The Washington state Legislature opened on Jan. 10 against a backdrop of headlines saying “Caseloads push hospitals to limits” and stories of stressed out hospital staff, with Gov. Jay Inslee calling out the National Guard to help with non-medical tasks.
The whole point of the governor’s vaccine mandate was to protect teachers, students, first responders, doctors and nurses.
Much of the conversation was on COVID-19 and how to keep everyone safe, and many of the powers and policies Inslee relied on to respond to COVID-19 will continue to come under fire from Republicans. It helps unite the base when the governor is from the other party.
Even though this is the short 60-day session, the governor’s powers will still be one of the primary topics. Inslee forcefully called the Legislature to action and asked them to respond to major challenges in climate change, homelessness, transportation and mental health. But in the short session, everything will be about politics and re-election.
Several pieces of legislation will need some wording adjustments and each side will want to get vulnerable legislators on the record for use later in their election. The debates over police reform will set the stage for many local elections. Some police bills that were passed last year were opposed by police agencies — and that will be the same this session. State Rep. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way) was the sponsor of several new laws affecting police conduct. According to media sources, as new laws on physical force took effect, some police agencies declined to respond or transport a person who had been involuntary committed. Johnson is sponsoring a bill that makes it clear that police can respond to mental health crises under the use-of- force bill he sponsored last year.
However, the Legislature opened with some controversy and embarrassment. Three Republican state legislators attended a cyber symposium in South Dakota sponsored by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell with taxpayer dollars. The event promised “irrefutable evidence that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.” However, according to media sources, the symposium produced no such proof. The three Washington lawmakers who attended were State Reps. Robert Sutherland (R-Granite Falls), Vicki Kraft (R-Vancouver) and Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick). Kraft and Klippert are running for Congress against incumbents as supporters of Trump. Kraft is running against State Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Battle Ground) in the 3rd District in Southwest Washington, and Klippert is running against State Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside) in Central Washington.
State Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn) had earlier wanted a special two-day legislative session because he was fed up with vaccines and wanted to “rein in” Inslee’s power. Fortunato was actually kicked out of the legislative building in Olympia for intentionally disregarding COVID-19 safety protocol and refusing to get tested prior to entering the building. Several legislators tested positive, and on Jan. 10, the seven-day average was 14,022 cases — three times higher than the previous peak in September 2021.
One would think that legislators could find better things to do with their time than travel to South Dakota on the taxpayers’ money when no proof as been provided that the election was ever stolen from Donald Trump. They all believed their own election was fair and the elections were run at the time by Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican prior to taking a job in the Biden Administration.
Inslee has proposed that legislators tackle climate change and saving the salmon, and there remains housing and homelessness issues that are worthy of debate. State Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) believes the time is right for a tax reduction because the economy has recovered and money isn’t an issue. Add that to the list of issues the Legislature could spend its time on.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.