Dear friends and neighbors,

Probably no event in our lifetime has forced us to change the ways we live and work so dramatically as the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when it comes to the Legislature, the pandemic is determining what we’ll do and how we’ll do it.

WHAT WE’RE DOING is moving fast on legislation to provide economic relief to households and businesses in a as many ways as practical. Although the Legislature provided our health organizations the $200 million they sought last year to respond to the pandemic, much more is needed to address the devastating economic damage to households, businesses and workers in our communities.

Two early bills will improve our unemployment insurance system and increase worker protections:

  • SB 5061 will raise the minimum benefits for low-wage workers who lose jobs because of the pandemic and will reduce a pandemic-driven spike in employers’ premiums to protect businesses just getting back on their feet from getting hit with a huge tax bill.
  • SB 5090 will increase worker protections administered by the Department of Labor & Industries through: a grant program for small businesses; penalties for businesses that ignore hazards to workers; and increased protections for workers who face retaliation for speaking out about workplace hazards.

These are only the first pandemic bills, as it’s early in session. I expect more, particularly given the recommendations issued today by the Senate’s Special Committee on Economic Recovery. This bipartisan committee spent months assessing the structural changes the pandemic and related closures have made to our state and regional economies, and its recommendations will likely drive innovative ideas for legislation to help people in every corner of our state. You can find the full report, including its summaries and recommendations, here.

In the meantime, we are also implementing the distribution of additional federal relief funds at the state level in addition to the distribution of earlier federal funds to our state.

HOW WE’LL DO IT is all about health and public safety. On Monday, the opening day of session, we passed rules to operate mostly remotely. Plexiglass walls abound and anyone in the Capitol is directed to wear masks to minimize any potential exposure to COVID-19. The last thing we want to do is turn the Capitol into a super spreader event and trigger a quarantine before we can finish the public’s work this year. Committee hearings, floor action and even constituent meetings will be held remotely instead of in-person.

The bipartisan decision to convene mostly remotely was made after weighing all the options and best advice from experts in not only health but government transparency. And, ironically, many of these safety innovations actually make it easier for people to participate than ever before. Our expanded use of remote testimony, for instance, makes it possible to weigh in on any bill before the Legislature from the convenience of your home. Whether you live in Port Angeles or Forks or anywhere else in the state, you can testify without having to travel to Olympia and queue up in long lines outside committee hearings. And every committee meeting, floor session, press conference and special event will be broadcast on TVW, as always.

Easy-to-follow rules for testifying remotely can be found at this link. To submit written testimony, go here. For an overall guide to how the Legislature will operate remotely, go here.

If you have other questions, please contact my office, as always. We’re here to serve you.