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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The 2021 session began Jan. 11. After months of being shut out of the legislative process and Gov. Jay Inslee ruling the state through emergency proclamations since last March, we are anxious and ready to get back to work and bring the people's voice to the state Capitol.

The People's House: Closed to the people

It was an opening day of the session like no other. Gov. Inslee and the Democratic majority closed off the Capitol and surrounding campus from the public. I had to clear two checkpoints before being allowed to enter the building, which was closed to the very people we are supposed to serve — you! Only legislators, a few staff and a handful of reporters were given permission to be inside the People's House. This should be concerning for anyone reading this, no matter who you are. Our government was never intended to function this way, behind closed doors away from the public.

Normally, we arrive in the House chambers and take our seats at our desks on the House floor. On this day, however, we were assigned various locations to sit, socially distanced and wearing masks throughout the chamber. I was assigned to sit in the House gallery, where the public normally watches proceedings. Our voting was done by voice, not electronically, so we had to yell through the masks to be heard at the rostrum. On a day which is normally full of celebration, the response at the Capitol to the virus and the massive security to keep citizens away was completely unacceptable.

Fighting to protect your access to your government

On opening day, we voted on the proposed rules that set up how the House will operate during the legislative session. Normally the rules are a mere formality. However, this year is anything but normal. Majority Democrats, who wrote this year's rules through House Resolution 4600, made it so the legislative session is to be conducted remotely on teleconferencing tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

I am concerned the new virtual format provides far too many situations where technology, and the majority's rules, can stifle constructive discussion. I joined my fellow House Republicans in expressing concern that not only could the minority party be left out of the process, but so could the public. 

During floor sessions and committee hearings, only the person granted permission to speak by the House Speaker or Committee Chair will be viewable by the public. That means unless we, as legislators attending those sessions, are called upon by the Speaker or Chair, we are not visible to the public. This is different than most people are used to on a Zoom or virtual meeting, which would be all legislators appearing on-screen in a panel or gallery format that the public can see.

We fought for a more open and transparent plan, including safely opening the Capitol and committee rooms, keeping people socially distanced so they could testify in person in committees and meet with their lawmakers. Unfortunately, the Democratic-majority rules passed on a party-line vote, 55-39. So for the remainder of session, the Capitol campus in Olympia will remain closed to the public. Many legislators, including me, are now forced to work from home.

Some of our concerns about this “Zoom” session played out less than 24 hours after the rules vote. On Tuesday and Wednesday, snowstorms and wind gusts resulted in major power and internet outages throughout the state. Some members missed their first committee meetings on Tuesday because they could not connect remotely.

How you can get involved

As I noted, all House floor action and committee meetings will be conducted this session via Zoom. They can also be viewed on TVW. Although the Capitol grounds will be closed to the public, there are still ways for you to be involved and influence the legislative process. Here is a good guide to help you participate: Accessing the Legislature Remotely. Please note that you can sign up in advance to remotely testify on a bill during committee meetings. You may also submit written comments. Here are some other helpful links:

Other links of interest from opening week

Committee assignments

I recently received my committee assignments for the 2021-22 biennium. I am serving on the House Capital Budget Committee, the College and Workforce Development Committee, and the Community and Economic Development Committee.

The Capital Budget Committee considers the state capital construction budget, which funds important infrastructure across the state. Being on this committee will allow me to have a voice in bringing more of your hard-earned dollars back to the district for projects that will help to provide jobs.

The College and Workforce Development Committee considers issues related to higher education in Washington. The Community and Economic Development Committee considers issues related to improving small business development and growth, tourism, trade, broadband and emergency preparedness. With the impacts COVID-19 shutdowns have caused, this committee will be discussing and taking action on some of those related issues.

Rep. Vicki Kraft talks with Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, during opening day.

My session priorities

I greatly appreciate the trust and confidence of our 17th District citizens in returning me to a third term in the Washington State House of Representatives. I will work hard for each and every one of you during the 2021 session, bringing your voice to the table on the issues that affect us and our families. Here is a quick look at some of the issues and legislation I plan to address this year.

  • Governor's emergency powers: When the Legislature created the governor's emergency powers many years ago, lawmakers never intended to give the governor extended one-man rule for nearly a year or longer. For nearly 10 months, the governor has dictated through emergency proclamations, how our state is run, picking winners and losers along the way. I will be introducing reform legislation that reins in the governor's emergency power. My bill will remove the imbalance that has occurred these past months between the executive and legislative branches by requiring two-thirds of the Legislature to approve any continuation of a state of emergency. I will also continue to work to safely reopen our state now for our citizens, small businesses and property owners impacted by the shutdown, so we can promote the overall health of all Washingtonians.
  • The K-12 Education Scholarship Program – On Friday, I reintroduced my school choice measure, House Bill 1215, that would give parents the ability to choose the learning environment that best meets their children's needs. The K-12 Education Scholarship Program would provide $7,000 per student to be used for costs related to private school or homeschool instruction. I believe parents should be able to decide how and where their children are educated — not government. The measure has been referred to the House Education Committee. Read my opinion-editorial on this issue.
  • Right to refuse vaccinations – I believe individuals should have the right to decide whether or not to be vaccinated, regardless of whether it is a vaccine against the coronavirus or any other vaccine on the market. No one should be required to be vaccinated, and no one should be denied services, employment or access to public places if they choose not to be vaccinated. This week, I introduced House Bill 1305, which would allow individuals the right to refuse any vaccination or related health measure, so they maintain control of what goes into their own bodies. The measure has been referred to the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

Bad bills already moving forward

It didn't take long for majority Democrats to roll out a series of bad bills to increase the governor's emergency powers, raise taxes and expand abortion coverage. Since much of this session is being conducted online and not as open to the public as before, it's really important that every citizen become involved in their Legislature this year, so we can stop bad bills from becoming law. Feel free to contact my office if you'd like to be added to my email update concerning bills coming through the House so you can sign up and testify on those measures.

Here's a list for this week:

  • Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402 – Democrats in both the Senate and House swiftly passed this bad measure — so quickly, the public was mostly unaware. It indefinitely extends the governor's authority to operate under certain emergency proclamations he has issued in response to COVID. This means until the state of emergency is revoked or if legislative action occurs, the governor simply continues to have the power to keep those proclamations in place indefinitely. Republicans argued against the measure, but it passed the House on Friday with a vote of 54-44. The Senate passed it last Wednesday.
  • Senate Bill 5096 would enact a 9% income tax on capital gains as small as $25,000. Imagine this scenario: A restaurant owner is forced out of business due to the governor's extended shutdown orders. If this bill passes, that owner would face a new income tax when trying to sell the property. In other words, government would make money forcing such closures — very shameful! A public hearing was held on this bill last Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
  • House Bill 1091 would authorize the state Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program, which could increase the cost of gasoline by 57 cents per gallon and diesel by 63 cents per gallon. This would increase costs to the consumer, hurt our economy, and add to the cost of housing. A public hearing was held last Wednesday in the House Environment and Energy Committee. It is scheduled for a committee vote this Thursday, Jan. 21.

Our focus this session should be on getting people back to work, reopening businesses, and getting kids back in school. Above all, as people and businesses are suffering from the COVID shutdown, the Legislature should NOT add to their burdens with higher taxes and more government regulations. There is no need for tax increases. I encourage you to get involved in the remote testimony process and help us fight these bad bills!

Your input is needed and welcome

Government is at its best when people are actively engaged, openly debating, discussing and providing testimony on legislation. Please call my office if you have any questions, comments, ideas or suggestions about state government and legislation.

Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve 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