Author Archives: ericcampbell

Surprise! Majority looks to abdicate a basic role of the legislative branch

By ericcampbell | Published on January 13, 2021

I can’t tell you how many people contacted my Senate office during the past nine-plus months about the unprecedented actions Governor Inslee has taken since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them, using words that made their frustration or desperation obvious, asked what legislators could do regarding the dozens of proclamations he’s made since declaring a state of emergency.

We asked our constituents to stand by patiently while we tried month after month to convince the governor to call a special legislative session. Republicans made a strong case that the legislative branch could do much to help with pandemic relief, but as everyone knows by now, Inslee resisted.

No one expected our Democrat colleagues to join in pushing for a special session – not during the many months that Inslee was campaigning for re-election. It eventually became clear Republicans would have to wait for our regular legislative session, when the governor could no longer get in the way.

With 26 of Inslee’s temporary proclamations set to expire in January, Republicans were prepared for the full legislative branch to perform its duty as a check on the executive branch, for the first time during this pandemic.

The majority Democrats had a surprise for us. They’ve proposed Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402, which would bundle those 26 emergency orders and extend them “until the termination of the state of emergency…or until rescinded by gubernatorial or legislative action.” In other words, no more legislative oversight. The majority says it’ll bring the legislation to a vote sometime today.

Considering how the governor’s proclamations affect the entire state, it’s reasonable to conclude Democrat legislators have heard the same frustration and desperation from their constituents as Republican legislators have. I’d have expected they also had some misgivings about being relegated to the sidelines by Governor Inslee.

Assuming SCR 8402 passes as filed, however, it would seem Democrat lawmakers are as willing to relegate themselves to the sidelines as the governor was – even if that means betraying constituents who have waited months for their concerns to be taken to the Capitol.

Or, to continue the “sidelines” theme, the legislative branch finally has possession of the football for the first time in months, yet the majority Democrats have decided to punt on first down and give the ball back to the executive branch.

It makes you wonder what the next 102 days will bring.

— Senate Republican Leader John Braun

Positive revenue forecast doesn’t reduce need for special legislative session, says Braun

By ericcampbell | Published on November 18, 2020

OLYMPIA… While this year’s final forecast of state-government revenues for 2020 shows an increase of $634 million for the current two-year budget cycle, Sen. John Braun says the news masks serious concerns about the state economy that require attention from the Legislature ahead of its 2021 session.

Braun, R-Centralia, who is Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and a member of the state Economic Revenue and Forecast Council, offered this statement after the council adopted today’s forecast:

“Sometimes a positive revenue forecast is a cause for celebration, or at least a sigh of relief, but not this time – not when so many employers and families have been set back by the governor’s throwback response to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

“Today’s forecast indicates we will no longer have to look at tapping the rainy-day fund to offset a projected budget deficit. That’s certainly helpful but it should not overshadow the concern we ought to have about the long-term health of our economy – specifically the thousands of employers across our state who have just been forced to close or severely reduce their business activity for the second time this year. Small businesses are the cornerstone of a state economy that has supported an unprecedented 40 percent in government spending over the past four years. It’s time for government to give back. The Legislature should be in a special session right now, because there are many actions we could take to help employers survive and lay the groundwork for an economic recovery next year. We can start by directing the 300 million dollars of remaining CARES funds toward the employers hit hardest by the governor’s restrictions. The regular session in January will simply be too late, and we also can’t count on additional federal help.

“In May, Republicans began making a strong case for a special legislative session. We understand what employers need if they are to have a chance of surviving the pandemic and the governor’s response to it. Instead, the governor has continued to cling to governing by proclamation and ‘guidance’ developed behind closed doors. Recently his office went so far as to deny, falsely, that we have put many ideas on the table worthy of legislative consideration. This is not how the people expect their government to function. The pandemic is clearly too large for one branch of government, and this new shutdown is causing many families to feel a bad sense of déjà vu this week. Those of us who are elected to serve the people can and should do better.”

Click here to view the TVW video of today’s council meeting.

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Wilson dismayed by governor’s new restrictions related to COVID-19 situation

By ericcampbell | Published on November 17, 2020

VANCOUVER…Sen. Lynda Wilson said Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement of new restrictions on Washington employers, workers and families has her questioning whether he truly understands the depth of the economic and personal damage they will cause.

