I hope your summer is going well and that you're having an opportunity to enjoy it with friends and family. I wanted to take a few minutes to provide some important updates from the state Legislature. Feel free to contact my office with any questions, comments or suggestions. Remember, I work for you throughout the year — even when the Legislature is not in session.
Washington now reopened
It seems like we've waited forever for Gov. Inslee to reopen Washington and allow our state's economy to return to normal. On June 30, the governor shifted from the Roadmap to Recovery/Safe Start plan to the Washington Ready plan. Under this plan, all industry sectors (with limited exceptions for large indoor events) were given the green light to return to usual capacity and operations. Large indoor events with more than 10,000 participants in an enclosed space are still restricted to 75% capacity. The governor plans to reevaluate the restrictions on large indoor events on July 31. The “reopening” is long overdue and I share your concerns over the governor retaining emergency power and monopolization of government. I will continue to advocate for changes in the emergency powers statute and support legislation that restores balance of power to Washington state government. Read more here about the Washington Ready reopen plan.
New requirements for unemployment benefits
Now that our state's economy is in the process of reopening, we are seeing help wanted signs in restaurants, grocery stores, the hospitality industry, and at many industrial sites. Some employers are finding it difficult to recruit new hires because of the exceedingly generous unemployment benefits paid to those laid off due to COVID. Until recently, those receiving unemployment benefits did not have to prove they were looking for work. However, the job search requirements that had been temporarily suspended were reinstated as of last week. Residents now need to begin searching and provide documentation of their job search activities, showing at least three weekly contacts to remain eligible for state unemployment benefits. Read more here from the Employment Security Department.
Governor extends eviction moratorium
I am very disappointed Gov. Inslee disregarded the extensive bipartisan work we put into Senate Bill 5160 that established a new eviction process and a moratorium end date of June 30. Instead, he issued an emergency order, Proclamation 20-05, on June 29 which extends the eviction moratorium through Sept. 30, 2021.
As I noted in a June 23 statement I released, “Many property owners have been providing free or reduced-rent housing throughout the pandemic, with little to no relief for themselves. Instead of addressing their concerns and working on their behalf, the governor has vetoed additional landlord support and chosen to extend this moratorium. He is single-handedly destroying a vital industry and critical investment opportunities for families and small businesses across our state.”
I had the honor of co-authoring an opinion editorial in The Daily News (Longview newspaper) with Jakob McGhie, a landlord/tenant and property disputes attorney, in which we discuss the confusing and frustrating process of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act and the eviction moratorium. You can read that article here.
The Columbian also editorialized against the eviction moratorium extension, calling it the “wrong approach.”
In addition, I share the concerns of my seatmate, Senate Republican Leader John Braun, and House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, who note that within the governor's new emergency order, Gov. Inslee quietly extends his own emergency power through Sept. 30. Read their press release here.
In an opinion-editorial to The News Tribune, Sen. Braun and Rep. Wilcox ask, “Why has the governor chosen to quietly lengthen it by at least another 90 days, when more than half of the states have already ended or scheduled a halt to their COVID emergencies? What's different about Washington?”
As I mentioned in my May 6 email update, Republicans repeatedly tried during the 2021 legislative session to provide reforms to the governor's extensive emergency powers, only to be rebuffed by majority Democrats who blocked our efforts. Now that the governor has singlehandedly extended his own power into the fall, we hope majority Democrats will join with us the next time legislators meet to make thoughtful improvements to the state's emergency powers law.
New police reform mandates make Washington less safe
Several police reform bills passed in the 2021 session by majority Democrats are just now being enacted and there's a real and legitimate concern that many of our communities will become less safe because of these reforms. An article earlier this week in The Daily World (Aberdeen newspaper), notes that a rash of serious incidents has local law enforcement concerned about how they can respond to certain situations, including serious crimes. Read that article here.
Public safety should be among the top priorities in government and I am on the front line in the Legislature, serving on the Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee. A law is only as good as its enforcement. However, some of the measures passed during the 2021 session, which I opposed, disarmed the police and took away important tools used by law enforcement to de-escalate situations. No wonder many law enforcement agencies are seeing far greater numbers of officers seeking retirement or looking for employment outside of law enforcement locally and statewide. It should also be no surprise that overall crime is up across the state. I'm concerned this trend will continue if good law enforcement officers continue to be demonized.
I invite you to read more about this issue on our House Republican page: “Why Democrats' police-reform bills have made communities less safe.”
Long-term care payroll tax; You can opt out — but DON'T WAIT!
Beginning in January 2022, all Washington workers will pay 58 cents per $100 of their earnings to fund the Long-Term Care Trust Act (LTCTA). There is no limit to how much you will contribute to the LTCTA throughout your life; however, there is a limit to the benefits.
For your contribution, you will receive up to $100 per day for a maximum lifetime benefit of $36,500 (adjusted annually). This benefit is available only for care provided in the state of Washington for Washington residents and is not transferable.
