Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to continue to serve the citizens of the 9th Legislative District. It's been a very difficult several months since I've been able to last communicate with you through this e-newsletter — frozen since May because of election-year restrictions.
As we approach Christmas and a new year, I wanted to first wish you and your family a happy holiday and provide this update as we prepare for a new 105-day legislative session, beginning Jan. 11.
The repercussions of COVID and our response
COVID-19 is very real. One of my legislative colleagues, Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, was hospitalized with it twice and has been in recovery for three months. He recognizes just how deadly this virus is. But in an opinion-editorial to the Columbia Basin Herald, he asks: “Are we making the cure worse than the disease?”
Gov. Inslee's latest restrictions will be in place until at least Jan. 4, 2021. Businesses and restaurants are closed, except for take-out. Many people in our local communities — farmers, small business owners and families are barely hanging on. Many people who lost their jobs also didn't receive their unemployment checks for weeks. My office helped many of them in the filing process.
I also helped coordinate the big potato giveaways during late spring to help those struggling to feed their families when many people were getting laid off during the shutdown.
Going without a paycheck for weeks when the rent/mortgage is due, the power bill hasn't been paid, and your hands are tied because your business has been forced to close, is demoralizing. However, the pandemic isn't the only thing people are battling — mental health, suicide, bankruptcy, domestic violence and more, as citizens try to cope.
I don't believe closing everything is the answer. I believe we can be safe and smart without destroying our economy and people's livelihoods. For months, my Republican colleagues and I have called for a special session to address the impacts of COVID. Other state legislatures, including Oregon, have been in special session, but Washington state has been under one-person rule since March.
Under Washington state law, the governor can call the Legislature into special session. Or if two-thirds of members in the Legislature agree, we could call ourselves into special session. I believe legislators need to be part of the process and bring the voices of those they represent to the table to address the impacts of COVID on businesses, communities and families. That's why as late as a month ago, I joined 52 other legislators in calling for the Legislature to initiate a special session. You can read that letter here.
Unfortunately, Gov. Inslee has refused, supported by the Democratic majority of legislators in Olympia. Since the 2021 session is now less than a month away, we will have no special session. However, l wanted you to know how hard we have pushed to advocate for the rights of Washingtonians, including more than 30 letters to the governor that provided ideas on how to safely re-open the state's economy. Read those letters here.
My 2021-22 committee assignments
Last Friday, I learned my committee assignments for the next two years. I have been selected as the lead Republican on the House Environment and Energy Committee. I had previously served as assistant ranking member.
One of the big issues that will come before this committee is the governor's climate change package. Washington is a climate leader and a clean state. We should emphasize our strengths and build upon them. I'm very concerned the governor's proposal would implement policies that are costly for Washington families during this time of unemployment and rising uncertainty. I'm confident we can achieve many of the same results through incentives and innovative ideas without hurting employers and families.
I will continue to serve on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Capital Budget Committee. The Appropriations Committee considers the operating budget bill and related legislation, budget processes, and fiscal issues such as pension policy and compensation. The Capital Budget Committee considers the state capital budget which approves money in the state capital budget for the construction and repair of public buildings and for other long-term infrastructure investments.
Read my press release for more details about these committee assignments.
Water for Eastern Washington and western states
As you know, I've been working to help save communities and farms that are dependent on the depleted Odessa aquifer. Last week, I had the opportunity to testify at a federal public hearing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture related to water availability in the western United States.
The Odessa aquifer is significantly depleted and municipal and agricultural wells have been impacted. We have a myriad of partners working collaboratively to solve the declining ground water problem, but we need state and federal assistance to see these projects through.
During the hearing, I called for a specific federal program that dedicates funding for groundwater depletion, with the goal to bring projects like the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project into higher visibility as federal monies are disbursed. I also emphasized the sizable support (around $30 million) already allocated by the state to preserve the necessary water supply for the towns and people who depend upon the aquifer. This includes funding that a small group of dedicated legislators secured in the capital budget during the last biennium for the Odessa project, which recently completed its first pipeline.
You can listen to my testimony and the public hearing here. My testimony begins 22 minutes into the hearing.
Education during a pandemic
Most schools have been closed since March and online education has been very challenging for teachers, students and parents — especially in our smaller communities where high-speed broadband has yet to reach. My seatmates, Sen. Mark Schoesler and Rep. Joe Schmick, and I have been in discussions with our local schools about how to successfully meet these challenges, and how to provide for safe, in-person learning.
Recently, we met with educators, students and the public during a meeting of the Othello School Board to discuss concerns around online education.
I also had the opportunity to speak via Zoom with students of Mark Sawyer's ag economics and personal finance class, who meet live in the classroom at Garfield-Palouse High School. It was fun to answer a series of questions designed to prepare students for the future. Mark is also the local FFA advisor and FIRST Robotics mentor.
Thank you, Sen. Schoesler!
I wanted to take a moment to give a big thank you to my seatmate, Sen. Mark Schoesler, for his leadership serving as minority leader in the Senate since 2015. During his time leading Republicans in the Senate, he helped to pass the first college tuition reduction in state history, secured a long-term plan to fund our road maintenance and improvements, protected water rights for our farmers, and was instrumental in reforms to public school funding.
Sen. Schoesler recently announced he is stepping down from his position as Republican leader, but he plans to continue serving the citizens of the 9th District as our senator. I'm honored to serve with him and my other seatmate, Rep. Joe Schmick.
Legislators will mostly meet remotely during 2021 session
The 2021 session will be like no other. Rather than meeting in the House and Senate chambers in Olympia, the coming year's 105-day session will be held online as we try to keep everyone safe. House facilities will remain closed to the public. Floor sessions and committee meetings will be held remotely.
Up to 15 members from each caucus may be designated to work remotely from their assigned offices on the Capitol campus. Although internet access can be intermittent in Pomeroy, and although we have just received an open access network, thanks in part to my House Bill 2664, I have to admit that as a wheat grower, I live just a bit past the last mile in rural farmland outside the city. Connectivity can be spotty. So it is my hope that I will be one of the 15 selected to do business for you in Olympia in 2021. That said, we will be allowed to meet only remotely with the public, stakeholders, or lobbyists in the House facilities. If you need to set up an appointment for a remote meeting with me, please call my legislative assistant, Ruth Johnson, on her telework number at 564-888-2380.
The chief clerk of the House released the institution's COVID-19 Session Operations Plan on Dec. 11. You can find it here.
If there is a positive note to this, it is that citizens who have not been able to travel to Olympia to testify on bills, will have the opportunity to provide remote testimony through a committee sign-in process here. You can learn more about accessing the Legislature remotely here.
Stay connected and involved in your Legislature
Even during a remote session, it is vital we have citizen participation to ensure your voice in your state government. Here are several ways to stay informed and involved:
- The Washington State Ledger: This is a legislative news aggregator with information related to state government, public policy and the legislative process.
- TVW: The state's own version of C-SPAN where you can watch all of the floor and committee action live.
- My legislative website: Here you will find my contact information, biography, news releases, email updates and more.
- Capitol Report and radio interviews: Listen to my weekly three-minute radio program, as well as all my radio interviews.
- Washington State Legislature website: Here you will find committee and floor schedules, bill information and how you can testify and/or provide input on a bill.
I encourage you to contact my office with any questions, comments or suggestions about legislative issues. I value your feedback as we work in the coming session to address our state's most challenging issues.
Thank you for the opportunity to allow me to serve and represent you.