Wilson, R-Vancouver, is Republican leader of the Senate committee on economic development and trade. She also served on the governor’s pandemic-related business-recovery task force until it was abruptly disbanded in May, after just five weeks. With the food-service industry being one of Washington’s key economic sectors, her work to address the pandemic in Clark County has included many months of weekly meetings with up to 150 local restaurant owners.

Wilson offered this response regarding the restrictions on social gatherings and a variety of employers, which were made public over the weekend and began taking effect today. Indoor service at restaurants and bars statewide will again be prohibited starting tomorrow.

“It’s disheartening how the governor’s words and actions don’t match up. He claims the ‘science’ is driving this new round of restrictions when the data simply don’t support it. If the statistics from his own Department of Health say people are at the greatest risk in their own homes, and the hospitality industry is connected to only 1 percent of the COVID infections, why is he going after the restaurants again? The governor declares ‘inaction isn’t an option’ yet behind the scenes it took his office more than a month to decide that our local restaurant and bar owners will be allowed to put up tents to increase their outdoor seating capacity. And unbelievably, these business owners learned just yesterday that the tents can only have two sides and part of a third side, which is no help during the rainy season and winter for an industry that depends on occupancy. Many of these employers could go under for good at any moment, and this is the ‘action’ they get?

“Since Governor Inslee unilaterally rolled out this new round of restrictions many people have asked again why the Legislature doesn’t intervene. The answer is the same now as it was in the spring – we have to be called into a special session. That can only be done by the governor or with a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House, which means the majority Democrats would have to allow such a vote. If it was up to me we would be in a special session right now, because there are many things the Legislature could do to help employers get through this latest setback, and our state needs every job it can get.

“The governor calls these new restrictions a ‘bold’ step, but it’s November, not March or May when so much less was known about the virus and how to limit the spread. There is nothing bold about him forcing employers to shut their doors again, or causing people to see their incomes disappear again. Even if it’s temporary, the pain goes far deeper than just the employee – it hits every child and spouse in that household. Besides, there’s no reason to trust his new edict will only last four weeks, and the people who can’t work for at least the next month have no reason to trust in the Employment Security Department, considering its atrocious response to unemployment claims earlier this year.

“When the governor puts his hand over his heart and says he has a ‘real feeling of empathy’ for those who will be hurt by his actions, I’d like for him to see the social-media posts from my constituents whose jobs are disappearing overnight. Their inability to control their own fate has sent them into tailspins of despair and anxiety that will be hard if not impossible to reverse. Maybe they can live without a Thanksgiving gathering or a birthday party or a football afternoon a lot easier than they can live without a paycheck, but the governor isn’t giving them any choice.”

Braun says state’s response to pandemic is weakened by lack of involvement from Legislature

By ericcampbell | Published on 

OLYMPIA… State government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is suffering from Gov. Jay Inslee’s resistance to calling the state Legislature into session to help with key decisions, Sen. John Braun said today.

Braun, R-Centralia, Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, offered this reaction to new restrictions announced Sunday by Inslee. The governor is attempting to put limits on indoor social gatherings and has increased restrictions on much business activity to where they were earlier in the year:

“More than 250 days since the first COVID-19 death was reported in our state, it’s clear the pandemic is too big for one person or one branch of government to handle. The state’s response has consisted primarily of unilateral mandates from the governor, and no matter how well-intentioned he may be, no American would support the idea that a chief executive should use emergency powers indefinitely to decide any important issue. The people of our state have become tired of having their lives controlled and disrupted by one person. The state’s response would be more effective and better received if the entire Legislature is involved, so that people in all 39 counties could have confidence that their perspectives are being considered.

“If two heads are better than one, then all the heads in the state Legislature plus Governor Inslee’s must be better than the governor’s alone. We have ideas for tax, fee and regulatory relief as well as financial assistance to help small businesses survive and recover – steps that can be taken without putting a larger hole in the state budget – and it’s clear the number of small businesses needing help is only going to grow due to the governor’s new round of restrictions. Also, there are about 300 million dollars in federal pandemic aid that still need to be allocated before the year ends. These are decisions the Legislature needs to make because our branch has budget authority, and it would be smart to make them during a special legislative session that is tightly focused on pandemic relief, sometime in the next month. I realize the 2021 legislative session is less than two months away, but the agenda for that is already full enough.

