Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Throughout the year, you've heard me talk a lot about the need for emergency powers reform. That's been a top priority for me, and for our entire caucus, ever since Governor Inslee declared a state of emergency 640 days ago in response to the pandemic. Our concern has always centered around the belief that one person should not have the indefinite unilateral authority to change the lives and livelihoods of Washingtonians. It doesn't matter if that person is a Republican or a Democrat.
Without checks and balances, the governor was able to go from offering a carrot (prizes for vaccinations) to a stick (imposing a vaccine mandate that cost more than 2,000 Washingtonians their jobs) in a matter of months. We simply believe the time has come to restore the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.
In addition to pushing for emergency powers reform, House Republicans will be introducing other bills focused on government accountability and improved outcomes. Of the many failures we've seen in state government in recent years, perhaps none is more heartbreaking than our ineffective response to a homelessness crisis that has only gotten worse over time. From The Seattle Times:
“Washington saw one of the biggest estimated increases in people experiencing homelessness in the country between 2019 and 2020, according to new national figures from an annual report to Congress. Overall homelessness across the U.S. grew by more than 2% that year, according to the report's estimates, but Washington saw an overall increase of 6.2%, or 1,346 people — the third largest increase in the number of homeless people among all 50 states.”
With existing solutions falling short, we believe it's time for a new approach. Our idea is to send roughly $400 million per biennium directly to cities and counties so they can pursue the best solutions for their communities. In exchange, municipalities would have to remove encampments near schools, parks and playgrounds, and refrain from opening supervised injection sites. The majority may balk at that second provision, but it is my hope they will at least work with us on a comprehensive bill to fix this crisis. The status quo cannot continue.
While improving government accountability and outcomes is a major priority for us, we're going to have three other main areas of focus during the upcoming 60-day session:
- Public safety
- Life affordability
- Empowering parents
In my August update, I discussed the need for the Legislature to fix the deeply flawed police reform bills the Democrats passed earlier this year. As a reminder, these are just some of the headlines we've seen as a result of House Bills 1054 and 1310 becoming law:
- Bonney Lake officers say new reform laws kept them from tracking armed suspect
- Man jumps onto cop car, allegedly hits officer who was following police reform rules
- They had probable cause after he made threats, but law prevented Bellingham police pursuit
- Trying to follow new state laws, WSP shut down I-82 Sunday rather than removed woman from roadway
- Deputies searching for suspect after man shot dead in Puyallup parking lot
- State Patrol says troopers were unable to pursue wrong way driver because of new law
- DV suspect evades police as officers adhere to legislative changes
- Tri-Cities woman slashes tires on 3 cop cars. New law kept police from stopping her sooner
While we should hold our men and women in law enforcement to the highest possible standard, we cannot have laws on the books that create confusion, make volatile situations more dangerous, and enable criminals to escape justice.
As I've shared before, Washington already ranks 51st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of the number of police officers per thousand people. It's been that way for 11 consecutive years. If we continue demonizing our law enforcement personnel and taking away the tools they need to bring criminals to justice, we will continue losing them to other professions and our communities will become less safe. To ensure that doesn't happen, we need to fix these bills. We also need to pass legislation that allocates significant state funding for the recruitment of new police officers and the retention of officers already on the job. I was glad to see a recent SurveyUSA poll that showed 49% of Washingtonians believe the police need more funding, while just 16% saying they need less. Now we need to act.
Due to tax collections remaining strong, the Legislature is expected to enter the 2022 session with a four-year budget surplus of around $10 billion. With such a large surplus, it is time for us to provide meaningful tax relief, whether through a property tax cut, an expansion of the working families tax credit, or by some other means. We also need to repeal the Democrats' long-term care insurance program and mandatory payroll tax. Long-term care insurance is a good idea, but this program is deeply flawed as our health care lead, Rep. Joe Schmick, explains:
“This program creates the false hope that people's long-term care needs will be satisfied, when in fact, it will be woefully inadequate for the majority of those who eventually need long-term care. People who live out of state but work in Washington, those who are within 10 years of retirement, and workers who eventually move out of state, will be forced to pay into this program, but will likely never receive a benefit.”
Rep. Schmick and Rep. Peter Abbarno have already drafted legislation to repeal the program. I believe the majority knows it's unworkable, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to act to change it.
If you were able to obtain your own long-term care insurance plan by the November 1 deadline, I strongly encourage you to apply for an exemption from the state plan as soon as possible so it's processed before the new year.
In addition to the above priorities, we are going to be focused on empowering parents to become more involved in their children's education. We believe parents have a right to know what is being taught in the classroom and that transparency is crucial to ensuring trust in our K-12 education system. To that end, we have two proposals.
- Require the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to seek public input and provide an opportunity for public comment when developing learning standards and grade-level expectations.
- Require each school to disclose a listing of the actual instructional materials, including supplemental materials, used during the past academic year on a publicly accessible part of its website and have that link sent directly to parents. This would be modeled after the Goldwater Institute's Academic Transparency Act.
We will also be looking to expand the number of charter schools in our state. While 40 charter schools were authorized by Initiative 1240 and subsequent reauthorization legislation, just 16 are currently in operation. That's unfortunate because charter schools are meeting the needs of students who have struggled in their assigned public school. The results we've seen so far have been excellent, with charter schools outperforming traditional public schools in reading and math. Our goal is to expand these opportunities for more families across the state.
Due to legislative restrictions that begin tomorrow, I won't be able to send out another email update until the 2022 legislative session begins on Jan. 10. However, I'll still be able to respond to your emails and phone calls, so please continue contacting me with your comments, questions, concerns, and ideas for legislation. My email address is Drew.MacEwen@leg.wa.gov, and my phone number is (360) 786-7902.
It is an honor to serve you.