Author Archives: kimberlywirtz

Republican lawmakers: Move schools, employers to next phase now

By kimberlywirtz | Published on March 04, 2021

‘Open Safe, Open Now: A Republican plan for Phase 3 and Beyond’ shows trust in the people

 

READ THE PLAN

OLYMPIA…In response to sharply declining COVID-19 case rates and hospitalization rates statewide, legislative Republicans today announced a simple, practical and consistent plan to get all communities in Washington fully open for both school and business.

The Republican “Open Safe, Open Now” plan returns decision-making authority to local officials, ending top-down state mandates. It requires all school districts in Washington to resume in-person instruction and opens all business activity in the state to 50% capacity, with 100% capacity possible within three weeks.

The plan puts more trust in Washington residents to act responsibly, more than one year into the pandemic, and acknowledges people must learn to live – and earn a living – in the presence of COVID-19.

“The majority of our state’s K-12 students have been kept out of their classrooms for nearly a year. It’s simply unacceptable that so many of our children have been deprived of so much, not just academically but socially and emotionally. We’re glad to see the governor and the state school superintendent agreeing with us that schools may open safely. The time has come to give our districts clear direction that they need to bring their students back full-time,” said Senate Republican Leader John Braun.

“Look at what’s happening to the COVID-19 curve – cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in free fall. We’re at a point where county health officials can handle what’s ahead, so the focus should be on being open unless there is ample reason not to be. The centralized approach to responding to this pandemic needs to end. Our plan represents the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that the governor seems unable to define.”

The Republican plan was crafted by 8th District lawmaker, Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. She began questioning the governor’s ability to fairly reopen Washington after her district and the rest of the Governor’s south-central region was temporarily kept in Phase 1, while the rest of the state moved to Phase 2.

“Last month, our region dodged a bullet,” said Brown. “We were left out of phase two, because of alarmingly high hospitalization rates. It turned out to be a mistake, which was only identified thanks to the keen observations of county officials who caught the error and brought it to the attention of the Department of Health. Had she not, a swath of the state – from the Tri-Cities to Ellensburg to Walla Walla – could still be in Phase 1 today.

“This near disaster highlighted how flawed the governor’s reopening plan was – overly large regions, failure to trust the public, and managed from upon high by the Governor through top-down decrees.”

Brown said her plan instead looks to county health experts, who know what is going on in their counties and can spot when data doesn’t mesh with the reality seen on the ground. More importantly, Brown said that it is a plan for moving forward, something Gov. Inslee’s staff neglected to provide her when she met with them in mid-February to discuss the issue.

“The restaurants and other employers and organizations that have been under the governor’s restrictions need to know what’s next, and how to get there. Governor Inslee made it clear last week that he has no plan. Republicans are stepping into the void with a sensible and straightforward approach that will free these important members of our communities from the limbo they’re in, and offer a clear path back to full operation,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver.

“If the COVID-19 numbers continue trending as they are, it becomes harder to claim that our state is still experiencing an emergency. I’m not saying the governor should end the state of emergency – not yet – but he should let go of the statewide mandates and let county health officials do their jobs,” said Wilson, who is Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the prime sponsor of legislation that would have given the Legislature more authority to oversee Inslee’s emergency proclamations.

“It has been two months since the governor unveiled his plan and he has still not identified Phase 3. This is unfair to families, businesses and local governments who have all made great sacrifices over the last year and want to know how their communities can move forward,” said House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm. “While many families and businesses are in crisis, the state health emergency has subsided. It’s time for the Legislature to exercise its proper role and for state lawmakers to make subsequent policy decisions. Republicans have a plan that would get kids back to school and people back to work. Washingtonians know how to do these things safely and it’s time to trust them. Both caucuses have also proposed operating budgets that would provide the necessary resources and relief to those who need it the most.”

“It’s time to open up the state to Phase 3,” said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and ranking Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. “And it’s time to place the responsibility of health and safety back into the hands of the people.”

