Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Since my last update, the House has passed two COVID relief bills.
Senate Bill 5061 will limit the massive unemployment tax increases businesses are currently facing. While that's certainly a good thing, I believe we should've done more to provide greater relief and support for our job creators. House Republicans offered three amendments to do that.
- Amendment 20, sponsored by my seatmate Rep. Brandon Vick, would have suspended all unemployment insurance tax increases until the governor's termination of the current state of emergency.
- Amendment 21, which I sponsored, would have given business owners a little breathing room by allowing them to defer unemployment insurance tax payments for two quarters.
- Amendment 22, sponsored by Rep. Drew MacEwen, would have authorized a one-time transfer from the state's rainy-day fund to the unemployment trust fund, which has been depleted as a result of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, all three amendments were rejected. Even so, I still voted in favor of the bill. After it was approved 89-8, I issued the following statement to local and statewide press:
“While this is something we would have liked to have gotten done six months ago, I am pleased we were able to approve this bill in the opening weeks of session. It is unfortunate none of our amendments were accepted, but this is still a good bill that will provide significant relief for Washington businesses facing massive unemployment insurance tax increases. As session continues, we will continue making the case that employers should not be held responsible for the layoffs that occurred because of the governor's shutdown orders. Furthermore, they should not be asked to replace the hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from the Employment Security Department by an international fraud ring. We have much more work ahead, but this is a fine starting point in our effort to support our job creators, grow the economy, and bolster the state's unemployment trust fund.”
The other relief bill we passed is House Bill 1368, which will provide $2.2 billion for Washington families and businesses. The bill doesn't go quite as far as I would have liked, but it does enough to have my support.
Going forward, it is critical that we take bold action and utilize every resource at our disposal to rebuild our economy and safely reopen our state. We also must ensure we're taking the necessary steps to help our small businesses keep their doors open. As the ranking Republican member of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, I'm seeing a concerning number of bills (HB 1073, HB 1076, HB 1474, and more) that could devastate our job creators.
I'll continue doing everything I can to ensure we're not adding insult to injury after one of the most challenging economic years in our state's history.
Working together to solve a problem with our state's vaccine rollout
Over the past several weeks, our office has been in constant communication with the state Department of Health (DOH) regarding the slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccine in Clark County. One of the issues I brought to their attention was something many of you have emailed me about: the number of Oregonians crossing over into Washington to get vaccinated.
When I spoke with DOH about this problem, I received the following response: “The state of Washington is requiring that those seeking COVID-19 vaccines in its four mass vaccination sites (Ridgefield, Spokane, Kennewick, and Wenatchee) must either live or work in Washington state.”
However, a few lines later, DOH wrote: “People who register for vaccines at these four sites may be asked” to provide proof that they live or work in Washington.
A requirement that may or may not be enforced is not a requirement at all. I made that clear to DOH and asked them to replace “may be asked” with “will be asked.” They have since done that. Thank you to those of you who reached out to bring this issue to my attention. I'm glad we were able to get it resolved quickly.
Washingtonians deserve accountable state agencies
In recent years, the performance of our state agencies has been underwhelming at best. We've seen the early release of prisoners, the decertification of Western State Hospital, terrible outcomes for children in our foster care system, cost overruns for transportation projects, and more.
In 2020, the Employment Security Department mistakenly gave $600 million in unemployment benefits to Nigerian scammers. Another agency failure that just recently came to light occurred in December, when hackers were able to exploit a vulnerability within the state auditor's office to steal the personal data of 1.4 million Washingtonians who filed for unemployment last year.
The stolen data includes social security numbers, driver's license numbers, bank account numbers and employment information. This past Sunday, The Columbian's editorial board wrote: “lawmakers must get involved to investigate the incident and employ preventive measures in the future.”
That's true, we must. But we also need the governor to step up and demand better from those he's appointed to lead these agencies. When ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine announced she was resigning to take a job in the Biden administration, the governor offered nothing but praise. Our office has been fortunate to have a good relationship with the folks at ESD, but it must be said that the governor's response was puzzling. Thousands of you were hurt by LeVine's mistakes, many of which have still not been corrected.
If we're going to prevent agency failures in the future, we need the governor to partner with us in that effort. Not only must he start appointing the most qualified people, but he also must do more to ensure adequate transparency and accountability exists at these agencies.
If you filed for unemployment last year and have concerns you may have been affected by the December data breach, please click the image below for information and guidance:
Please continue contacting me with your comments, questions and concerns. My email address is Larry.Hoff@leg.wa.gov, and my district office phone number is (360) 419-5592. I look forward to hearing from you!