Your 2021 Washington State Legislative session will convene on Monday in Olympia. As President Pro Tempore, I will preside over the opening session of the Senate. There are some concerns about possible protests, but I am confident our Washington State Patrol will be able to handle whatever situation develops. Personally, I was appalled to watch the awful insurrection in Washington, D.C., this week. I was also dismayed at the action of armed demonstrators in Olympia of breaking through the gate of the Governor’s residence.
I stand together with the vast majority of Americans in condemning this hateful violence and intimidation. I am deeply disappointed that many prominent Republicans, including the President, fanned the flames of extremism that emboldened an insurrection. All elected officials—all Americans—have a responsibility to renounce political violence and peacefully uphold the will of the voters and the rule of law.
A New Beginning
In this Washington, the new legislative session will focus on the most important issues facing the families and small businesses hurt by this pandemic. The last ten months have shown the resiliency and strength of our people and our institutions, but they have also revealed where those institutions need reform in order to better serve the people.
On Wednesday, in the first hearing of the Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee, which I chair, we will hear my bill to reform our unemployment insurance system, Senate Bill 5061. Unemployment insurance premiums are paid by employers, and when they lay off employees, their UI premiums increase, just like your automobile insurance premium usually increases after an accident.
During this pandemic, many businesses have had to shut down or reduce their staffing and are facing huge potential premium increases. I have worked with business and labor and the governor’s office to develop an approach that would provide businesses relief from the expected unemployment premium tax spike and also help the lowest-wage workers by increasing the minimum weekly benefit. We must act quickly to prevent employers from much paying higher premiums which will otherwise come due April 1.
That same week, the committee will hear legislation proposed to help hold police officers accountable. I have been working with advocates, stakeholders and police unions to negotiate issues surrounding arbitration and collective bargaining and I hope to reach an agreement on common goals to achieve real accountability without injuring the ability of police officers to bargain for fair treatment on the job.
This year, because of this awful COVID-19 pandemic, our legislative committee hearings and floor action will be held mostly remotely, available to the public on TVW and by remote testimony. You can learn how to testify remotely before legislative committees here. The technology has its challenges, so please be patient as we manage to convene, preside and participate in these important public meetings together.
The state Department of Health is working to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. We are currently in Phase 1A of their plan—vaccinating frontline health care workers, first responders, and residents and staff of nursing homes. After Phase 1A, vaccines will be made available to Washingtonians by age and level of vulnerability. You can see more detail about the plan in the graphic above and on the Department of Health website here. You can also use their online tool to check your vaccine eligibility by answering a few questions here: findyourphasewa.com.
Stay in Touch
If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.
Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.
Senator Karen Keiser
Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore