Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The short, 60-day legislative session convenes on Monday, Jan. 10. Recently, the House of Representatives operating plan was announced.
I am extremely disappointed. The Executive Rules Committee (ERC) led by four top Democrats voted to ban legislators from the House floor during the session unless they agree to share their medical records with the government affirming they have received the COVID vaccine. The three Republicans on the ERC voted no. Some of the legislators banned have received the vaccine but object to the overreach by the ERC requiring them to share their personal medical records. Other legislators have serious medical conditions that cause them to fear for their health and safety if they are forced to be vaccinated against their will. Still, others feel that receiving the vaccine would violate their sincere religious beliefs.
The public will be allowed into the House chambers if they show proof of a negative COVID test but the same is not the case with legislators. Legislators who have been vaccinated will be allowed onto the House floor, with no testing required, even while other legislators who have tested negative will not be allowed. The science has shown us that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can contract and infect others with COVID in approximate equal numbers. Therefore, if testing is required shouldn't all legislators be tested? If it's truly about safety, not politics, then the obvious answer is yes.
Last session lacked transparency with the public and legislators essentially shutout of the Capitol Campus. I am hopeful we can come up with a more open, transparent plan that will allow for more interaction between legislators and the public before we start session on Jan. 10.
Long-term care tax
I have heard from many of you frustrated with the new long-term payroll tax that will fund the state Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program or WA Cares Fund. The tax kicks in on Jan. 1, 2022. All W-2 employees in Washington will be subject to the tax, which will start at 58 cents for every $100 earned.
The tax comes from legislation passed by the Democratic majority in the 2019 session. I did not support this legislation as it is deeply flawed.
- It would provide a lifetime benefit of $36,500, much less than what people will likely pay into it.
- It may only pay for a few months of long-term care services.
- Out-of-state employees will be required to pay into the program but cannot use it.
- If you pay into the program but retire to a different state, you are not able to use it.
- The opt-out window was much too short for most as the private insurance market was unprepared for the massive number of applicants seeking an exemption from the program.
- There is no guarantee Democrats will not raise the rate in the future to keep the fund actuarily sound with so many people wanting out of the program.
House Republicans have called for a repeal of this payroll tax, and recently several opponents of the mandatory tax filed a class action lawsuit seeking to stop the January start of the program. I expect there will be several bills to either repeal or amend this flawed law in the upcoming session.
We can do a better job of long-term care planning, but this poor public policy is not the answer. For more on this tax and program click here.
Amending police reform legislation
Last session, there were a number of bills passed into law related to police reform. I am supportive of improving the public's trust in law enforcement and strengthening accountability with officers, but some of the legislation has been problematic and led to unintended consequences. Officers have had to stand down in certain circumstances while suspects have fled the crime scene and there are also limits under which police can detain suspects. Criminals are taking advantage of these new laws.
You can find articles, editorials and examples of how this legislation is impacting local law enforcement, mental health professionals and putting our communities at risk by clicking why police reform bills have made communities less safe. I urge you to check it out. This a serious public safety issue that we must fix.
I look forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle to ensure our officers and mental health professionals can effectively and safely do their job, while still holding law enforcement accountable for their actions.
Revenue forecast stays strong, no new taxes needed
Last week, Washington state had another strong revenue forecast. While your tax dollars continue to fill the state coffers, folks are dealing with inflation, higher fuel prices, and the economic pressures surrounding the pandemic.
I can assure you in the upcoming session I will be working hard to protect your hard-earned dollars and speak out against more tax increases while advocating for tax cuts, specifically property taxes. It would help our seniors and those on fixed incomes stay in their homes, and it is a step in the right direction to addressing our affordable housing crisis.
The last few years, Democrats have raised taxes despite record revenues. Last year, they passed and the governor signed a capital gains income tax into law, despite strong opposition from me and my Republican colleagues.
The voters backed it up. Like all tax bills, the capital gains income tax bill went to the November ballot for a vote, Advisory Vote 37. You, the citizens of Washington, voted by more than 61% that the measure should be repealed. It failed in 36 of 39 counties, including Snohomish County by a vote of more than 65% supporting a repeal of the capital gains tax.
Improving our election system
This interim I have traveled to Arizona and South Dakota to get a firsthand look at election audit information and meet with other legislators and elected officials to see what I can do to ensure the election process in Washington state is completely secure. I am working on legislation to strengthen our election laws through the legislative process. I will have more details when session starts but issues I am looking at include:
- verification of citizenship to vote;
- requiring only official, watermarked paper ballots to be accepted; and
- allowing a voter to review their ballot via an anonymous QR code.
A single illegal vote disenfranchises a legal vote, that is unacceptable. Fair and secure elections should not be a partisan issue. Voters should feel confident their vote counts and that there is no wrongdoing in our election system.
With the governor's controversial actions over the last 18 months, I have heard from thousands of you. I appreciate all the comments, concerns, and feedback. I urge you to continue to stay engaged. Below are some websites and news services that will allow you to stay on top of 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.
Because of election year activity restrictions, I cannot send email updates or newsletters until the legislative session convenes on Jan. 10. However, if you have any questions about this update, the upcoming session or state government-related matters, I can respond to direct communications so please do not hesitate to contact my office. I appreciate your input and feedback on the issues impacting our state and communities in the 39th District.
It is an honor to serve you!
Robert J. Sutherland
WA State Representative, District 39