Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After the legislative session finished in April, my daughters returned home for an extended visit — one of them lives in Sydney, Australia. Since then, I have traveled extensively for legislative meetings with leaders from many states and Canadian provinces. These meetings have given me a broader view of issues and challenges we may be facing as we go into the 2022 legislative session in January.
Several vital issues for our district have arisen since I communicated to you last in this legislative e-newsletter. I wanted to spend a few minutes providing an update and encouraging your questions, comments, and involvement.
Long-term care payroll tax is coming soon. You may be able to opt-out if you act soon.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, all Washington workers who have not opted out by Nov. 1, 2021, will pay a payroll tax of 58 cents per $100 of their earnings of every paycheck to fund the new Washington Long-Term Care Trust Act. While the tax will be new, it actually comes from legislation passed by majority Democrats in the 2019 legislative session. I voted against the bill, and so did all House Republicans.
Under this program, you could receive up to $100 per day for a maximum lifetime benefit of $36,500 (adjusted annually). If you have a friend or loved one receiving long-term care in a nursing home facility or at home, you know very well that $36,500 doesn't go very far.
All wages, including stock-based compensation, bonuses, paid time off, and severance pay, are subject to the tax. For example, an employee with wages of $65,000 will pay $377 toward the program each year, while an employee with wages of $250,000 will pay $1,450 toward the program each year.
I have many concerns about this new tax and the state-sponsored long-term care insurance program. Here's why:
- If you plan to retire between now and 2025, you will not benefit from your contribution.
- If you work in Washington but live in Idaho/Oregon, you will pay the tax but never receive the benefit.
- This benefit is available only for care provided in the state of Washington for Washington residents and is not transferable. If you move to another state (such as from Clarkston to Lewiston), you will lose whatever you've paid into the system.
- I am also concerned that this payroll tax may increase in the future by a simple majority vote of the Legislature to keep it sustainable.
Self-employed people can choose to opt into the program between January 2022 and January 2025 or within three years of first becoming self-employed for the first time. Once you opt-in as a self-employed person, you may not opt-out.
Fortunately, there is a one-time opportunity to avoid this payroll tax, but you must act immediately if you wish not to be in the program. If you want to avoid the tax, you must opt-out and purchase a private qualified long-term care insurance plan before Nov. 1, 2021. A qualifying long-term care insurance plan must meet the definition of long-term care insurance in RCW 48.83.020.
Once a plan is purchased, an individual must apply for an exemption from the program to the Employment Security Department (ESD) between Oct. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2022. If ESD accepts the application, the individual is permanently exempt from the payroll tax and ineligible for future coverage from the state program.
Once approved, individuals must provide all current and future employers with notice of the exemption to maintain exemption from the payroll tax. Unfortunately, workers moving into Washington state in and after 2022 will be automatically enrolled in this program without opting out.
If you want to be on the state's long-term care insurance plan, you don't have to do anything. You will begin to see automatic payroll taxes taken from your paycheck beginning Jan. 1.
You can find more on this issue here.
Read news stories on the new long-term care tax:
- Deadline coming on Washington long-term care: private or state plan? (Associated Press)
- Long-term care tax looms for nearly all Washington workers (Columbia Basin Herald)
No jab, no job? Governor's new vaccination and masking orders go too far
In the past two weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee has issued new emergency proclamations that order public school teachers, K-12 staff and administrators, employees working in higher education, health care workers, most childcare and early learning, and most state employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Those covered under this order that are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, could lose their jobs.
The governor has also issued a statewide mask mandate, as well as an order that all students, teachers and K-12 staff returning to the classrooms this fall must wear masks. School boards across the state have been threatened by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal who said his office “will unfortunately find ourselves having to suspend apportionment, funds for districts who willfully violate that through a board action.”
I share the concerns of those who feel these mandates are extreme. In fact, according to The Seattle Times, they are among the strictest in the nation. I also agree with our Republican leadership in the House and Senate who sent a letter to Gov. Inslee on Aug. 20, expressing concerns these mandates could lead to critical labor shortages in health care, education, public safety, state government and other essential services. As Senate Republican Leader John Braun and House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox wrote, “No one should lose their job and income because they make the personal health-care choice not to get vaccinated.”
