Washington state lawmakers prepare to launch a new legislative session amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and much of their work will be done remotely as leaders attempt to limit the possibility of ‘exposure.
As of Friday, three Democratic senators – Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig and Senses. John Lovick and Mark Mullet – announced they have tested positive for the coronavirus. Billig said he had no symptoms and Lovick described his symptoms as mild. Mullet – who said he had no symptoms – tested positive Monday after a test at the Capitol and said he would work remotely the rest of the week. All three were fully immunized and had received a booster.
When the session officially meets at noon Monday, only five lawmakers will be in the House and 15 in the Senate, and only accredited press will be allowed in the public galleries overseeing the chamber floors.
In the House, regular testing will be required and only lawmakers who have provided verification of their vaccination – including a booster – will be among the limited number of lawmakers allowed to speak. In the Senate, lawmakers present will be allowed regardless of their vaccination status, but will have to provide a negative test the same day.
House and Senate leaders have said they will reassess their plans every two weeks and changes may occur depending on the state of the pandemic.
Much of this first week will be devoted to committee hearings, which will take place remotely, with public participation. As before the pandemic, hearings and votes on the ground will continue to be broadcast or broadcast live by TVW, the state’s government affairs channel.
The main goal of the session is for lawmakers to develop a supplementary two-year budget plan. Gov. Jay Inslee – who will deliver his state-of-state address on Tuesday – released a nearly $ 62 billion plan last month, and the House and Senate will release their own proposals in the coming weeks.
This budget will likely include more than $ 1 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, with Inslee and Democratic leaders keen to use that one-time money – in addition to state funds – to help with areas such as programs. food assistance, increase the capacity of acute care hospitals, and provide more social and mental health supports to K-12 students who struggled during the pandemic. Inslee has also offered to spend nearly $ 300 million to contain the ongoing pandemic, on things like diagnostic testing, contact tracing, outbreak response and expanding access to vaccines.
But lawmakers will also address a host of other issues, including potential changes to the state’s new long-term care program – paid for with a tax on employee wages – after criticism has been leveled over the options. withdrawal from the program, as well as those who contribute to the program but may never benefit from it. A bill tabled would delay the tax until July 1, 2023 and refund all premiums collected before that date.
Homelessness and housing policies will also be discussed, as will proposals to reduce carbon emissions in the state. Lawmakers are also planning to make changes to some measures that were passed as part of a broad police reform program last year. Democrats say the bills generally work, but acknowledged that restrictions on the use of force have hampered officers in certain situations, such as responding to mental health crises, and this session they intend to clarify that the police may use force to help in these cases.
They also plan to ease restrictions on the use of force in cases where police are investigating violent crime, and they say they are open to considering a Republican proposal that would reduce restrictions on car chases.