 

Senate Republicans unveil budget to help state restart and recover

By kimberlywirtz | Published on February 11, 2021

Plan to get schools open and people back to work also doesn’t need more taxes

OLYMPIA… Less than one-third of the way through the 2021 legislative session, Senate Republicans have stepped forward with a 2021-23 budget proposal aimed at restarting schools and bringing jobs back, while saving money for lower-income families.

“Senate Republicans have been listening to the people, and the messages are clear. Kids need to be in school. People need jobs. People need relief. This budget responds to those needs in a reasonable and responsible way,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, budget leader.

Wilson pointed out how the $55.5 billion plan covers a broad range of public concerns yet balances without more taxes, setting the bar high for upcoming negotiations toward a new state operating budget.

“People are being told there’s a budget deficit, and the solutions are a state income tax or a ‘wealth’ tax. The truth is, state revenue is still growing despite the pandemic. The outlook from the governor’s own budget office shows things are still on track to be in balance four years from now,” Wilson explained.

“Putting this budget on the table so early is about being transparent, and exposing the false claims about taxes. People can see for themselves just how many good things can be done within the level of revenue that’s already available.”

Wilson, R-Vancouver, said her decision to give school districts financial incentive to reopen was clinched by the recent tragic suicide of a young teen in her legislative district.

“It’s been 11 months since the governor shut down every public school in Washington, and today nearly 80 percent of students in Washington are still learning at home. For almost one entire year these students have had no contact with a teacher and no contact at school with friends or classmates,” she said.

“When school districts in counties that meet the governor’s health metrics refuse to get students back in class, despite what the public-health experts and the ‘science’ say, it’s not just a matter of being inequitable and denying children an education – it can literally kill our kids. We can’t afford to wait months and years for a broken system to fix itself. There has to be a better way, and that’s why school reopening is such a priority in our budget.”

The proposal also includes significant funding for behavioral health.

“There was a mental health crisis in this state before everyone was put in lockdown, isolating them from friends and family and taking away their livelihoods and sense of worth,” said Sen. Sharon Brown, assistant ranking Republican on the Senate budget committee, who worked with Wilson to craft the Republican proposal.

“Given the additional challenges we face with the pandemic, we must act now to address this crisis and provide Washingtonians with this support they so desperately need,” added Brown, R-Kennewick, who is also the deputy leader for the Senate Republican Caucus.

Highlights of the Senate Republican plan include:

  • More than $1 billion aimed at encouraging school districts to get children back into classrooms, of which $200 million will go toward contact tracing, testing and other safety measures;
  • $333 million in additional assistance for small employers;
  • More support for behavioral health than has been proposed by the governor;
  • $200 million to support efforts to expand broadband access;
  • Eliminating the business-and-occupation (B&O) tax on manufacturing;
  • Gradually shifting tax revenue from vehicle sales for use on transportation projects; and
  • Full funding for improving forest health to reduce catastrophic wildfires.

Review the documents here:

Proposed Senate 2021-23 Operating Budget (SB5451)

Highlights of SB 5451

PowerPoint Presentation

Wilson noted Washington families haven’t seen tax relief from the Legislature since Senate Republicans froze tuition, then led on passage of the nation’s first tuition cut for the 2015-17 biennium. The proposed 2021-23 Senate Republican budget would reduce the tax burden on working families by as much as $1,000 annually, starting with a Working Families Tax Credit of up to $700 per year.

“The people with the highest needs are also bearing the highest cost of the pandemic, when you consider not only school closures but access to childcare, and internet service, or behavioral-health services. Our budget recognizes that not everyone is able to work remotely from their home,” Wilson said.

“Since 2018 the people have seen more than a dozen tax increases, many falling on working- and middle-class families. I can’t think of a better time than now to reduce their tax burden,” she added.

Besides responding to the pandemic, Wilson said the Senate Republican approach makes critical investments in areas that were deserving of more support before the pandemic – like services for Washington’s most vulnerable residents, and seniors, and veterans. It also increases support for domestic-violence victims, and puts more money into public-safety areas that need attention.

