Dear friends and neighbors,
The 2021 legislative session accomplished three major milestones: it was the first-ever session conducted mostly remotely, to keep people safe from the pandemic; it was the fourth straight year the Legislature finished its work on time, something that hadn’t happened since 1941; and, most importantly of all, we passed the most laws in recent memory to bring relief and more balance and fairness to individuals and families in our state.
This is the first of three emails to summarize those gains. I’m focusing first on the most urgent issue in all our households and workplaces: relief and recovery from the pandemic.
In the early weeks of session, the Legislature passed a comprehensive, bipartisan $2.2 billion measure (HB 1368) to allocate mostly federal funds to expand testing and vaccine distribution, provide support to schools, make grants available for small business, and help thousands meet basic needs with housing and food assistance. Funding included:
- $618 million for vaccine administration, contract tracing and testing.
- $668 million for schools to resume in-person learning plus dedicated funding to help students catch up from learning loss during the pandemic.
- $365 million for rental assistance to help tenants and landlords impacted by the pandemic.
- $240 million for more than 12,000 small business assistance grants.
- $70 million to assist undocumented immigrants who have been affected by the pandemic but who do not qualify for federal or state assistance.
- $26 million for food assistance to individuals and households in need.
- $50 million in grants to help childcare businesses stay open and expand capacity.
That was only a first step. The final operating budget sent to Gov. Inslee amplified those efforts by:
- Providing $1.1 billion for additional vaccine distribution, tracing and testing.
- Making a landmark expansion of state funding for high-quality childcare and early learning through the Fair Start for Kids Act.
- Implementing the Working Families Tax Credit to put money back in the pockets of families who need it.
- Ensuring our schools have the resources necessary to reopen safely.
We also passed legislation to help employers hit hard by the pandemic by:
- Providing unemployment benefit increases as well as $1.7 billion in small business tax relief (SB 5061), plus another $500 million in targeted tax relief for employers in sectors that suffered the most pandemic-related layoffs (SB 5478).
- Exempting the B&O tax on Paycheck Protection Program aid (HB 1095).
- Reimbursing the cost of personal protection equipment (PPE) for health care providers. (SB 5169).
- Waiving liquor license fees for distressed bars and restaurants (SB 5272).
- Providing $1.6 billion in new federal and state housing investments to help thousands of families — many of whom struggled to keep up with mortgage and rent payments due to layoffs or reduced hours because of the pandemic — stay safe and healthy in their homes in communities across our state.
Looking forward, we passed additional legislation to ensure a better future.
I sponsored SB 5178, for instance, to automatically waive or suspend certain state health care laws involving certificates of need, facilities, and licensing when the governor declares a statewide state of emergency. This will enable our state to move more quickly to protect the public in crises like our current pandemic.
Another glaring need exposed by the pandemic is the dire lack of broadband service in rural communities, where students learning online have had to drive to local fast-food franchises and similar establishments for Wi-Fi service to access online curricula. We passed SB 5383 to allow Public Utility Districts to provide broadband to communities currently not served by commercial broadband providers.
Other bills we passed include:
- HB 1127 to ensure the privacy and security of COVID-19 data collected by entities other than public health agencies, health care providers or health care facilities.
- SB 5325 to allow reimbursement for audio only telemedicine.
- HB 1152 to create a public health advisory board to provide recommendations to improve the public health system.
- HB 1218 to protect long-term-care facility residents in the event of a future pandemic or other disaster.
As you can see, a lot was done—but we still have our work cut out for us. The progress we have made toward ending this pandemic has been made possible by the administering of vaccines.
If you are in need of a COVID vaccine , I urge you to visit the Clark County Public Health COIVD vaccine web page or the Dept of Health vaccine locator to find when and where you can get a vaccination.
We’ll beat this pandemic together by each of us doing our part. If I can help provide additional information or support at any time, please just let me know.
In the coming days, I’ll follow up with highlights of the major changes we made to state laws and then the most significant improvements coming to our district. It was quite a session!
Take care and stay safe,