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Morning Wire: Legislative Republicans, Inslee vetoes, Equity statement

After 14 months of COVID, 5,754 residents have passed away from COVID. But, some number of our 7.6m residents have suffered from the trauma of enduring 14 months of anxiety, anguish and fear. Lots of us will carry this trauma with us for a while.

It’s ok to say you’re not doing great. It’s ok to take to take some time away to manage and support your mental health. The key is to be intentional about taking care of yourself in whatever way works for you. Once you do, you’ll be better able to support others, like your parents or your kids, who will be struggling in their own way, too.

With help from Michael Goldberg

1. ICYMI: Recapping the 2021 session with legislative Republicans

Last week, the Wire hosted a virtual conversation with legislative Republicans on the 2021 legislative session and their interim agenda. House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox applauded the fact for the first time since he’s been in Olympia, both minority caucuses introduced comprehensive budget proposals early on in session: “Normally for political reasons that isn’t done. It gives the other side a lot to shoot at … But I think that because we did that, we had a frame of reference for the entire session and I think it really allowed us to have some consistency in our budget debate.”

Weighing on how the redistricting process is going, Senate Republican leader John Braun says the preliminary data indicates that things look worse for Republicans than they did ten years ago: “Most of the population gain since 2010 has been in the Central Puget Sound. When you start with that, how you shift districts, it probably makes it a little bit more challenging for us.” Nevertheless, Braun says he’s optimistic that redistricting will help Republicans focus on a policy message that will keep them competitive in swing districts. The complete data is expected in September.

2. Inslee vetoes draw more blowback 

Tribal leaders and Democratic legislators are furious with partial vetoes issued by Gov. Inslee last week. In a scathing statement, Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians, said Inslee’s veto of Tribal rights provisions in the Climate Commitment Act is “the most egregious and shameless betrayal of a deal” she has ever witnessed “from a politician of any party, at any level.” The Governor’s Office said that the provision the governor chose to veto “was written so broadly that would have made it possible to challenge just about any related project anywhere in the state.”

Among Inslee’s other vetoes was a bipartisan COVID-19 privacy bill which would have protected health data collected by certain third parties, such as those that participated in the state’s contact tracing efforts. Inslee said that while he supports the goals of the legislation, the language in the bill is too broad and “appears to prohibit efforts by public and private entities to offer incentives to become vaccinated.” Rep. Matt Boehnke, one of the bill’s sponsors, says he is frustrated with the governor’s decision but that he plans to move forward with data privacy legislation in future sessions.

3. State Board of Education debates including the word “caste” in equity statement

The Washington State Board of Education (SBE) recently debated adding the word “caste” to the draft of a new Equity Statement. The statement lays out SBE’s commitment to eliminating disparities in educational outcomes. The discussion mirrored similar conversations taking place within educational institutions around the country, as policymakers are thinking through the effects of campus closures due to COVID-19 and responding to reports of systemic racial inequity.

All but two Board members agreed with keeping caste in the Equity Statement. Those in favor of keeping the word in argued that its exclusion would belie the continuation of the same very inequities that existed when the state constitution – which mentions caste – was written. On the flip side, another Board member said the word discounts “the power of the individual” to overcome societal barriers. One reader suggested that the Equity Statement did not adopt the most accurate definition of caste. The Board members say the Equity Statement is a living document that will continue to be revised over time.

4. Secretary of State seeks legal clarification on broadband bills

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman is asking for expedited legal action so she can clarify how her office should number and file the two bills — ESHB 1336 and 2SSB 5383 — which are both aimed at expanding broadband access around the state. Jockeying between advocates of each bill, both behind the scenes and in public, is thought by some familiar with the disputes to have led to Gov. Inslee’s unusual move to sign both bills at the same time, one with each hand.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, both certifications were received at the same time, in a single stack of paper. However, the certification for 2SSB 5383 was on top, meaning it was next to the date stamp and its time was noted 20 seconds earlier. With the certification, the Office of the Secretary of State also received an unsigned two-sentence statement that said the bills were signed simultaneously. 

Whichever piece of legislation is recorded last, or most recently, will overwrite any previous legislation. So, one bill would effectively overwrite parts of the other bill, depending on which is recorded most recently. Inslee’s signing them concurrently effectively passes the buck on timing to Wyman to figure out, which is why she has asked the courts for guidance.

5. An update to state masking requirements 

While Washington has changed its mask guidelines to align with the current CDC guidance, King County is hesitant to follow suit. In a tweet Tuesday, King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said, “The time will come when mask mandates are no longer necessary for everyone, for now let’s stick with what’s working.” King County will wait until 70% or more of residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before it changes its mask guidelines.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries issued updated workplace safety and health guidance Friday to help employers adapt masking policies to meet new guidelines. It’s kind of a confusing directive. As I read it in total, employers are still able to decide whether to require masks for employees. But, if they decide to stop requiring mask wearing because of vaccination among employees, then employers are required to have employees attest to vaccination status with proof. Employers then need to keep such records on site under threat of penalty by L&I. 

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