The session is underway with only modest protests at the legislative building yesterday. Rules were adopted in person that will allow the rest of the session to be organized and held virtually.
A key question to track this session: Will the stress from the pandemic mean legislators and advocates will be itching to be heard? Will that descend into bickering and in-fighting? Or will the sober experience from the last year, along with the decentralized nature of this session, keep things on an even keel this year?
With help from Michael Goldberg
1. Q&A: Denny Heck looks ahead to his first term as Lieutenant Governor
Lieutenant Governor-Elect Denny Heck will be sworn in as the 17th Lieutenant Governor of Washington on Wednesday. Reporter Michael Goldberg spoke with him about how he’ll manage the unique conditions of the upcoming session. A longtime champion of bipartisan civility, Heck says that fair leadership is more important now than ever before.
“My sermon for a couple of months has been: recalibrate your expectations about the volume of bills that you can pass. Legislators have been incredibly good about acknowledging that and affirming that. But when the rubber meets the road in March and their bill hasn’t gotten through, I think we’ll see a spike in frustration. So I think it’s even more important that I set a tone of calmness and patience, and that I bend over backwards to ensure that the minority is able to get their say.”
2. Protestors from in and out-of-state travel to Olympia for Capitol protest
A small group of protestors gathered outside on the Capitol Monday as legislators voted in-person to adopt temporary rules moving the rest of the 105-day session to a virtual format. The joint rules passed 28-16 in a party line vote. One protestor from Eastern Washington explained to us his objections to a virtual session and a dynamic he describes as “working class versus the government.”
Another protestor said that he traveled to the Olympia protest from Texas. In a video recording, the protestor said that 90% of the protestors at another event he attended recently were from Oregon or Washington. The protestor also said that he was at the DC riots last week and was standing next to a woman who was trampled to death.
3. Health care legislation on the table in 2021
Three health care bills are at the top of Senate President Pro Tempore Karen Keiser’s agenda heading into session: SB 5052, related to health equity zones; SB 5020, which would impose a tax on unsupported drug price increases; and the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act. In a Q&A, Keiser discusses her goals for the 2021 session, the Long Term Care Trust, bipartisanship, and the new Biden administration.
In a conversation last week, Sen. David Frockt and Rep. Drew Stokesbary agreed that public health has long lacked adequate investment in Washington State and that the root of the underinvestment is funding obligations related to the McCleary decision. But Stokesbary said that Gov. Inslee’s tax on health insurers would be passed on to consumers, making health care more expensive. Compared to alternatives for financing, this option would spread the cost the widest and would have the least impact on consumers, said Frockt.
4. Losing the race to vaccinate Washingtonians
Washington State is 30th among states for utilization of the total doses provided since vaccines were approved in December. Only 33% of the total doses have so far been used for about 2.5% of the population. A recent presentation by IHME showed at our current rate of vaccination, the US will be 20% short of the vaccinated population needed to approach herd immunity by the important date of April 1.
Researchers say we are in a race to distribute vaccines faster than the virus mutates. A new South African strain appears to “bypass immune protection provided by prior infection.” Japan said yesterday it has a new strain as well. It’s not yet clear how the Japanese strain will impact the disease spread, but the South African strain does appear more concerning than the UK variant.
Meanwhile, the Washington State Veterinarian Medical Association informed its members that they should start calling to get vaccines as “health care workers.” It even emailed them instructions on how best to navigate the protocol in order to get a vaccination scheduled. That didn’t go over too well.
5. Seattleites at DC riot
Two Seattle police officers have been placed on administrative leave after attending the riot at the U.S. Capitol last week. A statement from Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz says the Office of Police Accountability is reviewing the incident and says “If any SPD officers were directly involved in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I will immediately terminate them.” Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan is also facing calls for his resignation after comments he made related to the riots.
Dr. Tammy Towers Parry, a family medicine physician from Seattle, was also in DC last week and took part in storming the Capitol. Towers Parry previously worked at Swedish, but the health system was quick to release a statement that she has not been affiliated with them since May 2015. UW Medicine also quickly commented that Towers Parry is not and has never been employed there.
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