Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now in Day 72 of the 105-day session. The regular session is scheduled to end on April 25. With just a little over a month remaining, we will soon be spending most of our time on the “virtual House floor,” debating and voting on bills that have survived their cutoffs.
This Friday, March 26 is the next major deadline of the 2021 session. It's opposite chamber policy cutoff. Since March 9, we've been in committees hearing and passing Senate bills. The Senate has also been doing the same to House bills. On Friday, those bills from the opposite chamber that have not passed out of their policy committees are considered dead for the session. Bills necessary to implement the budget are exempt from these deadlines.
To date, 569 bills have been introduced and 217 have passed in the House and sent over to the Senate. In the Senate, 493 bills have been introduced and 200 have passed and sent over to the House. Of all the bills passed so far, 11 have been received and signed by the governor.
Governor's powers must be reined in before Legislature finishes session
For one year, Gov. Inslee has singlehandedly ruled the state under emergency powers and proclamations. Last year, the legislative session ended March 12. One year ago today, on March 23, 2020, the governor issued his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order that required everyone in the state to stay home. Because the Legislature had already adjourned, we were essentially powerless to act as the governor issued extensions every 30 days of his emergency orders. This needs to change!
I was among the first to call for a special session to return and address the needs of our citizens and businesses across the state suffering from the governor's stay-home orders and closures. Under our state Constitution, only the governor or two-thirds of the Legislature can call a special session. Later, on May 29, my Republican colleagues issued a letter to the governor, asking him to schedule and convene a special session of the Legislature. The governor ignored our special session requests, protected by a majority of Democrats in his party, which allowed the one-man rule of government to continue — even to this day. More than 30 letters advocating for the rights of Washingtonians have been sent to the governor by legislative Republicans, including myself, only to be largely ignored. See the letters here.
Not only that, Gov. Inslee ordered fencing up around the Capitol and for the first month stayed behind the fence, protected by the National Guard, as he kept citizens out of the Capitol buildings. This is not how our government of the people should work.
I am among several Republicans who authored legislation to rein in the governor's powers and give the government back to the people who have elected us to office. House Bill 1381 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. Unfortunately, my bill and the other bills to limit the governor's powers, were not allowed to advance by the Democrat majority.
We now have only 33 days remaining of the 2021 session and many of us are very concerned that if no action is taken, we will be right back as we were last year, with the governor ruling the state as a single entity. This is NOT right. We have three branches of government with equal, but separate powers. That's the way our government was created, to prevent one branch of government from single-handedly deciding what's best for the state.
Last year, in Wisconsin when Gov. Tony Evers issued stay-at-home orders, Republicans sued the governor, challenging his orders, and won. We simply cannot let this session end and allow our governor to continue his one-man operations. If we do, I would advocate for a lawsuit challenging the governor's orders. We need to act NOW and put our state government back into the hands of the people where it belongs!
There is no need for tax increases – Washington has plenty of money
The case for new tax increases was always fragile, but now it has all but crumbled. Last Wednesday, the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released its quarterly revenue forecast and the news is quite good. As compared to the November forecast, revenue is projected to increase by $1.34 billion for the current 2019-21 budget cycle, and by $1.95 billion for the 2021-23 budget cycle. That's a $3.29 billion increase over the four-year outlook.
This is a major increase in revenue, due in large part to the fact the November forecast assumed no additional pandemic relief would be forthcoming. Since then, the federal government has distributed billions of dollars to Washington state and its residents through two separate stimulus packages, including the latest one — $12 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
With all this money coming into the state, why are majority Democrats continuing to push for an income tax on capital gains in Washington?
Senate Bill 5096 would impose a 7% tax on capital gains above $250,000 for individuals and joint filers, starting in 2022. It also includes a requirement for yearly adjustments to that threshold, based on inflation. The measure was narrowly approved by the Senate on March 6. A public hearing was held last week in the House Finance Committee.
It's widely believed the bill is not necessarily about increasing taxes this session but opening the door to a statewide income tax that all of us would have to pay. Supporters of this bill know that if it gets to the governor's desk and is signed into law, there will be an immediate court challenge. That challenge could bring it to the state Supreme Court. If the high court rules in favor, it could clear the way for a statewide income tax.
Supporters of an income tax say our current tax system is regressive and hurts the lower income wage earners. If they are truly concerned about this, why not lower taxes on low-income families instead of try to raise taxes on the other end of the spectrum?
Washingtonians have opposed an income tax 10 times, including six constitutional amendments. An income tax is unpopular, unnecessary and likely unconstitutional. State tax collections are strong and billions of dollars in federal funding is on the way. Editorial boards across the state have also recommended against it. (Read The Seattle Times editorial.) I will continue to oppose tax increases and work to keep your hard-earned money in your pockets and keep government out of them.
It's time to safely re-open Washington!
