Lawmakers will convene today (Monday) in Olympia for the first day of the 2021 session, which will be like no other legislative session in state history. Washington House Republicans’ John Sattgast has two reports. (transcripts below)
Legislative Republicans say they will focus on reopening the economy and getting people back to work.
Lawmakers say the 2021 session in pandemic age will be like no other
SATTGAST: As the National Guard stands behind fences surrounding the Capitol building, only lawmakers, few staff, and some press will be allowed inside – all wearing masks and socially distanced to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
After today, the Capitol building will remain closed through the 105-day session. Most lawmakers will return to their homes and log in remotely as committee meetings and voting will be conducted through computer programs like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
House Republican Transportation Budget Leader Andrew Barkis admits it will be challenging to negotiate budgets in a virtual setting.
BARKIS: “It’s very difficult to have committee meetings, budget negotiations, high level staff meetings via Zoom. You have to be able to look at the nuances of what’s going on in that room.”
SATTGAST: Only 30 House members – 15 handpicked from each caucus – will stay in their Olympia offices – isolated to only attend virtual meetings and vote online. No guests. No staff. No in-person meetings. Citizens may testify online and reach their lawmakers by telephone and email. John Sattgast, Olympia.
Helping businesses get people back to work is Republicans top 2021 legislative priority
Since the first COVID shutdowns last March, thousands of businesses have closed, forcing Washingtonians out of work. House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox says Republicans will be offering real solutions during the 2021 session for pandemic relief to help struggling employers and get people back to work. This includes a temporary suspension of the business and occupation tax, a five-thousand-dollar credit for businesses on their B&O tax liability, and relief from the unemployment insurance tax.
WILCOX: “Many, many businesses are seeing three-to-five-hundred percent increases in their unemployment insurance rates. And we should use part of the rainy-day fund to backfill that.”
SATTGAST: Wilcox says the governor’s plan to increase taxes by more than a billion dollars couldn’t come at a worse time. The Republican leader is confident the state budget can be balanced without tax increases or deep cuts.
Another priority will be to pass legislation that reforms the governor’s emergency powers so that the Legislature is no longer shut out of decisions during an emergency when it’s not in session.
John Sattgast, Olympia.