One of the Legislature’s mandatory duties in odd-numbered years is to approve a new operating budget for the next fiscal biennium. Typically, proposals from the Senate and House of Representatives don’t emerge until after each year’s first quarterly revenue forecast is released, which will be in March.

“This gives our Democratic colleagues plenty of time to see how a budget can be reasonable and responsible without needing more taxes. Our approach is the right path for all of Washington.”

Braun says new Senate rules severely limit access to democracy

By kimberlywirtz | Published on January 11, 2021

OLYMPIA…After an historic day in the Washington State Legislature where changes to the rules were adopted to allow for the 2021 Legislative Session to continue remotely, Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, released a statement.

Braun said he’s disappointed that majority Democrats refused to bend on new Senate operating rules for the 2021 legislative session that will severely restrict public access to lawmakers and the legislative process.

“No one disputes that this session has to be conducted differently because of the pandemic, but the rules put in place today seem to have been written months ago when Republican lawmakers still hoped the governor would see the wisdom of having a special session to get a head-start on pandemic relief for Washington families and employers. Whether we’re seeing more COVID cases or new strains of the virus here in January is not so much the point – the Legislature does its work in big, boxy buildings, we know more about the virus than ever, and the same precautions that have been effective for months in other big-box establishments or even small retail outlets can work here.

“Republicans offered reasonable proposals to make this legislative session much more transparent and accessible, without creating unnecessary health risks. We were looking for ways to get to ‘yes’ on giving folks across this great state more opportunity to have their different viewpoints heard. For months the people of our state have had to deal with a form of government they didn’t recognize, and now they’re getting a second dose with a lawmaking process that may lead some to question the legitimacy of the decisions that are made.”

“Our Democrat colleagues view access to democracy as being about voter registration. To Republicans it’s also about enabling public participation after the elections are over, when the real work of making policy begins. The majority tried to make the case today that rules to reduce public access are somehow about increasing transparency, but I doubt that will get past the people.”

  • Senate Republican Floor Leader Shelly Short, R-Addy, proposed an amendment that would allow more public participation in the legislative process through the public’s proper use of masks and social distancing. (SR 8601, S AMD 1)
  • Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, proposed an amendment to allow all Senators to make motions so that they can adequately represent the people who elected them. (SR 8601, S AMD 2)
  • Fortunato, R-Auburn, offered an amendment to increase Senators’ in-person participation by allowing them to speak and vote from Senate galleries. (SR 8601, S AMD 3)
  • Ericksen, R-Ferndale, proposed a Senate Resolution to convene a 30-day special session now, waiting to convene a full 105-day session until the public health situation will allow full public access. (SCR 8400)

 

 

 

Braun condemns violence at U.S. Capitol as threat to democracy, safety

By kimberlywirtz | Published on January 06, 2021

OLYMPIA…Washington State Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, released the following statement regarding protests in Washington, D.C. that have resulted in breaches of security, a lockdown of the U.S. Capitol and the distribution of gas masks to legislators.

 

“What we are seeing at our nation’s Capitol today is unacceptable. I condemned the violent protests here in our state and around the country this summer and I condemn today’s actions just as strongly. Attacking the U.S. Capitol is no more justifiable than attacking our state capitol, or a police precinct, or private property that happens to be in a certain part of a city. No matter the reasoning behind it, violence is not the answer.

 

“One of the bedrocks of our democracy – something that has distinguished our nation from many others for centuries – is the peaceful transfer of power from one elected official to another. I understand that some question the legitimacy of the recent election. The U.S. Constitution guarantees them the right to have their voices heard through peaceful assembly. They even have the right to challenge the election process in a court of law. But nothing grants anyone the right to storm the Capitol building and terrify those inside.

 

“I sincerely hope those protesting at the Washington State Capitol who share a cause with those protesting in D.C. today recognize the volatility of the situation and the need to maintain public safety, respect the role of the Capitol campus security officers and conduct themselves peacefully. Violence is not the path forward.”

