Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The transition from summer to autumn — with shorter days and cooler temperatures — isn't simply a change of season but an indicator that the interim, the pause between the close of the previous legislative session and the start of the next, will soon end. With just a few months to go, the upcoming 2022 session is right around the corner.
To say that this year's interim has been busy would be a bit of an understatement. But along with the work, there's been some fun. It's been my privilege to take part in several of the annual community events that have returned to our region.
As you know, last year — because of the pandemic — fairs, art shows, and festivals were all canceled. As the COVID-induced fog continues to lift from our daily lives, it's nice to see people celebrating again. Some of my recent travels have taken me to Kelso's Highlander Festival and Hoquiam's Logger's Playday. These annual events have received a tremendous amount of community support.
As enjoyable as these celebrations have been, it's my legislative work that's kept me the busiest. I've attended countless meetings with constituents, in groups and one-on-one, listening to their concerns and discussing issues affecting our communities. In addition, I've attended several legislative workgroups and begun the long process of deliberating and writing proposals for the upcoming legislative session.
In this email update, I'll share some of the top issues that people have been discussing with me: the governor's COVID-19 mandates and emergency powers reform, vaccine passports, and a controversial new payroll tax.
COVID-19 mandates and emergency powers reform
The governor's various proclamations and directives — including the COVID-19 vaccine mandate — have given new focus to the need for reform to the emergency powers granted to the executive branch. Sadly, the governor's mandates are allowed under the “emergency powers” granted to him under Washington state law. But although it's a lawful process, it's not, in my opinion, a lawful or constitutional outcome.
When the pandemic initially unfolded, governors across the nation took center stage. Many, including our own, exerted unilateral control over their state's response to COVID-19. They shut down businesses, closed schools, and limited social gatherings — essentially changing every part of our lives.
As the pandemic continued for months, not weeks, state legislatures across the nation began working to reform the broad emergency powers granted to the executive branch. They did so because our government was not designed to be ruled by one person for months on end. Through various legislative proposals, several states returned the correct balance of power to their state governments — giving the people more of a voice on the decisions that deeply affect their lives.
Unfortunately, in Washington state, although several emergency reform bills were introduced, including one I sponsored (House Bill 1029), none were approved. In fact, Washington state continues to be ranked near the bottom in the nation for legislative oversight of executive emergency powers.
Why? Because under state law, the governor has the sole authority to determine when a state of emergency starts and ends. While an emergency exists, the governor is authorized to issue the many mandates, directives, and proclamations — without hearing from the Legislature — that we've seen the past several months.
While it makes sense for the governor to be given the authority to act quickly during an emergency, it should only be for a limited amount of time. The Legislature is the voice of the people. It should be assembled when longer-term solutions are needed. Failing to do so has led to the arbitrary rule of one person: the governor. That needs to change.
The Legislature needs to re-assert its coequal position as an independent branch of government — the law-making branch — and reform our abused and misused laws on emergency powers.
During one of the governor's recent news conferences, he not only announced new masking requirements for outdoor events of 500 or more people, he also stated publicly that he's considering a statewide vaccine “verification system” for indoor businesses. Although no formal announcement has been made, no matter where you stand on the COVID-19 vaccine, this should be ominous news.
Tracking citizens and their health care decisions in order to “allow” them to work, purchase goods, or attend community events sounds like something out of George Orwell's book 1984. And yet, at the behest of big government, technologists have been actively working to make “vaccine passport” apps widely available — including Google, Apple, and the Seattle-based Microsoft.
Vaccine passports — including digital ones that may include a fingerprint or photo to ensure the identity of the bearer — are a bad idea. This type of monitoring comes with the huge potential for abuse, including profiling and discrimination of racial, religious, and political groups.
Looking to the government to “grant” our freedom to live and work is not an American value. Are we willing to become a “checkpoint society” with verification required in order to go to one's workplace, attend events, dine indoors or go shopping?
I'm adamantly opposed to vaccine passports in all their forms. During the 2021 session, I introduced House Bill 1570 that would have banned their use; but the majority party did not give it a hearing. In the months since, I've received countless emails and calls from 19th District residents and people across the state that would like to see this bill reintroduced. Many other states have already banned vaccine passports including Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and Arkansas — Washington state needs to do the same.
COVID-19 vaccine mandate
As the governor's COVID-19 vaccine deadline of Oct. 18 looms ahead for embattled health care workers, first responders, K-12 employees, bus drivers, and countless others — my office continues to receive numerous emails and calls daily asking for help.
No matter your opinion on the governor's vaccine mandate, it tends to generate quite a bit of emotion. As it should. Forcing individuals to get the “jab or lose their job” sends the message that government is bigger and smarter than the people it represents. Given the option, each of us is well-able to determine the best course of action for ourselves and our families. Attempting to force people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, no matter how well-intentioned, infringes upon civil liberties and fundamental, individual rights.
Although the governor has acknowledged that medical and religious exemptions to his mandate will be available — as they must be, under federal law — there are some constitutional questions about how these exemptions may be handled. For example, self-attested religious exemptions should not be rejected.
Religious accommodations have a rich and extensive history in the United States. Requiring verification from anyone other than the person applying for the religious exemption clearly violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Washington Constitution, which protects citizens' right to practice their religion as they please. Other issues may arise from the narrowly defined medical exemptions, which appear to be limited to those with severely impaired immune systems — such as cancer patients or organ transplant recipients.
Regardless of the various exemption problems, the purpose of government is not to monitor individual healthcare decisions or evaluate religious beliefs, but to protect and maintain individual rights. With the governor's vaccine mandate, we've wandered far away from that good principle.
New payroll deduction | The Long-Term Care Act
With the governor's signature on House Bill 1087 in 2019, the nation's first public state-operated long-term care insurance program was officially created. Starting on Jan. 1, 2022, working Washingtonians will pay 58 cents for every $100 earned to support the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program or WA Cares Fund.
House and Senate Republicans, including myself, unanimously opposed this bill for several reasons, including:
- The costs versus the benefits breakdown for the state-managed plan are abysmal for most working individuals and families;
- Many hard-working Washingtonians simply can't afford to pay more in taxes. Struggling with yet another additional expense, whether it be through the new payroll tax or the cost of private long-term care insurance, will be tough;
- If you move out of Washington state, your benefits are not portable, all contributions will be forfeited to the state; and
- Finally, there is no guarantee the state will not raise this tax rate in the future. In fact, it's extremely likely in years to come very real, large tax increases will be needed to keep this program afloat.
Washingtonians who pay into the program will qualify for a lifetime maximum benefit of $36,500 starting in 2025. Only residents age 18 or older who have paid the payroll tax for either 10 years without interruption of five consecutive years, or three of the last six years, and who work at least 500 hours a year, are eligible.
Workers can opt out of the new tax, but only if they are able to purchase private long-term care insurance before Nov. 1, 2021 — and successfully submit for an exemption sometime between Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.
Here are some additional articles on the Long-Term Care Act:
- Long-term care tax looms for nearly all Washington workers (The Columbia Basin Herald)
- Deadline coming on Washington long-term care: private or state plan? (AP News)
- Your only chance to opt out of Washington's long-term care tax is fast approaching (The Puget Sound Business Journal)
To learn more, House Republicans created a webpage that includes frequently asked questions and facts on the Long-Term Care Act payroll tax. If you have questions that can't be found on that page, send me an email. I'll do my best to assist you.
Stay in touch
As always, your input is vital in helping me represent your values in Olympia. Feel free to call or email my office with your comments, concerns, or ideas about state government. My contact information is listed below.
In your service,