in the second phase, restaurants can bring back indoor service at 25% capacity through 11 p.m. Indoor fitness centers and live entertainment venues — such as bowling alleys, museums, and concert halls — can also open up at 25% capacity. Establishments that only serve alcohol and no food, however, are to remain closed.
The question now is what would Phase 3 look like? Even the Gov. Inslee doesn't yet know.
Last week. Senate Republican Leader John Braun and House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox asked the governor in a letter to remove the fences around the Legislative Building (Capitol Building) and allow people to peacefully assemble on the Capitol steps. As a part of that letter, Sen. Braun and Rep. Wilcox also ask the governor to “clearly define Phase 3 in the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan.” We need to begin steps toward the next phase.
We are also trying to help employers struggling with high increases in their unemployment rates. On Jan. 29, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5061 to provide unemployment tax relief for employers.
Supporting law enforcement and ensuring public safety
This year in the Legislature, our law enforcement officers seem to be under attack like no other year. Tragic events across the nation have brought to light the need for greater accountability with some bad police officers. But a vast majority of police officers are good public servants who deserve our support.
I am serving as ranking Republican on the House Public Safety Committee. Public safety and safe communities have always been a top priority for me. Few professions require someone to put their life on the line and make split-second decisions that impact people's lives, while keeping our families and communities safe.
Recently, I was on TVW's Inside Olympia program with Austin Jenkins and Public Safety Committee Chairman Rep. Roger Goodman as we discussed these issues and more. I invite you to watch that program here.
I was also on Q13 Fox-TV (Seattle) as a guest on The Divide with Brandi Kruse discussing my opposition to controversial bills in the Public Safety Committee, including one that would legalize drugs and another that would limit the use of police K-9s. You can watch that interview here.
Navigating the 2021 virtual session
Here are several helpful links to provide more information as the session continues through April 25.
- My legislative website | Here you will find my contact information, bio, news releases, email updates, videos, opinion pieces, bills, and other information.
- The Capitol Buzz | A weekday roundup of online news stories. Click on the link to subscribe.
- The Current | An online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans.
- TVW | The state's own version of C-SPAN, TVW broadcasts floor and committee action live online.
- The Ledger | A legislative news aggregator.
- Legislature's website | Bill reports, committee agendas, and information about upcoming activities in the Legislature here.
How you can participate in the remote session
One positive that has come from a virtual session is that citizens from all across the state can now participate in the legislative process, including testifying on bills in committee from the comfort of their homes. Here is a good guide to help you participate: Accessing the Legislature Remotely. Please note that you can sign up in advance to remotely testify on a bill during committee meetings. You may also submit written comments. Here are some other helpful links:
Join us for a Zoom 14th District Town Hall Meeting
Here's another way you can participate. Join Rep. Chris Corry and me for a Zoom Town Hall Meeting, March 17 at 6 p.m. on your computer. We will be providing an update of the legislative session and taking your questions. Advance registration is required. Go here to register. We look forward to talking with you.
Listen to my radio interviews
I am on KIHR – Hood River every other Wednesday morning at 8:15 and on KLCK Radio – Goldendale/The Dalles every other Friday morning at 8 a.m. I invite you to tune in. You can also listen to these programs below:
Please stay in touch!
It is very helpful for me to hear from you and your neighbors on the issues of importance to the 14th District. Please call, write or email my office. The best legislation comes from you.
Thank you for your involvement and input as we work together to make our district and our state a better place to live, work and raise a family.
Honored to serve you,