If you plan to retire in sunny Arizona or Florida, you will lose your entire contribution into the system.
If you plan to retire within the next 10 years, you will not receive a benefit for your contribution because you must work 500 hours per year for 10 years to be vested. Therefore, if you retire in nine-and-a-half years, you will lose your entire contribution into the system.
If you want no part of the program and do not wish to pay the payroll tax, you must opt-out and secure a comparable long-term care plan before Nov. 1, 2021.
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. Self-employed opt-ins are irrevocable.
I agree that long-term care planning is needed and often neglected. However, this is a very flawed program that provides little benefit with lots of restrictions. I know we can do better than this. The lack of portability, limited maximum benefit, disregard for workers within 10 years of retirement and lack of a hardship exception are just some of the reasons this new tax is bad policy. This is another one-size-fits-all scheme that places more burdens on families and businesses.
How do you opt-out of the program?
Workers in Washington state age 18 years or older have a short window in 2021 to permanently opt out of the Trust Program and its payroll tax.
To opt out, an individual must purchase a 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 Trust Program.
Once approved, individuals must provide all current and future employers with notice of the exemption to maintain exemption from the payroll tax.
IMPORTANT: If you wish to opt out of this payroll tax, I highly recommend you begin the process right now toward securing a qualified private long-term care insurance plan. Don't wait until this fall. Why? Insurance companies that sell long-term care policies are telling me there's often a 90-day underwriting process for approval. You may also need to get a health check from your doctor before approval. Some insurance companies have decided to no longer sell long-term care policies in Washington state, so options for private insurance may soon be limited. If you wait until the opt-out window this fall before pursuing private long-term care insurance, you may not be able to qualify before the window has closed. That's why it is important to act now if you wish to opt out. Here's a list of companies approved to sell long-term care insurance in Washington state.
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.
For more information:
- Read my commentary in The Reflector: New state payroll tax? You're 'in' unless you opt out
- See our Frequently Asked Questions page on the House Republican website: Common questions about the new payroll tax in Washington state.
- Read my press release announcing my appointment to the Civil Legal Aid Oversight Committee and Statute Law Committee.
Southwest Flexible Training Center expands local opportunities to teach industrial trades
I had the opportunity this morning to tour the new Southwest Flexible Training Center (SWFT) at Centralia College. I was joined by my seatmates, Sen, John Braun and Rep. Ed Orcutt, along with Centralia College President Bob Mohrbacher, Centralia College Foundation Director Christine Fossett, Dean of Instruction Jay Fay, and several others.
The SWFT Center is a 12,000 square-foot building housing various industrial trades training courses that opened earlier this year. I was involved when we began broke ground on the new training facility in March 2020. Click here to read The Chronicle's story on the groundbreaking.
I am very proud that we now have a top-notch industrial trades training center to serve the students in our local area.
A $1.3 million private grant helped pay for construction of the project. As a member of the House Capital Budget Committee, we invested $512.3 million in the statewide community college system, including $3.4 million for a teacher education and family development center, and other improvements at Centralia College. In addition, we appropriated $3.2 million for the Lower Columbia College's Center for Vocational and Transitional Studies.
I've long been a supporter of training programs in the trades, having co-sponsored House Bill 1536, relating to establishing regional apprenticeship programs through educational service districts. I also sponsored the USA amendment during the 2021 session that would have invested in apprenticeships and trade training programs. (Read my news release here.) Plus, I successfully fought against House Bill 1084 that would have been a job killer to the trades. (Read my news release here.)
Links for more information on SWFT:
- Centralia College Industrial Trades Training Center hopes to partner with K-12 schools (The Chronicle – July 2020)
- SWFT Center page
Support to prevent and fight wildfires
The heatwave a couple of weeks ago across our state further dried vegetation on lands, fields and in our forests, making the risk of wildfires more serious. While there have been several massive wildfires already in Eastern Washington, our local area is not immune. In fact, The Daily Chronicle reported this week on a 40-acre fire in the hills above Mineral. I suspect we may see more as the warmth of summer continues into September.
Last year, the Department of Natural Resources responded to more than 1,850 wildfires in our state that burned nearly 710,000 acres along with hundreds of homes and structures.
This session, in a show of strong bipartisanship and collaboration, I supported and 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, hire and train more firefighters, and strengthen leadership and fire detection systems.
Prevention and preparation are the key elements in addressing the threat of wildfires. Some regions have suffered through the majority of our catastrophic fires, but almost every city and town in our state has experienced the harmful effects of bad air quality as a result of extreme wildfire smoke. This legislation will benefit all Washingtonians. I will continue working to address the state's forest management and cooperation with private landowners.
Stay in touch!
I've kept very busy this summer being out in our local communities and meeting with people, which I really enjoy. Your input is vital to help me in representing the 20th Legislative District. Please call, write or email my office with any comments, suggestions or ideas. Let me know if you'd like to meet with me or if you'd like me to speak with a group in the district. My contact information is below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!