I recently participated in a 'Take Back Our Schools' rally at Liberty High School in Spangle organized by parents. My seatmates, Rep. Joe Schmick and Sen. Mark Schoesler were also there. We are concerned the mask mandate takes away the right of parents to decide what is best for their children. Read more about that rally here. I also spoke on the Jason Rantz Show (KTTH – Seattle) about my concerns. You can listen to that interview here.
Unfortunately, the governor can legally issue these mandates under his emergency powers. My House Republican colleagues and I believe lawmakers should have a role in these decisions. Unfortunately, we have been left out as the governor unilaterally issues these mandates. We repeatedly tried to address and amend the governor's emergency powers during the 2021 session. However, our efforts were rebuffed by the majority party. We have also asked the governor to call a special session to address these concerns and issues relating to the new police reform laws you'll read about in this email update. Not surprisingly, the governor has not responded to our requests.
You can read about our Republican response and get the latest information about COVID-19, the governor's actions and more from the House Republican Caucus page: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Resources. Also, see the Republican letters written to the governor here.
New police reform laws concerning, make citizens less safe
Several new police reform laws recently went into effect that are very concerning. Nearly all were passed by majority Democrats in Olympia without my support and without the support of my fellow legislative Republicans.
These policies eliminate many de-escalation methods currently approved and in use around the nation and will make it much more complicated – and in some cases, impossible – for law enforcement to respond to reports of criminal behavior.
Under the new law, there must be probable cause to pursue and detain a suspect. Since it took effect, there have been numerous instances in which law enforcement officers have been prohibited from using any forcible actions to stop a suspected criminal:
- Idaho law enforcement officials could not apprehend a suspected gun thief believed to have crossed over into Washington near Pullman because Pullman police said the new law prevented them from following up on the case without probable cause. Read the story here.
- Thieves stole two pickup trucks and an ATV in the Quincy area. Deputies were contacted and initially pursued but were forced to stop due to a lack of probable cause. The owners of the vehicles continued the pursuit, but the thieves got away. The vehicles were later recovered, damaged. The Grant County Sheriff's Office wrote on Facebook, “We feel very bad that we could not do more, but under House Bill 1054, this is an example of what we cannot do in order to stop crime.” Read the story here.
- A Chewelah man who stole a bus from a rafting company in Leavenworth and eventually stole a front-end loader that he used to damage a home in Chewelah could have been stopped earlier under the former law. However, the Chelan County Sheriff's Office said the new law prevented them from pursuing the bus after running a red traffic light near Monitor. A Douglas County officer also abandoned pursuit after 10 minutes. Read the story here.
Last year, our state had a 47% increase in murders. I am concerned this will only get worse. These new laws now let criminals go free while making it harder for law enforcement officers to do their jobs. Meantime, our communities, families, and children are at higher risk of being victimized.
This is one of the reasons why legislative Republicans have called on a special session. We need to fix this new law and hold criminals accountable.
I highly recommend you stay informed and read more about these policies by going to this page: Why Democrats' police reform bills have made communities less safe.
Preventing and fighting wildfires
I appreciate the difficult work of our local firefighters and those workers on the fire lines from the Department of Natural Resources who have been fighting to save lives, land, and structures from some horrible wildfires in our area and across Eastern Washington.
More than 836 fires have burned some 484,000 acres in Washington state this year, including the Lick Creek/Dry Gulch fire, which was sparked by lightning southwest of Asotin on July 7. It was finally 97 percent contained as of Aug. 14 but had consumed more than 80,000 acres of grass and brushlands.
I've been a strong advocate in the Legislature for additional resources to provide an immediate response to wildfires. During the 2019 session, I sponsored House Bill 1958, a proposal brought to me by Asotin County Fire District 1 Chief Noel Hardin that sought to establish a premobilization aviation assistance program to assist local fire suppression entities on the initial attack of a wildland fire. The bill would have allowed local air support quickly and provided reimbursement to those local fire suppression entities. Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Committee Chair did not support this effort, which essentially stalled the bill.
However, I am pleased to report that during this session, we passed House Bill 1168, legislation to fully fund wildfire prevention and forest health. The bill creates a dedicated account of about $125 million every biennium. The money will be spent on management and restoration efforts to make forests more fire resilient, such as reducing fuel loads and creating firebreaks to stop swift-moving fires. Funds will also be spent on upgrading existing equipment, hiring and training more firefighters, and strengthening leadership and fire detection systems.
