Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's been 601 days since Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, day 597, nearly 2,000 Washingtonians were fired or forced to quit due to the vaccine mandate he put in place earlier this year for state workers. The Seattle Times reports:
“About 3% of the 63,000 Washington state workers subject to Gov. Jay Inslee's COVID-19 vaccine mandate have left their jobs or were terminated as this week's deadline passed. So far, 1,887 state employees were terminated or left their positions over the mandate that they be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs, according to the Office of Financial Management. Another roughly 3%, or 1,927 workers, received an accommodation that allows them to work in a less-public role without being vaccinated. An additional 4.6% of state workers — nearly 2,900 — are still in a state of flux, according to a statement by OFM Tuesday afternoon.”
There was a time when a vaccine mandate was considered unthinkable here in Washington state. But when someone has the unilateral authority to do whatever they want — thanks to the Democrats blocking Republican efforts to pass emergency powers reform earlier this year — anything is possible. How quickly we went from offering prizes for vaccinations during the summer to a mandate that threatened to, and ultimate did, take away people's livelihoods.
I want you to know that I am vaccinated and have encouraged others to make the same choice. However, I firmly oppose the governor's mandate. Requiring people to get vaccinated is punitive, shortsighted and wrong. An individual's decision about whether or not to get the vaccine should stay between them and their doctor.
There are a number of additional factors to take into account when discussing mandates, including whether or not someone has already had COVID, so it is unfortunate that we as a Legislature are not allowed to come together to have a larger conversation. The emergency powers reform bill House Republicans tried to pass earlier this year would have simply ensured adequate legislative involvement in long-lasting states of emergency, bringing Washington in line with what many other states are already doing. However, House Democrats didn't even let the bill come up for a vote. While I believe the governor should have emergency powers in a variety of circumstances, I also believe there should be limits on those powers. It is inconsistent with the design of our state constitution and representative government to allow one person to rule the state unilaterally for 601 straight days (and counting).
Unfortunately, we will have to wait for the 2022 session to begin for another chance to restore the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. As it stands, Washington continues to rank near the bottom of all states in terms of governmental balance of power.
New police reform bills have made Washington communities less safe
During this year's legislative session, Democrats passed two police reform bills (HB 1054 and HB 1310) that Republicans believed would negatively impact law enforcement and make our communities less safe. Unfortunately, we were right.
- 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
- Deputies searching for suspect after man shot dead in Puyallup parking lot
- Pierce County police leaders say new WA reforms hinder effective law enforcement
- 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
Following the murder that occurred in Puyallup earlier this year, in which the search for the suspect was initially called off due to confusion caused by these new reforms, I joined with Sen. Gildon and Rep. Jacobsen in calling for a special session to be held to fix HB 1054 and HB 1310. We wrote the following in a joint statement:
“Due to the Democrats' new police reform laws, we continue to see a disturbing trend across the state where our men and women in law enforcement are unable to effectively carry out their duties. Here in Puyallup yesterday, police deputies were forced to abandon their search for a murder suspect out of concern that a pursuit resulting in the use of force would be considered unlawful.
“Throughout this year's legislative session, Republicans warned there would be serious consequences as a result of these new laws going into effect. Unfortunately, our concerns were dismissed and law-abiding citizens now have to wonder if they're going to be the next victim of a perpetrator who got away.
“With people's lives at stake and criminals continuing to escape justice, it is imperative that we as a legislative body take immediate action to remedy these problems. We implore the governor to call a special session so the Legislature can address this issue and pass new reforms that will allow law enforcement to quickly and effectively stop criminals and keep Washingtonians safe. At the same time, we must also provide clarity to law enforcement so the law is uniformly understood and equitably applied statewide.”
Unfortunately, our calls for a special session have been ignored, so this yet another major issue that we'll have to wait to address until the 2022 session begins on January 10.
I want to make one final point on this. We are already facing a recruitment and retention crisis in Washington. Last year marked the 11th consecutive year where we ranked last in the nation in terms of the number of police officers per thousand people. Meanwhile, we just lost more troopers and officers due to the governor's vaccine mandate. This is a crisis that all legislators should have a sense of urgency about. We desperately need more police officers patrolling our streets, but that will not happen if we continue demonizing their profession and passing reforms that make it harder for them to do their jobs and bring criminals to justice. I hope the majority understands that and works with us to undo the damage that's been caused by these policies and a lot of divisive rhetoric over the years.
For more information, please click on the image below:
The Democrats' long-term care insurance tax should be repealed
Yet another major source of frustration for many people is the new long-term care insurance program that was supported and passed by legislative Democrats during the 2019 session. I have spent the last 18 years working in long-term care and know firsthand how beneficial long-term care insurance can be in a person's latter years. Unfortunately, the plan being offered by the state is anemic when compared to other options available in the insurance marketplace.
The other problem is the payroll tax the majority passed in order to fund the program. It will soon affect every worker in Washington who decides not to opt-out. However, opting out still requires Washingtonians to purchase a qualified long-term care insurance plan before November 1. Either way, workers are being forced to pay for something they may not want. Many have discovered they don't even have the option to opt out because most long-term care insurance carriers stopped selling plans in Washington months ago.
It's a mess, which is why a bipartisan group of state senators recently sent a letter to the governor asking him to suspend the new payroll tax. After dealing with the pandemic for the last 20 months, with businesses being shut down and workers being displaced, it is perfectly reasonable to postpone implementation of this new program and tax. Doing so would give individuals more time to obtain plans and allow the Legislature to make much-needed changes to help those have already been roped into this scheme. However, an outright repeal would be an even better course of action.
For those of you who have been or will be fortunate enough to obtain your own long-term care insurance plan by the November 1 deadline, please know that you must file for an exemption by December 31. Here are some easy instructions from the WA Cares Fund website to help guide you through the process.
If you're looking for more information, I encourage you to check out this page on the House Republican website.
Please continue reaching out to me with any comments, questions or concerns you have. My email address is Kelly.Chambers@leg.wa.gov, and my district office number is (360) 746-3670.
It is an honor to serve you.