 

Republican leader sends letter to governor explaining refusal to extend two proclamations

By kimberlywirtz | Published on 

Dear Governor Inslee:

As the letter yesterday documented, my caucus—as per the provisions of RCW
43.06.220(4)–did not approve of the extension of the statutory waivers and
suspensions ordered in Proclamations 20-58 and 20-63.

The immediate cause of our caucus’ disapproval is your continued shutdown of
restaurants and gyms without a firm basis in data and science.

Governor, our constituents are in agony. Life savings are being lost. Vulnerable
workers are thrown out of jobs. Many of them have had ongoing challenges
obtaining unemployment benefits that are due to them…

Click here to read the full letter.

Republican leaders respond to governor’s new 2-phase ‘reopening’ plan

By kimberlywirtz | Published on 

“As Washingtonians are forced to comply with the detailed demands of the governor for marginal impacts on public health, he has demanded no accountability from important state agencies involved in the pandemic response. His Employment Security Department failed to prevent massive fraud and deliver timely unemployment benefits to those in desperate need. It continues to fail them. And after months of criticizing the federal government’s efforts, the governor’s Department of Health just admitted that the state has fallen behind in its vaccine rollout. We need the governor to hold his state agencies accountable, help those who have been devastated by his actions and safely reopen businesses and schools.

“The legislative session begins Monday. Republicans have already introduced solutions and will be putting more ideas on the table soon. We will also bring the voices of forgotten Washingtonians to the legislative arena.”

Legislative Republican leaders respond to Gov. Jay Inslee’s extension of statewide restrictions

By kimberlywirtz | Published on December 30, 2020

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox and Senate Republican Leader John Braun released the following statements today in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s one-week extension of statewide restrictions:

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox:

“I’m disappointed in the governor’s decision. State government continues to focus on how it can shut employers down instead of how it can help them survive. These extended statewide restrictions will take us up to the beginning of the legislative session. That day can’t come soon enough. Republicans will have solutions ready to help small businesses and the people who rely on them. We hope our Democratic colleagues share our sense of urgency and understand immediate actions need to be taken.”

 

Senate Republican Leader John Braun:

“The governor says we will get through this together, but he is arbitrarily, without apparent regard for science or data, leaving behind our restaurants and gyms. He’s making these decisions from the comfort of a state salary that hasn’t skipped a paycheck during his shutdowns. Why wait another week? Why punish small businesses that have gone to great expense, at a time when they can least afford it, to comply with safety measures by crushing any hope they have of saving their livelihoods?

 

“His proposals to help people stay afloat should have followed the same approach doctors follow in the Hippocratic Oath. ‘First, do no harm.’ We are past that point now, but we can prevent further harm by ending these unwarranted and cruel restrictions. The governor should work with, rather than against, these businesses, many of which are family owned. He should trust them to do the right thing – none of them want their customers to get sick.

 

“I’ve said before that Washingtonians can work through hard challenges, but the goal posts keep getting moved further and further away. Many people feel that the targets needed to reduce isolation are arbitrary and unachievable and that the governor will just let them languish indefinitely. Empirical data…the science…doesn’t support the governor’s decision – no matter how much he likes to toss that word around.”

 

Republicans respond to governor’s extension of tighter restrictions on small business

By kimberlywirtz | Published on December 08, 2020

OLYMPIA…Senate and House Republicans released the following joint statement in response to Gov. Inslee’s announcement today that tighter restrictions on small businesses, such as restaurants and gyms, will continue until Jan. 4:

 

“Public health is our top concern, including the mental health of people all over Washington who are coping with the impacts of the virus and the shutdowns. It’s very disappointing to see someone who has been drawing a government salary through this entire hardship ordering small businesses to continue complying with restrictions that are making it hard or impossible for them to feed their families. The governor has no idea the anguish and desperation average people are feeling right now.

 

“Small-business owners care deeply about their customers and are trying to be safe. Instead of unfairly restricting their ability to earn a living, we should be working with them to find ways to reduce the spread of the virus. We could achieve the same results by partnering with small-business owners instead of targeting them.”

