Dear Friends and Neighbors,
While the legislative session adjourned at the end of April, I represent you year round. Each month I plan to update you with what is happening in state government, the 39th District and issues I am working on. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology
This year the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5000, which would create a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle pilot sales and use tax exemption program. Click here to watch my floor speech. I am excited about the future of hydrogen fuel cell technology. I recently participated in a meeting that seeks to expand the production and use of hydrogen here in Washington state. Stay tuned for more information on this in the months ahead.
Snohomish County Food and Farming
I recently signed a letter with other Snohomish County legislators urging U.S. Senator Patty Murray to support funding for the Snohomish County Food and Farming Center. The Center would allow for off farm processing and group distribution and sales. Snohomish County farmers could desperately use a regional processing approach as they are not connected to a central food hub. Currently, each farmer must do their own distribution.
The funding would also go toward a commercial kitchen to provide year-round income for producers as well as potential export products. Individuals would be able to rent a shared-use kitchen for hourly or daily time blocks to avoid high startup costs. Click here to read more about the project.
I continue to pursue property tax relief. You may recall, I drafted legislation last session that would eliminate the state portion of property taxes over a four- to five-year time period. This year I introduced House Bill 1371, that would use a phased approach to eliminate the state portion of property taxes. How do I “pay for it”? By using surplus funds generated each year by taxpayers. We already pay too much, shouldn't we get some of it back? I say 'yes' and I will continue to push the majority party for a public hearing on property tax relief.
As our economy starts to see signs of returning to normal, now is the perfect time to allow folks to keep some of their hard-earned money. Not only would it help stimulate the economy, but it would help our seniors and those on fixed incomes stay in their homes and contribute to addressing our state's affordable housing crisis.
If you have any ideas, thoughts or suggestions please feel free to reach out. Some of the best ideas for legislation come from our constituents.
I am hearing from many who are concerned about “vaccine passports” being used to restrict Washington residents from public places. In Washington state there are announcements that proof of being vaccinated may be required to return to work, school, travel, or attend public events.
Discrimination based on vaccination status is a civil rights issue and should be prohibited by law. House Republicans introduced legislation this session, House Bill 1570, that would prohibit government agencies, schools, employers, and businesses that serve the public from discriminating against people who choose not to be vaccinated for COVID.
Recently, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) released new COVID workplace safety and health guidance relating to masking and social distancing policies. Information released by the department includes:
- Before ending mask and social distance requirements, employers must confirm workers are fully vaccinated – by having the worker either sign a document attesting to their status or provide proof of vaccination.
- Employers must be able to demonstrate they have verified vaccination status for workers who are not masked or physically distanced. Verification methods may include:
- Creating a log of workers who have verified they've been vaccinated and the date of verification;
- Checking vaccination status each day as workers enter a job site;
- Marking a worker's badge or credential to show that they are vaccinated; or
- Other methods demonstrating an employer has verified worker vaccination status may also meet the standard.
State agencies requiring employers to ask their employees if they are fully vaccinated is unacceptable. This violates an employee's privacy and is their own personal medical privacy. Choosing whether or not to be vaccinated is a decision that should be made between an individual and their doctor, not the state and their employer. What ever happened to the Democrats position of it's “my body, my choice”?
Many are frustrated by the governor's excessive actions
Last month, the governor announced a short-term statewide move to Phase 3 and reopening date of June 30. While this is good news, Republicans in Olympia have repeatedly pushed for the state to reopen sooner.
As I have mentioned in previous email updates, during the session we made many efforts to reopen Washington at a quicker pace, and address emergency powers reform to give us more input in how to handle decisions during the declared “emergency.” Unfortunately, we adjourned without emergency powers reform. The executive branch has had too much power as we have been under one-person control for 15 months.
In fact, since we adjourned, majority Democrats and other groups have expressed frustration and concern with the governor and some of his actions.
First, on May 4 when he put a two-week pause on the state's reopening it meant Pierce County would continue to be stuck in Phase 2 while surrounding counties were in Phase 3. Pierce County lawmakers from both parties were extremely frustrated and penned a letter to the governor asking him to re-examine his plan “with an eye toward public health, public support, equity and consistency.” The governor eventually reconsidered and moved all counties to Phase 3. For more on this issue check out the stories below:
- Democrats threaten Inslee with special session over state's reopening plan (KCPQ TV)
- 'The goalpost has moved too many times': Petition calls on Gov. Inslee to reopen Washington by June 15 (KREM TV)
- EDITORIAL: 'I was pretty mad': Tacoma's top lawmaker not fond of Inslee's erratic COVID-19 plan (The News Tribune)
The governor was able to get pieces of his controversial climate change agenda passed this session, the low-carbon fuel standard (House Bill 1091) and cap and trade (Senate Bill 5126) through the Legislature. However, he vetoed provisions in both measures that tied the legislation's taking effect to a transportation funding package. His climate agenda will be implemented with or without a plan. He infuriated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with his actions. Legal challenges are expected as many believe his vetoes are unconstitutional.
- Washington tribal leaders, legislators slam Inslee over vetoes in climate bills (The Seattle Times)
- Inslee signs major climate bills, but not without partial vetoes; Legislative leadership threaten lawsuit (The Spokesman-Review)
- Tribal leaders, legislators condemn Inslee's surprise veto of tribal human rights provisions in Climate Commitment Act (Washington State Wire)
- Southwest Washington lawmakers decry Inslee's partial veto of bills (The Columbian)
- Inslee draws bipartisan flak for line-item vetoes (Lens)
The Legislature challenged the governor when he vetoed sentences of the transportation budget in 2019. The legislative branch prevailed in Thurston County Superior Court in June 2020. The state Supreme Court is expected to hear this case next month.
Finally, some of the large agricultural organizations have expressed frustration with the governor and his farmworker masking and socially distancing rules. Top executives for the ag groups were concerned there is a double standard for the agricultural community, this at a time when the 2021 harvest seasons were getting underway. The state has since relaxed some of the ag rules, but it is another example of our executive branch and state agencies making decisions without fully vetting the issue. Check out the story below for more background.
Many of these issues could have been avoided if we had passed emergency powers reform. All 147 lawmakers representing 49 diverse districts should be part of a collaborative process to share the interests and concerns of the citizens we represent, especially after 15 months of operating under an emergency declaration and proclamations. Control from one branch of government is not the way our government was intended to function.
Following state government
I have listed some websites/news services I encourage you to follow during the interim to keep up on what is happening with our state government.
- Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
- 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. It is updated frequently.
- The Current: This an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans that is sent out every week during the legislative session and every month during the interim.
Please do not hesitate to contact me to set up a meeting, speaking engagement, tour or ask any questions you may have regarding the Legislature or state government. Your questions, concerns or comments help me serve the 39th District.
It is an honor to serve you!
Robert J. Sutherland
WA State Representative, District 39