Security, budget COVID-19 key issues as state legislators start session

  • Tuesday, January 12, 2021 8:45am
  • News

By Joseph Claypoole, Sydney Brown and Patric Haerle

WNPA News Service

Increased security is expected around the Capitol building in Olympia Jan. 11 for the start of the 2021 Legislative session.

The decision to add security follows the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C,. and incursions onto the property of the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia Wednesday, where protestors forced open a gate and advanced to the mansion porch.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday laid the blame for both events on President Trump.

“The President of the United States has continually fueled this insurrection with his outright deceptions, his deceit

and his continued lies,” Inslee said. “He needs to step down, he needs to be removed.”

For legislators, the attacks mean solving security concerns so the session can start safely.

State Republican and Democratic leaders have agreed they should meet in person on the opening day of the

Legislature, and all expressed confidence in the Legislative Building’s security. After the opening session, most

Legislative affairs will largely take place online because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said: “It’s important for the public to see lawmakers do their work. We have to be able to manage this crisis as a

democracy,” Dhingra said.

Concern and shock over the events in Olympia and Washington D.C. are common themes voiced by legislators.

“We never thought that what happened at our nation’s capital would happen in America,” Dhingra said. “And it did.”

Security has joined a myriad of issues at the forefront of legislators’ minds, which include budget increases, pandemic assistance and health care improvements.

Budget up

This year’s legislature won’t just be about numbers and budgets: it will explore social inequities, the proper role of policing and just how much authority the governor is due.

Inslee said his budget proposal specifies funds for marginalized communities, who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. His plans to address these issues include forming independent agencies to investigate police violence, expanding early childhood education and increasing access to health care.

“You can’t just address economic disparities without recognizing racial disparities,” he said Jan. 7.

Dhingra said legislators went to work on prefiled bills that address concerns around use-of-force techniques by law enforcement. Dhingra said that some of these bills, which includes legislation to ban the use of neck restraints and tear gas on civilians, could keep police accountable. Dhingra said coming legislation should also address inequality of health care and COVID-19 cases within underserved communities.

“I have seen the difference in the haves and the have-nots, and it is so stark in our state,” Dhingra said.

Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander people and Hispanic people are nine times as likely to contract the coronavirus when compared to white people, according to a July report from the state Department of Health. Hospitalization and death rates are also higher for these groups.

A 2018 report conducted by the Women’s Commission and the Housing Justice Project found Black and Latinx residents were more likely to be evicted than white residents. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found in a June 2020 study that nationally, black and Latinx residents are most likely to experience rent burden and eviction notices.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said lawmakers will examine issues with racial equality in mind. This perspective has support from both political parties.

“For too long the things we’ve passed in legislation have not had that equity lens,” Jinkins said.

Inslee said the COVID-19 outbreak revealed “fissures” in the distribution of resources for communities of color that he addresses in his budget proposal.

Some legislators will re-examine the emergency powers held by the governor this session in the wake of the restrictions put in place to blunt the spread of COVID-19. Currently, the governor may prohibit certain in-person activities if done to preserve public health.

COVID relief

Desperately needed COVID-19 relief is a top priority and both parties agree aid needs to get out quickly.

The parties are split, however, when it comes to increasing some taxes to erase a pandemic-caused revenue shortfall.

Jinkins outlined some of the early action economic relief Democrats have lined up. This included, among other things: at least $300 million for rental and utility assistance, $120 million for business assistance grants; and $25 million for food assistance. She said they want to reduce state taxes on

pandemic emergency Paycheck Protection Program federal funds, currently subject to the state Business and Occupation tax, and waive property fees and lower property tax rates for businesses. She also said they would propose tapping the state’s rainy-day funds to help pay for the proposals.

Inslee said he proposes lowering unemployment insurance taxes for small businesses and financing the working families tax credit with a new capital gains tax. He said the governor’s office projects that fewer than 2% of the state’s population would be affected by the increase. He said he favors that option over increasing existing taxes, which already lean too heavily on working families.

“Our tax system, frankly, is a scandalous situation, because it rewards the wealthiest and puts the demands to finance the needs of Washingtonians on those who can meet that need the least,” Inslee said.

Dhingra agreed.

“We’re talking about the homelessness issue, the eviction moratorium being lifted. We haven’t even started talking about a foster care situation that was already struggling,” Dhingra said. “And we have police accountability issues to deal with…We can write pretty words on a piece of paper and pass

them, but if you really want to help people, you have to put the dollars behind those words.”

Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said the legislature needs to carefully weigh adding new taxes.

“We are learning a lot about the needs and the things that we have before us,” Short said, “but the last thing we

should be doing is raising taxes on our family owned businesses and our job creators in the state of Washington. The

fastest way we can get people back on their feet is to get them their jobs back.”

The Washington State Journal is a nonprofit news website managed by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Learn more at wastatejournal.org.

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