“We can look at the same COVID-19 statistics as the governor and come to different conclusions about what they mean and how to respond. The new round of restrictions on businesses ignores the fact that it’s in the best interests of employers to ensure their customers and employees feel as safe as possible. The unenforceable new limits on social gatherings go against the idea that the people of our state care deeply about the safety and well-being of those around them. No one is questioning that the pandemic should be taken seriously, or that we should all take precautions to limit the spread of the virus. But it’s one thing to inform the people, and trust them, and another thing to dictate how they should live. The dictates need to end.”

Braun says Boeing 787 decision should be incentive for lawmakers to increase support for manufacturing

By ericcampbell | Published on October 01, 2020

OLYMPIA… Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, offered this reaction to The Boeing Company’s decision to shift Washington-based work on its 787 jetliner to South Carolina:

“Washington has been incredibly fortunate to have Boeing as its largest employer. Of course we all would have preferred for this move to be in our state’s favor, knowing what it will mean for so many families and communities and other employers – and for the state budget. At the same time, no one should be slamming the company for making what is obviously a business decision. The COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions related to it have been the last straw for many businesses across Washington, not just Boeing.

“While our state is still the aerospace capital of the world, I do not want to sit by and watch this sector of our economy fall into decline the way non-aerospace manufacturing has during this century. No matter what else our state has to offer, the cost of doing business is ultimately the key to keeping employers and attracting new ones. Had we succeeded in lowering the tax rate on non-aerospace manufacturing a few years ago, it would have saved Boeing a big tax headache as well, and today’s decision might not have happened.

“This should give the Legislature incentive to take bold steps now to promote a brighter future for all manufacturing in Washington. Eliminating the manufacturing B&O tax would do much to secure the future of aerospace in our state and also provide a huge boost to all the other manufacturers who are trying to survive the economic fallout from the pandemic. That would be a smart move for the Legislature, and we should take it.”

 

New revenue forecast highlights continued threat to critical public services, need for special legislative session

By ericcampbell | Published on September 23, 2020

OLYMPIA… Six months after most of Washington’s economy was shut down due to COVID-19, the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council has received 2020’s third-quarter forecast of state-government revenues. Today’s update reduces the deficit projected in the June 2020 forecast but leaves legislators on track to still deal with a $3.9 billion deficit.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, a member of the forecast council and Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, offered this statement:

“While the state’s economy is in a better place now than it was during the second quarter, that’s little consolation for the employers who are still stifled by a restart plan that occasionally lurches forward but generally seems to be in a holding pattern. Unfortunately, many businesses can’t afford to wait any longer and are making the difficult decision to close permanently. The Legislature is in a similar position, if we are to protect the services that are critical to our state’s most vulnerable residents. We should be meeting in a special session right now, to reprioritize spending and put the budget on a better course for the nine months left in the biennium. The longer those decisions are put off, the more difficult they become. It’s long past time for anyone to be counting on help from the federal government.

“As if there isn’t enough incentive for a special session already, we could see a lot more pressure on the budget very soon. Besides the significant costs associated with what is already a near-record wildfire situation, there is the possibility that Boeing may announce plans to move all production of its 787 jetliner out of state. Those two factors make it even more imperative to get a special session scheduled so we can get to work while there is still time to do some good.”

Predicted $9 billion revenue loss affirms need for June special session, Republican leaders say

By ericcampbell | Published on June 17, 2020

OLYMPIA…Senate Republican leaders today repeated their call for a June special session of the Legislature now that Washington’s chief economist has predicted a $9 billion loss in state-government revenue over the next three years.

From Sen. John Braun of Centralia, who serves the state’s 20th Legislative District:

“This forecast confirms there are about a billion reasons to meet in special session right away instead of waiting. The Legislature still has time to pull back on all the new spending commitments that are scheduled to take effect July 1, and free up about a billion dollars that would be put toward maintaining critical services instead. People have had their lives disrupted enough as it is these past few months. In a matter of days we can take steps to avoid actual budget cuts and prevent even more disruption that would take years to overcome.”

“Some of my colleagues are resisting the idea of meeting this month in hopes that the federal government will come through with more money later this summer. That’s a gamble we should not take, especially when it could jeopardize services that are so important to vulnerable communities across our state. The focus needs to be on letting go of new programs this month, before they start, in favor of maintaining the programs already in place. Today’s forecast affirms the need to take action now.”

From Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, who serves Washington’s 9th District:

“Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the hundreds of millions lost by the Employment Security Department and the hundreds of millions that won’t be collected through the unconstitutional tax on banks, some big holes have been blown in the state’s financial picture. The Legislature has the ultimate control over the budget, yet Governor Inslee has chosen to keep us from stepping in – even though the executive and legislative branches are co-equal under our constitution, and we directly represent the people who have endured his response to the pandemic.

“So far he’s refused to call a special session on the grounds that no one has brought him a plan that would win support from a majority of the Legislature and get his signature. That argument falls short coming from the same governor who shut the state down without first having a plan for reopening it.

“There is a price to pay for inaction. I know from dealing with past deficits that for every dollar you save in June, you avoid having to find $1.50 in savings come January. Surely the governor knows that too. I can’t imagine why he would prevent the Legislature from taking action now, even though we have time, knowing it’s likely to force harder decisions down the road.”

Republican lawmakers call for emergency legislative session in June

By ericcampbell | Published on May 21, 2020

Republican leaders in the state Legislature say lawmakers need to meet next month to deal with emergency issues related to public health, Washington’s economic recovery and the state budget, all stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the Legislature adjourned in mid-March the public-health crisis related to COVID-19 was still emerging. Now there’s an economic crisis and a budget crisis in addition to the ongoing public-health crisis. The Legislature can respond to this larger emergency in ways the governor can’t, and Senate and House Republicans believe that needs to happen in June before the new budget takes effect,” said Sen. John Braun, budget leader for the Senate Republican Caucus.

“The Legislature has been kept on the sidelines for more than two months while the governor exercised emergency powers long past the time when his original goal of “flattening the curve” was realized and hospital resources were not overwhelmed,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, Senate Republican leader. “Republicans have listened to the people and looked at the data and have seen what the micromanagement by the executive branch is doing to our communities. It is time for the legislative branch to intervene.”

The two senators say an emergency session would allow the Legislature to take actions to target specific public-health concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis, do more to help with the reopening of Washington’s economy, and address the substantial damage to the state budget caused by a stay-home order that still has at least 10 days to go. The list of Republican priorities also include ensuring the restart of school in the fall and ways to help the state’s manufacturing sector.

The timing of an emergency session is critical for minimizing the threat to important state-funded services and programs, said Braun, R-Centralia.

“Changes have to be made to the state budget because the state’s rainy-day fund isn’t large enough to entirely cover the projected revenue losses caused by the stay-home order,” he said. “That means the Legislature must act before budget changes take effect July 1, to pull back new spending and prevent more cuts to the vulnerable down the road.”

Schoesler, R-Ritzville, noted the governor’s “phased approach” to reopening the state economy won’t take full effect until mid-July at the earliest, which doesn’t acknowledge the economic realities facing the hundreds of thousands of working people across Washington who can’t earn a living and support their families without being present at a job site.

“I wish tax relief for employers could be our first option, but the state’s revenue situation makes that a challenge. The good news is that the Legislature can and should enact regulatory relief to reduce the overall cost of keeping jobs in our state and keep new regulations from Ecology and others from derailing the economic recovery. That’s a very reasonable approach to take, and the sooner it happens the better for the employers who are just trying to hang on and the hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians who have been put out of work through no fault of their own,” said Schoesler.

An emergency session also will enable lawmakers to address the fact that long-term care facilities became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington. Data indicate the residents of these facilities represent an especially vulnerable population, yet that wasn’t reflected in the level of attention and support received from state government, the senators said.

In addition, meeting in June would let the Legislature direct school districts to resume regular in-building learning in fall 2020, unless there are extenuating circumstances. That would give districts all summer to get classrooms and schedules ready and related policies and plans in place.

To be clear, here’s what Legislature can and can’t do with governor’s COVID-19 proclamations

By ericcampbell | Published on April 24, 2020

— April 24, 2020

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our state earlier this year, Washingtonians have done their best to cope with this terrible disease, which has caused about 12,750 confirmed cases and killed 711 patients in our state as of April 23.

During this pandemic, my fellow Senate Republicans and I have supported Gov. Jay Inslee and his executive-branch agencies when we believed it was warranted, as they strive to minimize the disease’s impact on Washingtonians.

While we have supported many of his proclamations, we believe some of the governor’s restrictions on Washington residents and businesses related to his stay-home order go too far and aren’t consistent. He has closed down several sectors of our state economy that could remain open without putting the workers involved at risk.