 

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Braun, Rivers, Short, Wagoner tapped as top Senate Republican leadership

By kimberlywirtz | Published on December 02, 2020

OLYMPIA…Washington Senate Republicans today elected their leadership team for the 2021-22 legislative term. The caucus elected Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, as its new leader and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, as the new caucus chair. Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, was reelected as Republican floor leader and Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, is the new Republican whip. All were unanimously elected to their positions.

 

Sen. John Braun, Senate Republican Leader

Fresh off his election to a third term in the Senate representing the 20th Legislative District, Braun assumes the role of Senate Republican Leader at a critical time for Washington. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the physical and economic health of the state and its residents, as Gov. Jay Inslee has taken advantage of nearly 10 months of expanded executive powers.

Braun, who has served as lead Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee since 2017, is ready to represent the desperate voices of those who have been harmed by Inslee’s governing by proclamation.

“My mission as Republican leader is to expand opportunities for every family in Washington, of every race, belief and background. Expanding opportunity starts with high-quality schools, lower taxes and less state control of people’s lives,” said Braun. “State policies should enhance economic freedom to allow everyone the opportunity to follow their talents and pursue their dreams. Too often in past decades, including during this pandemic, we’ve seen policies that have reduced freedom and opportunity for Washington families.

“Why did Republicans in this state do better in the latest election than expected? I think it’s because people across our state are tired of feeling like they aren’t being heard. They’re paying more taxes and seeing less value for their investment,” Braun continued. “We have listened, and this is what our caucus has heard. When the Legislature convenes next month, we will bring policies forward that are intended to help all Washington families and communities in the central Puget Sound area and across the state.

“I’m honored that my colleagues have chosen me to head a solid leadership team. We will work tirelessly to further this mission,” said Braun, a U.S. Navy veteran.

 

Sen. Ann Rivers, Senate Republican Caucus Chair

Rivers, who also recently won reelection, has served the 18th Legislative District in the Senate since 2012, following a term in the House of Representatives. She is a veteran member of the caucus leadership team and has led Republicans on key issues including education funding and health care.

She knows the 2021 legislative session, which begins Jan. 11, will present some unique challenges for legislators and is concerned about people who have been let down by their state government during the current crisis.

“The upcoming session will be like no other due to the pandemic,” said Rivers, “and as caucus chair I’ll be working with the other members of our leadership team to contend with unprecedented restrictions on how we conduct business. Republicans have tried to protect the public’s access to the lawmaking process during the 2021 session, and while we’ve had very limited success so far, the people can have faith that our entire caucus is in their corner.

“This pandemic has also exposed, to a greater degree than we’ve seen, how government can be greedy and unfair and downright incompetent. This year countless families have been devastated by executive dictates that pick winners and losers, which go against the Republican belief in equal opportunity and the freedom to work toward achieving one’s aspirations. Many have been let down in the worst possible way by an agency that continues to fail on badly needed financial assistance. The people can trust that our Republican caucus is focused on making their lives and their communities better, and ready to hold government accountable. We’re on their side,” Rivers added.

 

Sen. Shelly Short, Senate Republican Floor Leader

Short, who was reelected as Republican floor leader, has served in the leadership role since 2018. She has represented the 7th Legislative District in the Senate since 2017. She was initially appointed to the Senate to succeed Brian Dansel, and won a 2017 special election to retain the seat.

“I am honored and privilege to continue serving as floor leader. As we face uncertainty in the new year and session, I will work tirelessly with my colleagues to ensure legislative transparency and accountability,” said Short.

 

Sen. Keith Wagoner, Senate Republican Whip

Wagoner has served the 39th Legislative District since being unanimously chosen to fill the seat midterm in 2018. Also fresh off of reelection, he is a proud Navy veteran and retired U.S. Navy Commander, and most recently served as the ranking member on the Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee.

“I am excited to take on the role of whip and am honored that my colleagues have chosen me for this position. I have learned a lot from the previous whips – Sen. Barbara Bailey and Sen. Ann Rivers — and hope to carry on their tradition of excellence. There will be many challenges in the coming year, and I have high hopes that adapting to a virtual environment will go smoothly.”