For months, I have been pushing to re-open our economy and schools. When the governor had no plans for a Phase 3 reopening, Republicans in the House and Senate came up with their own Open Safe, Open Now plan to safely move to Phase 3 immediately. After three weeks, all counties would automatically move to Phase 4, 100 percent capacity. One week later, the governor finally agreed to move the state to Phase 3, beginning yesterday, March 22.
I have been pushing for 100 percent safe reopening. The governor's closures have hurt many small businesses in our local communities, forced people out of their jobs, and created enormous uncertainty for employers who are reluctant to hire because they might be closed down again. This has gone on for an entire year and is enough. We need to reopen Washington for our citizens, get students back in school, let our businesses reopen, and allow our state's economy to recover.
Let's also get kids back in school
Gov. Inslee finally acknowledged his decision to keep kids out of school was taking a huge toll on students. On March 12, he issued an emergency proclamation requiring schools to give all students the option for in-person learning at least two days a week by April 19. In making the announcement, the governor said, “We're doing this because we've experienced a mental health crisis for many of our children. And this will provide them an option that suits the needs of their families.”
These school closures have created an alarming spike in depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among the state's young people who, like their parents, have been largely isolated and spending the last year in front of laptop screens. Absences among middle and high school students are up significantly and many are getting grades of D, F or “no credit.” This is completely unacceptable.
The real failure is that of state government not meeting the needs of kids and parents. That's why I introduced school choice legislation, House Bill 1215, that would have allowed parents to choose the learning environment that best meets their children's needs. (Read more about the bill here.)
The governor's 30% minimum for onsite classroom plan still falls short of giving kids and parents the option of returning to classroom instruction. Those two days a week could be as little as partial days.
Parents are frustrated. Kids are suffering mentally. And the governor continues to make excuses for not fully re-opening classrooms, even as the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal calls the remote instructional model “a (expletive) system to be in right now.”
I believe we can get our schools fully and safely reopened. No more excuses! Let's do it now!
Human trafficking – Holding criminals accountable, helping victims
Nationally, human trafficking is the second-fastest growing crime. In King County, an estimated 500 to 700 children are forced into prostitution every year. People as young as nine-years old appear on more than 100 websites for soliciting sex in the Seattle area. Just this year, 272 human trafficking cases have been reported in Washington state.
After attending a meeting several years ago with Shared Hope International in which I learned of the widespread nature of this crime, I decided to do what I could to reduce the numbers and help victims. When I was elected to office in 2017, I worked to form an anti-sex trafficking caucus with other legislators, with the goal of finding effective ways to address and reduce sex trafficking in Washington state.
In 2017, I introduced House Bill 2348. The measure would have prohibited the waiver, reduction or suspension of certain fees charged to persons who commit offenses involving the sexual exploitation of children. The bill received a public hearing but did not advance.
I again tried in 2019 with the introduction of House Bill 1836. It contained many of the same provisions as the similar bill. This time, the measure passed the House unanimously, but died in the Senate.
Last week, our caucus group met, and we heard from Rick Torrance, managing director of the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy and Public Safety in the state Department of Commerce. I am working to bring together experts, victims' advocates, and other interested lawmakers to build a coalition that will help to move this and other legislation forward to fight human trafficking in Washington state.
Protecting our Second Amendment rights
Most of the bills that attack the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners have, thankfully, died in both the House and Senate. However, one very disturbing measure is still alive and could be headed to the governor if citizens do not act now to stop it.
Senate Bill 5038 would prohibit the open carry of firearms and other weapons within 250 feet of permitted demonstrations and rallies, including those on the state Capitol campus grounds. The measure has already passed the Senate and last week, passed from the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee. It is now in the House Rules Committee, awaiting to be pulled to the floor for a vote. Since it was amended in the House committee, it must go back to the Senate for another vote. However, if it passes the House and the Senate concurs with the amendment, it could be sent to the governor for his signature.
These bills have nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with attacking law-abiding gun owners. Meantime, majority Democrats continue to ease penalties for criminals — even working to pass legislation that would allow felons to vote immediately upon being released from prison.
We need to hold criminals accountable and quit the attacks on law-abiding gun owners. If this bill comes to the House floor, I will be a solid NO!
Watch my video updates
Every two weeks, I record a video legislative update. I invite you to watch and become informed. You'll find these videos on my website: www.representativevickikraft.com. For your convenience, here are links to the last four videos I have recorded:
- Floor debate on House Bill 1236 (residential tenants)
- Reopening Washington
- 2021 remote session enhances 'tyranny of the majority'
Virtual town hall
I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who participated in our virtual 17th District town hall meeting March 15. We heard from many citizens that evening on issues ranging from taxes to reopening the state's economy, health care, and gun control. Your input is helpful during the final weeks of the 2021 legislative session.
Please continue to reach out to my office if you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and state government. You'll find my contact information below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!