One of the most notable of his restrictions that we oppose has been his prohibition on residential and commercial construction. It’s puzzling and frustrating that the governor has allowed government-related construction to continue during the pandemic while putting the brakes on residential construction. Construction workers have lost millions and millions of dollars in lost wages as a result. However, it was encouraging to see the governor announce today that he will allow “low-risk” construction to resume if safe distancing can be followed.

We appreciate that the governor’s stay-home order is intended to keep people safe from COVID-19 and eventually stop the spread of this serious disease. The health and safety of Washingtonians is our highest priority during this crisis. But we care about Washington’s economic health as well as its public health. That is why we not only have asked the governor to ease restrictions on those industries in which employees don’t work in close proximity and thus are at little risk of contracting COVID-19, but also have worked with our House Republican colleagues on creating a plan to safely start to reopen Washington’s economy. You can view that plan here.

Over the past several weeks we have received many questions about the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, and whether legislators can lift it or extend it.

The short answer is no.

The stay-home order (formally known as Proclamation 20-25, as amended by Proclamation 20-25.1) was issued by the governor under state law (RCW 43.06.220(1)). As a proclamation made under this law’s subsection, the order is not subject to a 30-day time limit.

The governor’s original stay-home order expired on April 8, but he extended it until May 4. The governor might choose to extend the order again. What is important for people to know is that the emergency-powers law under which his order was issued does not give the Legislature the opportunity to determine whether the order should be extended.

Under another subsection in the state law dealing with emergency powers (RCW 43.06.220(2)), some other emergency proclamations do expire after 30 days – and the Legislature does have a role in whether to extend those. When the Legislature is not in session (as now), the legislative leaders of the four caucuses – Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Republicans and House Democrats – can grant an extension for some orders issued under this law.

During the pandemic, other legislative leaders and I have extended 19 proclamations that were set to expire and are subject to review.

My fellow legislative leaders and I agreed to extend certain proclamations because they would provide financial or regulatory relief to our state’s residents during this difficult time when so many Washington families already face a financial burden caused by the pandemic emergency and resulting stay-home order.

Some of those include suspending the accrual of interest on unpaid taxes, waiving the waiting periods for unemployment benefits, and relaxing continuing education requirements to provide flexibility for healthcare workers. In each case our caucus first carefully examined the proclamation and concluded that an extension was warranted. Our caucus has not authorized an extension beyond May 4 for any of the governor’s proclamations over which we have a say.

I hope this explanation about the governor’s proclamations will help people better understand what the Legislature can and can’t do regarding them.

If drag-queen bingo is such a problem, how can state handle sports betting?

By ericcampbell | Published on March 02, 2020

If the House’s sports-wagering bill receives approval by the Senate before the 2020 session ends, the legislation (House Bill 2638) would front the state Gambling Commission $6 million to get going right away with “enforcement actions in the illicit market for sports wagering.”

I take that to mean the agency intends to chase the bad folks out of town so the newly approved gambling operations don’t have to worry about competition once they get up and running. Almost sounds responsible, doesn’t it?

Then I read this column published Saturday in The Seattle Times about the Gambling Commission’s lengthy investigation into “Rainbow Bingo” happening at a senior center.

In this case, “lengthy” means…TWO YEARS. For bingo games hosted by a drag queen.

Yes, we have laws about gambling, and people should obey those laws, but this raises a bunch of questions.

What caused the Gambling Commission to target senior-center bingo? How could it take two years instead of two months? What did this probe cost the taxpayers? Would the agency have saved money if it had spent less time busting bingo games, so that $6 million request could have been smaller?

Here’s the better question, going forward: If it takes two years to investigate bingo games, which are about as simple as gambling gets, is the Gambling Commission truly ready to take on the regulation of something as sophisticated and high-tech as the casino-level sports gambling HB 2638 would allow?

That includes (to use the agency’s own words) gathering intelligence on global match-fixing and cybersecurity issues, monitoring intelligence sources for unusual player activity, and performing statistical analysis of player betting patterns. Those are on top of watching for bookmaking, money-laundering and black-market activities.

This is not about the merits of sports wagering in general or the specifics of the House legislation (which was just amended at my request by the Senate budget committee to prohibit wagering on minor-league sports). It’s about the fact that legalized betting on sports would be a big leap for our state – and if the Gambling Commission gets bogged down by drag-queen bingo, can the people trust the agency to handle such a huge new responsibility?