Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's been nearly two months since June 30, when Governor Jay Inslee declared: “We are open big time in the state of Washington.” Fast-forward to today, and while most businesses have indeed remained open, the governor has reinstated his statewide mask mandate, ordered all students and school employees to wear masks, and mandated that most state employees, health and long-term care workers get fully vaccinated by October 18 or risk termination.
The carrot, which was taxpayer-funded prizes for vaccines, is long gone. The stick is now here, and there are just two paths forward for workers affected by this mandate who wish to be exempted from it. One is a religious exemption and the other is a medical exemption. The governor's vaccine mandate FAQ states:
State employees may work with their agency's human resources office if they need a reasonable accommodation for medical or religious reasons. Private sector employers may choose a different process.
While I am a believer in vaccines and made the choice to get vaccinated, I firmly oppose the governor's decision to threaten Washingtonians with termination if they don't make the same choice, just as I opposed employers being forced to track the vaccination status of their employees. Unilateral decisions like these are why House and Senate Republicans pushed so hard during this year's legislative session to implement emergency powers reform. The public should have a say in such consequential matters. It's a shame the majority disagrees.
As a reminder, Washington ranks as one of the worst states in the country in terms of checks and balances on emergency powers. That needs to change, and I'll continue doing everything I can to see that it does.
Asking the governor to reconsider his mask mandate for schools
Earlier this month, I signed on to a letter sent to Gov. Inslee by House Republican health care lead Rep. Joe Schmick asking the governor to reconsider his mask mandate for all students and school employees. The letter reads, in part:
According to the DOH's own data dashboard, those between 0-19 years of age make up 0.16% of deaths from COVID-19. Hospitalizations are also statistically minuscule. Of those who were affected, it's unclear how many had additional underlying medical conditions, but it's more common for that to be the case, according to the CDC. The bottom line is we need to focus on what's best for students. They have already faced extensive learning loss, significant mental and behavioral health issues, and more.
Masks take away from students being able to learn effectively, especially when it comes to younger students learning to read. Teachers use their mouths to show how to make the sounds of different combinations of letters, which students then repeat. Teachers can see which students are getting it and which ones are struggling. This exercise of “sounding it out” is vital and unlocks a world of words and knowledge. As it is well known, literacy is crucial to the future success of a child. Masks interrupt learning, speech and language development, and can also further isolate students who are already struggling.
While my preference would be to leave masking decisions solely to parents, there should at the very least be local control when it comes to this issue. School districts and their communities vary greatly statewide. Local school districts should make this decision in concert with the parents in their communities. Even a change to make mask requirements dependent on certain measures (i.e., vaccination rates, hospitalizations, community spread) would make more sense than this new policy.
You can read the full letter here.
Legislature must fix the majority's deeply flawed police reform bills
Outside of our response to COVID, nothing generated more attention during this year's legislative session than the issue of police reform. While I believe it's critical to hold our men and women in law enforcement to the highest possible standard as they serve and protect our communities, I do not and will not support efforts to make it more difficult for them to do their jobs. House Bills 1054 and 1310, which were championed and passed by the majority, are crippling law enforcement agencies around the state and allowing criminals to escape justice.
These headlines tell the story:
- Bonney Lake officers say new reform laws kept them from tracking armed suspect
- Man jumps onto cop car, allegedly hits officer who was following police reform rules
- They had probable cause after he made threats, but law prevented Bellingham police pursuit
- Trying to follow new state laws, WSP shut down I-82 Sunday rather than removed woman from roadway
- State Patrol says troopers were unable to pursue wrong way driver because of new law
- DV suspect evades police as officers adhere to legislative changes
- Tri-Cities woman slashes tires on 3 cop cars. New law kept police from stopping her sooner
We are going to continue seeing headlines like these until we fix the flaws in the majority's bills. That's why I am in favor of a one-day special session focused solely on this issue. With lives on the line, we can't afford to wait.
I also want to touch on one other point. When we call into question the integrity of our law enforcement officers and pass legislation that makes their jobs more difficult, we're only hurting ourselves as a state. Washington already ranks 51st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of the number of police officers per thousand people. Departments around the state have struggled with recruitment for years. That problem will not be solved if we continue passing bills like HB 1054 and 1310. Current officers will quit, would-be officers will choose to do something else, and crime will continue to increase. We have to do better.
For more information on this ongoing crisis, click on the image below.
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.