Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are beginning our third week of the legislative session and there is much to share with you.
The session kicked off on Monday, Jan. 11. It was an opening day unlike any other with hundreds of National Guard, Washington State Patrol and campus security on the campus grounds, most standing behind a tall fence that had been erected to keep the general public out. It was for our safety, we were told, and so I appreciate them being there. But I must add, it did seem excessive to me, the governor ordering so many police to be stationed there with so few citizens who were on the other side of the fence just wanting to see their representatives at work. I even had to ask permission to have the gate unlocked so that I could venture out and talk with fellow Washingtonians. Doing so was the highlight of my day and they were truly appreciative of that. Hopefully things will return to normal soon.
Meanwhile, legislators were inside, masked up and practicing social distancing. We were there for two reasons. First, to vote on the proposed rules for the legislative session, House Resolution (HR) 4600, and then vote for the Speaker of the House. The House, led by a majority of Democrats, passed HR 4600 on a party-line vote, 55-39, meaning the 2021 legislative session will be conducted remotely from our homes instead of in Olympia, save a few selected legislators who will be allowed to work from their offices in Olympia. Legislators will be using teleconferencing tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to conduct business remotely.
My House Republican colleagues and I are concerned about transparency and accessibility with a so-called “virtual” session. It will be much more difficult for citizens to have their voices heard and they will not be able to testify at the Capitol or meet with their representatives in person.
We have already experienced difficulties with the technology. In fact, less than 24 hours after the “virtual” rules were passed and we returned home, a winter storm hit the entire state. We had a number of legislators and staff miss committee hearings and meetings on the second day of session because they were without power and internet service, myself included.
Our state government is designed to have open debates and discussion on proposed legislation, so the public can witness the legislative process in person. Unfortunately, for the remainder of session, the Capitol campus and all the buildings will remain closed to the public.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402
On Friday, Jan. 11 House Republicans debated and voted against Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402. The resolution bundles 26 proclamations issued by the governor during the COVID pandemic and extends them until the end of the state of emergency, or until he or the Legislature rescinds the resolution.
Republicans agree with many of the proclamations, but this resolution continues to let the governor manage a pandemic he has been managing by himself since March. That is not how our government is designed to operate. There needs to be proper balance between the executive and legislative branches of government.
The Legislature is in session, and legislators should be involved in the decision-making process regarding the pandemic and proclamations. That is why our constituents sent us there. We should not be abdicating our responsibility by giving the governor more authority. Instead, we need to be there to find ways to safely reopen Washington and allow citizens to get back to work. Unfortunately, the resolution passed 54-44.
I believe Olympia Democrats have their priorities wrong. We need to be focused on getting people back to work, businesses back open, and our kids back in school. Instead, Democrats have spent the first days of session introducing harmful tax increases. Here are just a few:
Senate Bill 5096 would enact a 9% income tax on capital gains as small as $25,000.
House Bill 1091 would authorize the state Department of Ecology to create a “clean fuels” program, which would increase the cost of gasoline by as much as 57 cents per gallon and diesel by 63 cents per gallon.
As if that were not bad enough, House Democrats' also proposed a massive increase to the state's gas tax. The proposal includes an 18-cent state gas tax increase along with other fees and tax increases. Our transportation infrastructure has been neglected for years and needs attention. However, when folks are not getting a paycheck or are waiting for their unemployment check from the Employment Security Department, businesses are struggling, and people can't pay rent or property taxes, now is not the time to slap citizens with a huge tax increase.
Republicans have introduced legislation to provide unemployment insurance tax relief, suspend B&O tax collections, offer a credit for businesses on their B&O tax liability and move Washington state to Phase 2. These are a few of the priorities we need to focus on immediately.
The Transportation Committee is vitally important for us in the 39th District. I look forward to finding solutions to help improve our transportation system by reducing traffic congestion.
The Community and Economic Development Committee considers issues related to small business development and growth, tourism, trade, broadband and emergency preparedness. Some of these issues take on added importance with the impact of the pandemic and the shutdown of many businesses.
The College and Workforce Development Committee considers issues related to public and independent baccalaureate colleges and universities; public community and technical colleges; and private career schools.
Remote testimony and following the Legislature
With this year's session being “virtual,” it is very important you stay engaged and follow the Legislature as much as you can to hold your elected officials and state government accountable.
The House has opened up remote testimony to all committees and all legislation.
To testify remotely or submit written testimony in the House of Representatives, click here.
To testify remotely or submit written testimony for bills being heard in the Senate, click here.
I also suggest checking out this website. It describes in detail how to remotely access the legislative process in Olympia and contains many helpful links.
Here are some other helpful websites to keep track of what is happening:
- The Washington State Ledger: This is a legislative news aggregator administered by state House Republicans. It is a great source for information related to state government, public policy and the legislative process. Check it out!
- Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
- The Current: This an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans that is sent out every week during the legislative session.
- TVW: The state's own version of C-SPAN, TVW broadcasts floor and committee action live online. This will be an important tool with the session being “virtual.”
If you have any questions, thoughts or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me.
It is an honor to represent the 39th District!
Robert J. Sutherland
WA State Representative, District 39