Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 105 days of attending virtual meetings and casting votes from home here in Vancouver, I was glad to see the 2021 legislative session adjourn on time this year. One of the things I enjoy most about this job is having the opportunity to sit down and chat with constituents about how we can make our district and state a better place to live. Having to do that from behind a screen throughout session was far from ideal.
As with every legislative session, there were a number of bipartisan successes and partisan disappointments. In my last email update, I discussed the majority's last-minute passage of an income tax on capital gains and two bills that will significantly increase the price of gasoline over the next several years. I also discussed their unwillingness to take up emergency powers reform before the end of session.
However, there were also many instances in which bipartisanship prevailed. I was especially proud of the way lawmakers came together to pass two major COVID relief bills in the opening weeks of session. The following bills were also a product of bipartisan cooperation:
- House Bill 1095 – B&O tax exemption for amounts received as pandemic financial assistance.
- House Bill 1168 – Wildfire prevention and forest health.
- House Bill 1279 – Modifying the Washington Main Street Program tax incentive to respond to the economic impact of COVID.
- House Bill 1332 – Property tax deferral during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- House Bill 1438 – Expanding eligibility for property tax exemptions for service-connected disabled veterans and seniors.
- House Bill 1457 – Facilitating the coordinated installation of broadband along state highways.
- Senate Bill 5193, Senate Bill 5478 – Unemployment insurance reforms.
2021-23 operating, transportation, and capital budgets
While the $59 billion operating budget the Legislature passed this year makes some important investments, I ultimately voted against it because it relies on revenue from the income tax on capital gains I mentioned above. I am not interested in supporting bills or budgets that raise your taxes or drive job creators out of our state. I also have concerns about the growth in state spending we continue to see. The 2021-23 operating budget grows spending by $7 billion, an increase of 13.6% over the 2019-21 budget. That's bad enough, but when you zoom out to get the full picture, it looks even worse. Since 2013, when the governor came into office, we have seen a 74% increase in state spending. That's not only unsustainable, but deeply irresponsible.
While I could not support the 2021-23 operating budget, the 2021-23 transportation and capital budgets did earn my support.
The $11.8 billion transportation budget will provide funding for the maintenance and preservation of current transportation systems, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Washington State Ferry system, the Washington State Patrol, and other state transportation agencies. Highlights include:
- $849 million for preservation and $520 million for maintenance.
- $550 million for Washington State Patrol, including an additional trooper class.
- $541 million for operating costs and $505 million for capital costs for Washington State Ferries.
- $224 million for Transportation Improvement Board.
- $101 million for County Road Administration Board.
The $6.3 billion capital budget will fund various construction projects throughout the state, making significant investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure with the help of one-time federal funds. Local projects can be found by clicking on the image below.
Other capital budget highlights include:
- $733 million for the state's four-year institutions.
- $730.6 million for 2021-23 School Construction Assistance Program.
- $512 million for the community and technical college system.
- $326 million for State Broadband Office for broadband infrastructure projects, including $50 million in bonds to leverage other federal funding.
- $200.7 million to begin construction of the behavioral health teaching hospital run by the University of Washington.
- $129 million from the Public Works Assistance Account to issue grants and loans to local governments for infrastructure projects.
- $95 million in behavioral health capacity grants for community mental health services.
Governor announces statewide reopening date of June 30; L&I announces mandatory vaccine tracking for employers
Although it originally looked like Washington's 39 counties were going to be stuck in Phase 2/Phase 3 limbo for the next several months, Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced a statewide reopening date of June 30.
From the Associated Press:
Washington is on track to fully reopen its economy by June 30, and a full reopening could happen even sooner if 70% or more of residents ages 16 and older have gotten at least one dose of vaccine by then, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday. And Inslee said Washington would immediately adopt new guidance offered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which eased most indoor mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people. Businesses will retain the right to require customers to wear masks, and masks will still be required in hospitals, schools and on public transportation, he said. Nearly 44% of people age 16 and up are fully vaccinated in Washington state.
Not every recent announcement has been positive, however. On May 21, the state Department of Labor and Industries issued new guidance that will, in part, require employers to confirm whether or not employees are fully vaccinated. In response to L&I's decision, I penned an op-ed this week with Sen. Rivers and Rep Vick, along with our Republican counterparts in the 17th District. An excerpt:
For more than a year now, business owners have complied with every mandate and restriction placed on them. They've jumped through every hoop, even as they've suffered deep financial losses and wondered if their business would survive.
To now require them to track the vaccination status of employees is another step too far. It's government overreach disguised as public safety, designed to maintain control.
We recently reached out to a number of business owners to get their thoughts on this new mandate. Not one expressed support for it. Instead, we heard concerns about the adversarial relationship it could create with their employees. And more than one business owner wondered what could possibly be asked of them next.
Washington's employers should have the ability to end mask and social distancing requirements on their own terms, not after they've created a log of vaccinated workers for the government to review. The decision to get vaccinated is a complex and deeply personal one, and none of the government's business. It certainly shouldn't have any bearing on whether or not an employee can do their job safely, especially in industries where social distancing is already the norm.
To read our full op-ed, click here. You'll also be able to find it in The Columbian on Sunday.
House Bill 1193 signed into law
Earlier this session, I sponsored a bill to affirm the permitting process for dredging activities conducted by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the Columbia River. That bill was recently signed into law.
Periodically, navigation channels leading to deepwater ports on the Columbia River need to be dredged to ensure safe passage for vessels carrying our crops and goods to market. House Bill 1193 will ensure USACE can quickly dispose of dredge spoil and keep our region's most critical marine highway running smoothly. That's important not just for Washington's economic recovery, but for the nation's, especially when you consider the Columbia River shipping channel facilitates the movement of more than $21 billion in cargo every year.
Under my bill, USACE actions to maintain and improve navigation channels on the river in accordance with federally mandated dredged material management and improvement project plans will be exempt from the Shoreline Management Act's permit requirements if the plans have:
- Undergone national and state environmental policy review; and
- Applied for a state water quality certification under the federal Clean Water Act.
House Bill 1193, which was unanimously approved by the House and Senate, will go into effect next month.
I am here to serve you year-round, so please continue reaching out to me with your comments, questions and concerns. My email address is Larry.Hoff@leg.wa.gov, and my district office number is (360) 419-5592.
It is an honor to serve you.