Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We have passed some major milestones in the past week. Feb. 11 marked one month that we've been in the “virtual” 2021 session, conducting nearly all legislative business via remote computer programs, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. As mentioned in my first newsletter this year, we should all be back in person in Olympia to serve the people in the people's house.
First major cutoffs
Monday, Feb. 15, was the first major deadline of the session — house of origin policy cutoff. All policy bills that have not passed their respective committees in the chamber where they originated are now considered “dead” for the year. Monday, Feb. 22 is the next major “cutoff.” All fiscal bills (those that require funding) that have not passed their respective committees in the chamber where they originated will also be “dead” for the session. Exceptions are bills necessary to implement the budget. Of course, any bill could be “resurrected” at any time if there is enough support to suspend the rules.
Budget plans emerge
The biggest task of the Legislature in odd-numbered years is to develop and pass a budget that funds the operations of state government for the next two years. Gov. Inslee proposed his budget plan back in December that would rely on increased taxes to fund bigger government. Normally, the governor's budget proposal is used as a benchmark to begin budget discussions. However, Republicans in both the House and Senate agree — new taxes should not be on the table. Especially given the fact that families and employers across the state are financially struggling as jobs have been lost and businesses have been forced to curtail operations because of the governor's COVID-19 shutdowns.
Earlier in the week, my House Republican colleagues released a state operating budget plan. The framework would fund priorities for working families, in-person student education, small businesses, and all of Washington, with no cuts to vital services — and most importantly — NO NEW TAXES.
The House Republican proposal includes more than $6 billion in savings, many which were recommended by state agencies as a part of their budget evaluation exercise last year. Yet no vital services are affected.
In addition, it appropriates $1.8 billion from the state's rainy-day fund to pay for one-time COVID-related relief and expenses. This includes a tax credit for working families, additional money for schools to help students who have fallen behind academically, and tax relief for restaurants and other hard-hit businesses.
You can read more about the House Republican budget from these links:
Majority party largely ignores Republican-sponsored legislation, cuts off citizens comments
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville spend eight months traveling America. In his book, Democracy in America (1835 and 1840), he noted about our beloved country, “the establishment of a democracy and a republic.” De Tocqueville also discussed what he called the “tyranny of the majority.” He said the one thing that bothered him about democracy is that in a society made up of equal citizens, the majority is always right. To de Tocqueville, a majority of equals, just like a single all-powerful ruler, could abuse its power.
He feared that American citizens would become so satisfied with being equal to one another that they would abandon their deep interest and involvement in self-government. If this should happen, cautioned de Tocqueville, government would grow more powerful and in a kindly sort of way, cover society with “a network of petty, complicated rules.” Far from dissolving into anarchy, American government under these conditions could become as oppressive as any cruel European monarchy. Americans would end up having equality through slavery.
Unfortunately, this scenario is playing itself out in this remote legislative session. Citizens who log in to testify on bills have found themselves abruptly cut off by the committee chair after only 60 seconds of testimony. While a flurry of Democratic-sponsored bills were being passed out of their respective committees, majority party chairs have allowed few Republican bills to come to a vote — and many Republican-sponsored measures were not even allowed to have a public hearing.
And then we've had Gov. Inslee ruling by executive order and emergency proclamations since last March, as our pleas for a special session to allow the Legislature to address the pandemic crisis were largely ignored.
My Republican colleagues and I have had these concerns from the very first day of the legislative session when we voted against House rules that provided for this remote session. In a normal legislative session where people are gathered, we cannot be ignored when we are in the same room with lawmakers from the majority party. It's much easier to be dismissive to someone when you're behind a computer screen controlling the virtual program, and don't have to look at them eye-to-eye.
De Tocqueville's said, “If ever freedom is lost in America, that will be due to the . . . majority driving minorities to desperation.” Geographically, Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate represent more than two-thirds of the state of Washington. Constitutionally, every lawmaker elected to the Legislature represents every citizen of the state of Washington, regardless of party affiliation. I believe all of those people should have equal access and representation in the Legislature — and their issues/bills should be heard and considered — not just the majority, those who primarily live in the populated areas of Puget Sound.
I am extremely disappointed that good legislation I proposed was set aside while the majority party spent time on bills that would take more of your money, chip away at your Second Amendment rights, eliminate the use of natural gas in Washington state — and thereby decimate an entire industry and its jobs — and working to pass a bill that would designate a state dinosaur. These clearly are not priorities shared by most Washington citizens.
Although deadlines for these bills have now passed, I will work to find other ways this session to advance these and similar policies, such as through the amendatory process.
Here are the bills I introduced this session:
- House Bill 1180 – Public testimony: Would have authorized governing bodies to provide time for public comment during meetings and require that comment be allowed in-person, over the phone or through the submission of written comment in advance of the meeting when the meeting is held virtually. A public hearing was held on this bill in the House Local Government Committee, but no vote was allowed.
- House Bill 1215 – K-12 education scholarships: Would have given 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 was referred to the House Education Committee. I tried to get a public hearing on this bill, but unfortunately, the committee chair declined. Read my press release here.
- House Bill 1305 – Right to refuse vaccines: Would have allowed individuals the right to refuse any vaccination or related health measure, so they maintain control of what goes into their own bodies. The measure was referred to the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, but a public hearing was never scheduled.
- House Bill 1381 – Emergency powers: Would have limited the governor's emergency powers to 14 days after a state of emergency proclamation, unless extended by the Legislature from a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. If the Legislature is not in session, a special session could be called to extend the state of emergency proclamation. This bill would have addressed the imbalance that has occurred these past months between the executive and legislative branches as Gov. Inslee has essentially singlehandedly ruled the state through emergency proclamations. The bill was referred to the State Government and Tribal Relations Committee, but no public hearing was scheduled.
- House Resolution 4604 – Black History Month: This resolution includes President Ronald Reagan's recognition of “Black History Month,” and celebrates accomplishments by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and African Americans throughout the decades in the United States. See the resolution.
Mark your calendar for a virtual 17th District town hall meeting
I invite you and our fellow 17th District citizens to join me, Rep. Paul Harris and Sen. Lynda Wilson for a virtual town hall meeting, Monday, March 15, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
We will provide a legislative update and take your questions. The best part is that you can participate from the comfort of your home.
The remote town hall meeting will be conducted using the Zoom platform online. Those who would like to participate must pre-register in advance for the conference. You can do that by clicking here.
The conference can only accommodate the first 500 attendees, so participants should register early.
How you can participate in the remote session
One positive that has come from a virtual session is that citizens from all across the state can now participate in the legislative process, including testifying on bills in committee from the comfort of their homes. 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:
Please stay informed and in touch
Up through March 9, most of our time will be spent debating and voting on bills that passed their respective committees. This is a critical time for me to hear from you. Lots of legislation will be coming forward that could be very impactful to the 17th District. You can stay informed by watching TVW and visiting the legislative website at www.leg.wa.gov and my website: www.representativevickikraft.com
Please call, write or email my office with your questions, comments, concerns or ideas about legislation and state government. You'll find my contact information below.
It is truly an honor to represent and serve you!