With the 2021 legislative session well in the rearview mirror, and the next session still more than four months out, it’s easy to feel like we’re in a late summer lull. That’s not the case for legislators though, who are busy brainstorming policy on issues from housing supply to police reform. Here at the Wire, we’ve been covering the long game by bringing you interviews with a broad array of lawmakers, and this week is no different.
In this newsletter, you’ll find conversations with Reps. Jessica Bateman and Alex Ybarra, and Sen. Claire Wilson talking about everything from zoning regulations and child care, to vaccine mandates and restricting the Governor’s emergency powers.
1. Q&A: Rep. Jessica Bateman on housing
Rep. Jessica Bateman is in her first term from the 22nd LD, and previously served on the Olympia City Council. She brings that experience to one of the biggest conundrums in state and local policy: zoning. Some housing advocates view state or even federal action as the only viable way to reduce single-family housing zoning and increase density. For example, previous legislation has tried to require more diverse housing in single-family zones near transit stops, but has died in committee.
Instead of relying on creating incentives for developers to build denser housing, Bateman said she’s looking to take a more prescriptive approach by opening up zoning regulations statewide. “Incentive-based is really voluntary for cities, whether or not they choose to, which is the current status quo. More prescriptive [legislation] would be actually stating what is going to be the threshold — we’re just going to allow diverse housing everywhere, and those that want to build it can. It doesn’t require anyone to, it just allows it to happen.”
2. New child care recommendations look to increase subsidies
The Washington State Child Care Collaborative Task Force issued new recommendations for how to drive up child care supply in the state while reducing costs for parents. Many of the task force’s previous recommendations made it into the Fair Start for Kids Act last session, and the current recommendations could make their way into bills in 2022. The challenge, according to Sen. Claire Wilson, is the child care industry wasn’t developed in the way traditional businesses were.
To keep already high prices from rising more, child care providers are often forced to cut payroll costs by offering wages generally less than $15 an hour. The task force recommends increasing the number of child care slots that are funded by the Working Connections Child Care subsidy by increasing these subsidy rates to cover the full cost of child care. In July, these subsidy rates increased from 65% to 85%.
3. Q&A: Rep. Alex Ybarra on vaccine mandates
Rep. Alex Ybarra is vaccinated. So when he criticizes Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandates, he says it’s not because he is “anti-vax.” He says in this Q&A that he worries about the potential blowback from forcing people to get the jab. The 13th LD legislator said he received over 2,500 emails or calls from constituents angry about the new vaccine mandates for state, health care, and school employees.
Ybarra said Republicans will re-introduce bills to limit the Governor’s emergency powers next session, a tool used in mandating these vaccinations. Specifically, he would like to see time limits for emergency powers, which would allow the Legislature to either approve or deny an extension after 30 to 45 days. Interest in this topic was high among members in all four caucuses heading into last session, though that energy evaporated as the session wore on.
4. 2021 Inland NW State of Reform Health Policy Conference
Our sister site, State of Reform, is hosting one of the largest health policy conferences in the state on Sept. 9. Due to health considerations, the conference will be virtual, but the event includes a long list of legislators, agency leaders, and senior executives from the health care sector. Check out the Topical Agenda and Detailed Agenda for an overview of the day.
The 2021 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference will include a keynote address from Attorney General Bob Ferguson. We’ll also be joined by 13 Washington State legislators as they speak on topics ranging from health disparities to improving community behavioral health systems. If you haven’t already, be sure to register for the conference here!
5. Speaking of COVID: ICU capacity
Statewide, 86% of ICU beds are full. Today, 28% of ICU beds are filled with COVID patients. UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects that to increase to 30% by late September, with the worst case scenario climbing as high as 59%. The Institute provides three scenarios: what it thinks will happen, the worst case scenario, and the trajectory if we all returned to full mask use. On the current trajectory, daily deaths will reach peak levels seen last December.
COVID was the leading cause of death in Washington during the week of Aug. 16, beating out heart disease and lung cancer, according to the IHME. The New York Times’ COVID tracker shows that as of Aug. 27, the seven-day average number of cases was 3,283, nearly on par with the largest wave seen last December.
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