Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now down to the wire in this 2021 legislative session, with less than two weeks to go before the final gavel on April 25. This has been a unique session, as we continue to operate under COVID restrictions, and under a state of emergency.
Reining in the Governor's Powers
That brings me to the first issue I want to discuss: the governor's unchecked emergency powers. Our state has been operating under these conditions for more than a year, and there seems to be no end in sight. Here are a few examples.
Governor Rolls Back Three Counties, Including Pierce – earlier this week, the governor ordered three counties – Pierce, Cowlitz, and Whitman – to roll back to Phase 2, due to increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in those counties. The governor said they are no longer meeting Phase 3 Healthy Washington metrics.
However, this decision should have been decided with input from state legislators and officials from these counties. Additionally, according to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, a slow rollout of the vaccine is partially to blame for the county not meeting Phase 3 metrics. He has asked the governor for a greater number of vaccine allocations and he also expressed his concern about the effects the governor's decision will have on jobs in Pierce County.
Dammeier joined the Gee and Ursula Show with his reaction. “I think I am frustrated…I think the people of Pierce County have reason to be frustrated with being rolled back to the point where it's going to harm some of our business. It's going to cost people their jobs when those things are really important right now,” he said.
Limiting the Governor's Emergency Powers – Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate have been trying to limit the governor's powers for months. Our government should NOT be run by one person without any checks and balances. To this point, the majority has not given our efforts any consideration. However, rest assured we are still working to implement some reform of the governor's emergency powers before the session ends.
Unconstitutional Ban on Churches – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision last week that California's ban on at-home worship for Bible study groups or prayer groups violates the First Amendment's guarantee of the free exercise of religion. The ruling came in a case brought by a couple of pastors and others in a Bible study group in Santa Clara County, California, against Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials.
Based on the merits of the case, the plaintiffs had shown they were “irreparably harmed by the loss of free exercise rights 'for even minimal periods of time,'” the ruling said, adding that the state had not shown that “public health would be imperiled” by using less restrictive measures.
The reason I bring this up is I recently introduced a bill, which would provide protections against the practice of the governor issuing proclamations (under presumed threat of enforcement/penalty/fine/even arrest) but never intending to enforce them.
As you may be aware, that is exactly what the governor did to places of worship last year with his proclamations toward churches. If you didn't follow the litigation, numerous churches sued the governor on a number of grounds, including constitutionality. Ultimately, the governor argued to receive a dismissal on lack-of-standing because he admitted to the court that, even though he had executive branch agencies contact churches which were reported for violations, he had never enforced and would never enforce such proclamations.
In my opinion, it is clear the governor knew his proclamations were unconstitutional but also knew he could hide behind a judiciary wall of protection (either via cost of litigation or this dismissal route he ultimately chose). Why issue a proclamation you never intend to enforce? Or, if you truly believed in your actions, why not enforce? If you weren't going to enforce, why would you have your executive branch make intimidating calls to those you didn't intend to enforce upon?
Update on Senate Bill 5122 – Shared Success Story!
In my last email update, I shared my grave concern about Senate Bill 5122. This bill would increase the age range that children are presumed incapable of committing a crime, from under age 8 to under age 13.I was totally shocked by this legislation. Essentially, the bill removes all accountability from children who commit crimes. It literally says a child under the age of 13 is incapable of committing a crime.
I'm happy to report the advocacy worked, and this bill did not make it to the House floor for a vote this year. Great work by all who contacted the Legislature with their concerns. Unfortunately, however, supporters of this bill have already made their position clear. They plan to double down on their efforts to get it passed next year. If you oppose this bill and are interested in helping with this issue, please contact my office.
Working to Repair Fallout from State v. Blake
I want to update you on the fallout from a ruling (State v. Blake) by the Washington State Supreme Court earlier this year. On Feb. 25, the court deemed the state's simple possession drug law unconstitutional. In other words, the state Supreme Court made drug possession legal.
The fallout of the court decision will be devastating and deeply impact public safety for all Washington citizens and our communities. And it will not help those who are suffering with substance abuse. With no power for law enforcement to arrest people in possession of narcotics, drug use is going to increase, and our kids' safety will be in jeopardy.
While some in the majority party have been fighting against it, Republicans are still diligently working to rectify this situation. House Republicans on the Public Safety Committee released a package of bills in response to the concerns and repercussions shortly after the ruling. You can learn more about these bills by clicking here.
At the center of our efforts is my bill, House Bill 1560, which would restore our current law by considering the mental state element of a person's intention to knowingly commit a crime (mens rea) involving offenses related to possession of substances. We are hopeful these bills will be heard so we can get some kind of resolution before session ends.
Many of you have expressed your disappointment the Supreme Court is “legislating from the bench” and leaving “we the people” to clean up the mess, and I agree. This ruling has put our communities at higher risk and now we must deal with the consequences while we work to provide a solution.
Students Will Not Take State Tests This Spring
Lastly, for your information, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal has announced that Washington state will not be administering the Smarter Balanced Assessments or the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science this spring. Instead, the assessment window for the 2020–21 school year will be in the fall – a timeline consistent with guidance provided by the department to satisfy federal testing requirements. You can read the entire statement here.
Please Stay in Touch
As this session winds down, please remember you can still contact me with any questions, ideas, and concerns. Just use the contact info below. I'm here to listen and be your voice in the Legislature. Thank you for your continued support. I look forward to hearing from you and meeting with you in-person very soon.
In strength and honor,