Virtual Conversation | 2021 Re-Wire Policy Conference, Dec 15, 2021 Register

Morning Wire: Q&A w/Rep. Jesse Johnson, Census data by CD, Back to school takeaways

If you’ve been reading the Wire over the past several weeks, you’ve probably seen my byline pop up a few times, so I might as well introduce myself. My name’s Aaron Kunkler, and while I just started at the Washington State Wire, I have a little over six years of reporting experience under my belt. In that time, I’ve had the pleasure of writing about local government, climate change, transportation, and just about everything else in areas of the state stretching from my hometown of Yakima, to Centralia and Seattle. For those of you interested in colleges, I graduated from Central Washington University with a degree in journalism and political science. 

The keys to this week’s newsletter were handed over to me, and hopefully I’ll keep it on the road. My inbox is an open door for story tips, so feel free to reach out and introduce yourself at, or on Twitter @aaronkunkler1.

1. Census data by CD: What it means 

Small changes to address the population shortfall in the 5th CD create a cascade of shifts in the 4th that should narrow the Republican advantage in the 3rd and improve the Democratic position in the 8th. Those are lessons from DJ Wilson’s first of two pieces on how the new census data could impact Washington’s Congressional Districts. He had a few observations about implications for LDs last week. 

To meet its population target, the 5th could pick up all of Adams County or the remainder of Walla Walla County, as well as some of Benton or Franklin. That lost population in the 4th means it has to replace those, plus pick up additional population to meet its target. Those lives probably come primarily from the 3rd, keeping the 8th as swing as possible. That means Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s district will get pushed north, deeper into Thurston County, bringing in more Democratic votes while losing Republicans from Skamania and Klickitat Counties to the 4th. 

2. Q&A with Rep. Jesse Johnson

Lawmakers are likely to revisit police reform legislation, specifically HB 1310 and HB 1054. The bills passed last session after nearly a year of protests, activism and community engagement following the murder of George Floyd. They’re designed to ban law enforcement from using certain tactics and equipment, and require officers to use de-escalation tactics before physical force. 

Republicans have called for a special session to tweak the laws. A special session seems unlikely, but last week, we spoke with Rep. Jesse Johnson, the sponsor of both bills, to get his views on where the bills stand. While Johnson said some pushback from law enforcement was expected, he’s also willing to rethink some of the regulations in the 2022 regular session. This could include clarifying that police can use less-lethal weapons like beanbag guns, and that officers won’t be held liable for detaining and transporting someone in mental crisis. 

3. Returning to school during the pandemic

Students across the state are preparing for a return to the classroom in the coming weeks — many for the first time since early 2020. At this point in the pandemic, school officials have made the decision that the risk of falling behind in education outweighs the risks returning to school. Ahead of that return, the Department of Health issued 19 pages of requirements and recommendations for the upcoming school year. 

Unsurprisingly, vaccinations are the top recommendation. Superintendent Chris Reykdal and Gov. Jay Inslee agreed with that last week, requiring staff to get vaccinated by Oct. 18, or find a new job. The CDC maintains that the risk to students is low, if community spread is low. Unfortunately, every county in Washington State is experiencing high levels of community spread, according to the CDC. 

4. Calls for expedited Afghan visas grow

Tacoma City Councilman Robert Thoms (left) serves as a captain in the US Naval Reserves. He served with translators in Afghanistan that he is now working to get out of the country. So, when you hear about SIVs and problems with evacuations at the airport, Thoms is living the frustration.

Over the last week, there have been growing calls from Washington State lawmakers to expedite visa processing for Afghan translators who assisted the U.S. military. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare getting a visa for the roughly 20,000 translators and 50,000 family members who qualify. In some cases it can take more than three years to navigate the red tape. The White House responded to these calls over the weekend, stating it would focus on getting translators and their families out of Afghanistan.

5. Capital gains tax ruling expected this week

A ruling on two lawsuits challenging Washington’s capital gains tax is expected this week, after a Douglas County judge gave both sides more time to file additional briefings. While the arguments to dismiss or move the case forward are interesting to legal nerds, it’s almost assured that this will end up in the Washington Supreme Court. Neither side believes the Douglas County ruling will be the end of the road for capital gains lawsuits.

Noah Purcell, Washington’s Solicitor General, put it this way: “There’s no question that this statute will be in court soon, and the constitutionality of this tax will be litigated fully … and we fully expect to prevail.”

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