Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On Thursday we received good news as the governor announced his Phase 3 plan. Effective on March 22 all counties will move to Phase 3. He is also abandoning his regional approach and going to a county-by-county plan.
It was Jan. 5, when the governor announced his “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” plan, and since Feb. 14 all counties have been stuck in Phase 2.
I had hoped this would have happened sooner and Republicans in the Legislature have been advocating for a Phase 3. In fact, Republicans introduced a plan last week, “Open Safe, Open Now” or House Bill 1553. It also proposed a local approach as well as getting businesses open to 50% immediately. I am pleased to see the governor used some of the elements of this plan.
Here are some details of the governor's plan:
- Counties will be individually evaluated every three weeks. The evaluations will occur on Mondays with any changes taking effect Friday. The first evaluation is April 12.
- Large and small counties will have different sets of criteria. If any county fails one or more of the metrics, that county will move down a Phase.
- If at any point the statewide ICU capacity reaches greater than 90%, all counties will move down a Phase. The Department of Health has the ability to move a county forward or backward at their discretion.
- In-person spectators will be allowed at sporting events at outdoor venues with permanent seating – capacity capped at 25%. The change effects professional and high school sports, motorsports, rodeos, and other outdoor events. Social distancing and facial covering are still required.
- The new phase also allows for up to 400 people maximum to attend outdoor activities, as well as events in indoor facilities — the 400 people cannot exceed 50% capacity for the location. Larger venue events are capped at 25% occupancy, or up to 9,000 people, whichever is less. Social distancing and facial covering are still required.
- Phase 3 will also allow up to 50% occupancy or 400 people maximum, whichever is lower, for all indoor spaces. This applies to all industries and indoor activities currently allowed; restaurants, gyms and fitness centers and movie theaters, among others. A full list of industry-level changes for the new phase will be released next week.
Here is an outline of the metrics:
As our COVID rates, hospitalizations and other metric numbers continue to decrease, I am hopeful we can move to Phase 4 in the near future. The citizens of Washington have made great sacrifices through this pandemic. It has been over a year since the governor declared an emergency. I am also hopeful we can look at emergency-powers reform. It is imperative all legislators have a voice to represent their districts and not have one-person rule for over a year.
Problematic legislation passes House
The last couple of weeks we have spent long days and nights debating bills on the virtual House floor. Many pass with strong bipartisan support, but there have also been a number of bills that are very concerning. Below is a breakdown of some of those bills.
- House Bill 1091 | Low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) mandate | This debate lasted more than five hours as Republicans tried to make this bad bill better. The LCFS could drive the price of gas up by as much as 57 cents a gallon, and diesel as high as 63 cents a gallon, without generating any new revenue for transportation projects. It would hurt our economy and do little to improve air quality. The people have rejected many carbon-pricing concepts. It passed the House 52-46. (Watch my floor speeches on HB 1091.)
- House Bill 1054 | Police tactics and equipment | This would take away tools police officers rely on to de-escalate situations and avoid the need to use deadly force, and make the job of police officers even more dangerous. It passed 54-43.
- House Bill 1310 | Use of force by officers | This bill fails to recognize a number of circumstances where force may be required to ensure public safety. Officers are professionals and should be held to a professional standard (i.e., the “reasonable officer standard”). This bill undercuts the reasonable officer standard established in I-940. Passed the House 55-42.
- House Bill 1078 | Felon voting rights | Would automatically restore felon voting rights before completed sentences, including for those who committed heinous violent and sexual offenses. Passed the House 57-41. Watch my floor speech.
- House Bill 1076 | Qui Tam actions | This bill would incentivize attorneys to seek out private citizens to sue the government so they could reap a portion of the financial award. This type of system is ripe for abuse and there is no safeguard to prevent a surge in frivolous lawsuits. This just adds to the many things employers must worry about with changing employment laws and the governor's proclamation. Passed the House 53-44. Watch our caucus video on this debate, which features part of my speech.
We still have many difficult battles ahead of us in the House – income tax on capital gains, transportation packages with proposed fuel tax increases, and what to do about the Supreme Court ruling on felony drug possession. I can assure you I will be working hard to protect your hard-earned money and oppose any measures that threaten the public safety of our communities.
I urge you to stay in touch if you have any questions, concerns, or comments on legislation before us or any other state government issue. With many controversial pieces of legislation still moving, I urge you to check out this website. It describes in detail how to stay engaged and follow the Legislature during the remote session. It also provides helpful links including how to testify remotely.
It is an honor to represent the 39th District!
Robert J. Sutherland
WA State Representative, District 39