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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I hope you are doing well during this prolonged and difficult season we're in. This is a very challenging time for most people in Washington. The COVID-19 situation has resulted in closed schools and businesses, delayed important medical procedures, prevented families from being together for weddings, funerals and church services, more than one million people in our state out of work, resulted in criminals literally being released into our streets, and it has taken the lives of some of our seniors and those with vulnerable health conditions.

How our world changed in three months

In February when the 2020 legislative session was in full swing, few people had really heard about the coronavirus. Our state's unemployment rate was at a record low and the state budget was enjoying a $2.4 billion surplus.

We ended the scheduled 60-day legislative session March 12. One of the final bills we passed, which I voted for, provided $200 million to assist with the COVID-19 response. On March 23, the governor enacted his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

Today, more than 1.4 million claims have been filed for unemployment in the past two months — an unfortunate record for the state. More than 230,000 small businesses across Washington have been closed since March 25 by order of Gov. Jay Inslee. And we learned Wednesday that the state now faces a budget shortfall of at least $7 billion or more through mid-2023 due to the coronavirus.

How I have responded

I have been spending a lot of time since the legislative session ended answering questions from constituents, providing information, and assisting where possible. I have participated in frequent conference calls with the governor's office, other legislators, state agency officials and other leaders in the state.

Going into this shutdown, I have initially done my part to stay home and stay safe under the governor's order, just like most people. However, you did not elect me to stay home and stay quiet. I have been working to advocate on your behalf and on behalf of the thousands of residents within the 17th Legislative District as we navigate this unprecedented COVID-19 time together.

This includes authoring and signing onto letters asking Gov. Jay Inslee to ease portions of his fist-tight closure/stay home orders, including:

  • A letter on March 27 asking the governor to declare licensed firearms dealers as essential businesses.
  • A letter on March 31 asking the governor to reclassify residential construction as an essential service.
  • A letter on April 2 I wrote asking the governor to declare faith-based organizations as a critical sector (essential workforce).
  • A letter on April 20 asking the governor to start reopening the economy in rural Washington.
  • A second letter requesting the governor revise the proposed housing rules under the Emergency Regulations for Agricultural Employers, (known as the Bunk Bed Rule), since the agriculture industry is approaching crisis mode in the need for workers to keep the food chain moving.
  • A letter on May 1 requesting a decentralization approach to Washington state's recovery form the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

Knowing this shutdown would drastically affect people and business owners across our state, I was among the first legislators to suggest the Legislature call itself back into special session to make decisions regarding the state's response to COVID-19, including checks and balances on the governor's emergency powers. I participated in a virtual news conference on April 21 with other legislators who also urged an immediate special session.

The governor has said it is likely he may call a special session in the summer after the state Economic Revenue and Forecast Council releases its quarterly revenue report June 17, or later as we approach fall. That's much later than needed, people have been suffering in our state unnecessarily for far too long.

In the past two years, Democrats in the Legislature increased taxes by nearly $10 billion. You can see the details here. We need to say NO to any further proposed tax increases and find real ways to ease the burdens on families and businesses that are already hurting because of this devastated economy.

Reopening Washington state

On April 17, legislative Republicans released their Safe Economic Restart Plan. The plan recommends three sets of actions our state can take to safely restart our state economy and create the foundation for a long-term recovery.

In addition, I submitted an opinion-editorial to The Reflector, calling for the governor to accelerate reopening of Washington state. You can read that article here.

Some have been critical of me attending rallies calling on the governor to safely reopen the state, including construction, elective surgeries, fishing and parks, and our small businesses. As I said, you didn't elect me to stay home and stay quiet. These events forced the governor to face reality – not everyone was voting for the Stay at Home order with their compliance.

Guess what? Our actions have led the way for positive change. The governor responded by allowing limited construction projects that had been underway to proceed. He opened 100 state parks for day-use recreation. Fishing, hunting and public access to wildlife areas and boat ramps also reopened. He is allowing some elective surgeries. He announced a four-phase plan to re-open Washington's businesses. Clearly, it's too slow of a timeline to truly help our economy get going again before more irreparable damage is done beyond the businesses and jobs that have already been lost.

Finally, the governor said 10 counties (Pend Oreille, Ferry, Lincoln, Columbia, Garfield, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kittitas, Skamania and Wahkiakum) that have not been hit as hard by COVID-19, might be able to open sooner. The counties would be able to apply to the Department of Health for a variance from his new order, which would allow them to move on to the next phase more quickly.

I believe that without this pressure through the rallies, letters, opinion editorials, conference phone calls and meetings with his staff, all of us would still be under a strict lockdown — ironically, while the governor is letting more than 1,000 inmates from state prisons back into our local communities due to the COVID-19 virus. How does this make any sense?

Surprisingly, the governor has extended his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order until May 31. And under his four-phase plan, at best, it would be mid-July before our state is fully reopened, which is much longer than other states, including Colorado and Idaho. We can make sure people stay safe and healthy, but we also need to respect Washingtonians' overall well-being and individual rights. I will continue to fight to get Washington working again safely now!

Coronavirus | Information and resources

These five websites are great sources of information and resources for the coronavirus – please feel free to visit any or all of them. All five are updated frequently. The Department of Health also has a phone number you can call: 1-800-525-0127.

Allowing parents to choose where their children attend school

Many parents have expressed their frustrations with the teachings of public schools, much of which is mandated by the Legislature and backed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which does not necessarily reflect their values — comprehensive K-12 sex education among those. Parents want options other than what is now available for their children. I responded during the 2020 legislative session by introducing House Bill 2933. The measure would establish the Education Choice Scholarship Program. Under the program, the education money allocated to a child in a public school could instead be used to attend a private school or fund home-based learning.

Although the bill did not get a public hearing, it did receive the attention of a major in-state publication, The Lens, which did a feature article entitled, “Stakeholders make case for education choice.” You can read that article here. I plan to push for this legislation again next year.

2020 Legislative Review newsletter

This week, my 2020 Legislative Review newsletter began arriving in mailboxes throughout the 17th District. The newsletter gives a review of the successes and disappointments of the 60-day legislative session, which ended March 12. I invite you to read it here.

Upcoming election-year restrictions

During the interim, I maintain a district office at 11815 N.E. 113th St., Suite 110 in Vancouver. My assistant, Patty Daniells, is happy to take your calls. Our district office phone number is (360) 258-1466.

Beginning May 11, election-year restrictions take effect. This means I will not be able to send you email updates like this one until after Secretary of State Kim Wyman certifies the November election results. The exception to this rule would be if we went into a special session. However, I can respond to constituents who contact me throughout the year. I welcome your emails, calls and letters.

You'll find my other contact information below. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!

Sincerely,


Vicki Kraft

State Representative Vicki Kraft, 17th Legislative District
RepresentativeVickiKraft.com
436 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
vicki.kraft@leg.wa.gov
360-786-7994 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000