I was also pleased to support Senate Bill 5454, a measure by Sen. Mark Schoesler, that allows Washington residents who lost a home to wildfire between Sept. 1 and Sept. 19, 2020, to be exempt from paying property taxes on the total value of the original structure for three years if the home is being rebuilt or physically improved. This will help people who lost their homes in the terrible wildfires last Labor Day, including those in the Whitman County towns of Malden and Pine City, who lost nearly 120 homes in a wildfire.
Wildfires in Washington state are also among the primary contributors of carbon in our atmosphere. It's estimated that in 2017 as more than 402,000 acres of land burned in Washington, those wildfires emitted 11,479,798 metric tons of carbon. The expensive mandates outlined in the governor's new Climate Commitment Act intended to limit carbon emissions will have no effect if we cannot sufficiently reduce fuels in our forests and public lands and provide proper management to reduce CO2 emissions.
Prevention and preparation are the key elements in addressing the threat of wildfires. I will continue working to secure additional and necessary resources for rapid-fire suppression and management of our public lands to prevent wildfires.
Repairing the Central Ferry Bridge
When the Central Ferry Bridge was first dedicated on March 21, 1924, it was quite an impressive structure across the Snake River. It is unfortunate that nearly 100 years later, the bridge deck has been allowed to deteriorate into a deplorable condition, with exposed rebar.
Rep. Joe Schmick, Sen. Mark Schoesler, and I have emphasized the need for repairs to the deck. Statewide bridge maintenance and repair priority is based on several criteria, including condition, bridge type, and daily traffic use. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) told us, “With the relatively low traffic on SR 127, it does make it more challenging to rank higher when comparing all bridges across the state.” Yet, the Central Ferry Bridge sees periods of extremely high car and truck traffic during harvest seasons. I am concerned for the safety of our motorists, as well as our local economy.
On July 7, I met with WSDOT Southeast/Central Region Director Todd Trepanier to convey my concerns. On July 19, I received word that crews had begun patchwork. This is an improvement for the short term, but we are working to access state and federal funding for long-term repairs on the bridge that will keep it safe and functional.
It is an honor to serve and represent you as I attend various events throughout the summer. Here's a quick look at some of those activities:
- Transportation projects tour – Along with other elected officials, we broke ground on the new Lewis Street overpass in Pasco on June 4. We also toured the Sylvester bike/pedestrian overpass, the SR 397/Oregon Avenue overlay preservation project, the safety project on SR 12/A Street and Tank Farm Road, and the economic development project at Broadmoor and Road 100. Many of these projects are included in the transportation revenue package proposals discussed this past session.
- Pacific Technology Alliance Roundtable on Broadband – It was a pleasure to join Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr in Spokane on July 7 to discuss expansion of broadband access across the state. As you may recall, I've spearheaded the discussion on this issue in Olympia to engage a statewide effort to bring broadband to underserved areas.
- National Association of Christian Lawmakers (NACL) – What an honor to be chosen as the Washington State chair of this organization during their National Policy Conference in Dallas, Texas, in July! Issues discussed included religious freedom, education reform, election integrity, marriage and the family, and human dignity.
- American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); Salt Lake City, Utah – July 28-30. ALEC is the nation's largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism. I serve on the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force and the Communications and Technology Task Force within this group.
- Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) annual summit; Big Sky, Montana – Aug. 15 – 19. PNWER is made up of representatives from Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The organization works to promote the economic well-being and quality of life for citizens within the region while maintaining and enhancing the environment.
- Council of State Government's Legislative Council on River Governance; Lewiston, Idaho – Aug. 23 – 24. This group works to enhance river governance in the Columbia and Snake River basins.
Stay in touch!
While the legislative session is over, I am available to meet with you, listen to your ideas, answer questions and help you navigate problems with state government. Please do not hesitate to contact me.
You can follow state government news throughout the interim with the following websites/news services.
- The Washington State Ledger: This is a legislative news aggregator administered by state House Republicans. It is a great source for information related to state government, public policy, and the legislative process. It is updated frequently.
- Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
Thank you for allowing me the honor to serve and represent you and the citizens of the 9th Legislative District!