Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last week, the governor was asked at his press conference if he would consider making changes to his “Roadmap to Recovery” plan. He said “no.” Within 24 hours, he held another press conference announcing he was loosening the standards for the metrics – regions only needed to meet three of the four metrics to advance to Phase 2. On Monday, the most populated areas in the state – Puget Sound Region (Snohomish, King, Pierce counties) and the West Region (Grays Harbor, Pacific, Thurston, Lewis counties) – were advanced to Phase 2.
This is very frustrating as we have spent the past 10 months trying to work with the governor's office to get our communities, businesses and schools reopened. Our communities have been working hard to follow the guidelines and do the right thing.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle are questioning why the governor is leaving our rural, less populated counties with low COVID numbers in Phase 1.
House Republicans have introduced legislation, House Bill 1321, that would move all of Washington to Phase 2. The companion bill, Senate Bill 5114, had more than 1,500 people sign up to support the bill during the public hearing in the Senate.
We are also pushing legislation to help employees, employers and families struggling due to the pandemic. On Jan. 29, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5061 to provide relief for businesses seeing unusually high increases in their unemployment insurance rates. Republicans offered a number of amendments to improve the bill, but they were rejected by the majority party. This is another piece of legislation that could have been passed in a special session to provide assistance much sooner.
COVID relief legislation
On Monday, the House passed House Bill 1368 that would allocate $2.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding. I don't believe the bill goes far enough. We could have done much better. 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. The Republicans offered a different plan, the REAL Recovery for Washington Act. It would have provided approximately $4 billion in relief for working families, small businesses and public health. That is about $1.8 billion more than the Democrats' plan. For a comparison of the two plans check out the chart below.
Washington State Employment Security Department data breach
We have helped hundreds of people navigate claims and issues with the Employment Security Department since the pandemic started. This week, the Washington State Auditor announced a security breach might have exposed sensitive, personal information of citizens, particularly those who made unemployment claims in 2020.
If you contacted my legislative office in the past regarding an unemployment claim with the state Employment Security Department, I wanted to make you aware of the incident and provide links to information below if you are concerned you may be affected.
- About the Accellion data security breach | What you need to know
Please let me know if you have additional questions or concerns.
Gas tax and Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS)
House Democrats recently unveiled a massive gas tax proposal that includes a two-year phased-in 18 cents per gallon gas tax increase. On top of that, they are looking at a carbon fee which could raise the price of gas by nearly a $1 per gallon. Included in the gas tax plan is a 50% increase in license plate fees, and increases to trailer fees, trip permit fees, quick title fees, RV fees and car rental fees. Their proposal would increase transportation spending by $26 billion over the next 16 years, but leave billions of maintenance and preservation projects unfinished. It also would tie the gas tax to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), so the tax would continue to increase without any legislative input or oversight.
Headlines on the gas tax:
- Washington House Democrats propose massive gas and carbon tax (KXLY)
- Proposal could make Washington state's gas tax highest in US (KING TV)
- Gas taxes and fees could reach $1 per gallon under new Washington state transportation proposal (The Seattle Times)
- Democratic lawmakers propose massive gas tax increase to fund transportation (MyNorthwest)
The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) proposal, House Bill 1091, would authorize the state Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program, and mandate a LCFS that would reduce carbon in fuels by 20% by 2035 and a 95% reduction by 2050. This legislation would increase the price of food, housing and other goods, but not generate any revenue for transportation projects.
Both of these proposals couldn't be introduced at a worse time. Some are still waiting for their unemployment checks, business owners are struggling or waiting to open their doors again, and some people are struggling to pay rent and mortgages. These proposals also hit our rural and low-income communities the hardest.
Republicans have offered proposals to reprioritize the transportation budget, including shifting the sales tax revenue paid on vehicles from the operating budget to the transportation budget. The backlog of preservation and maintenance projects needs to be completed with existing revenue and the projects finished in a timely manner. We also need to look at the regulatory burdens that are driving up costs on transportation projects.
Marijuana licensing and zoning
My House Bill 1414, that would align marijuana licensing decisions by the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) with local zoning ordinances had a public hearing this week in the Commerce and Gaming Committee. The legislation gives local government more input on the licensing process.
The bill would prohibit the LCB from issuing a new or renewed marijuana license if the board has received a written objection from a local jurisdiction stating the marijuana license violates local zoning ordinances.
Fuel tax transparency
Maybe the third time is a charm for my gas tax transparency legislation. House Bill 1222 would make the posting of state and federal fuel tax rate information by fuel pump inspectors permanent. The bill has stalled in the Senate the last two sessions.
The posting of fuel tax rates on pumps was passed as part of the 2017-19 transportation budget, but it expired at the end of June 2019 when the budget expired.
I believe transparency must come with taxation. Consumers already know what taxes they are paying on most services and goods. It should not be any different with fuel. There is no additional cost, as the stickers would be affixed by the Washington State Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures Division during fuel pump inspections.
As the “virtual” legislative session progresses, I urge you to stay engaged and follow the Legislature. Check out: How you can be involved in the legislative process. It has a variety of helpful links ranging from contacting your elected officials, tracking legislation, testifying remotely and more.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or comments regarding our state government or the legislative session.
It is an honor to serve the 12th District!