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Morning Wire: Sen. Manka Dhingra, Pandemic relief, Blue-Green alliance

At the start of a long session, there are always a flurry of bills getting dropped, heard and perhaps even voted upon. Like Opening Day of the Mariners season, every bill starts with an even record. But, as the process begins to move, it’s clear some bills are contenders and some are (sorry) Mariners…

Today, on day 9 of the session, 650 bills have been filed so far. That’s a fair number, but I’d expect the total count to surpass 2,000 for this 105-day session. 

With help from Michael Goldberg

1. Sen. Dhingra argues for behavioral health bills 

Senator Manka Dhingra, Chair of the Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee to the Health & Long Term Care Committee, has three bills headed to executive session on January 22nd. The bills are aimed reducing barriers to services for individuals caught adrift in the state’s siloed mental health and substance use disorder systems. Reporter Michael Goldberg spoke with Sen. Dhingra the impending flood of services behavioral health systems are expected to weather after the pandemic.

“I’ve had parents tell me about their young adult who is in their room, in bed, but because they’re not being aggressive or loud, the parents are just letting them be and seeing what happens. So I do expect that there is going to be a huge flood of need for behavioral health services. I think we’re going to see it all across the spectrum, from people dealing with depression and anxiety all the way to the other end with people having active psychosis.”

2. Caucus leadership outline pandemic relief proposals

Sen. Andy Billig says a billpassed out of executive session today with bipartisan support will be among the first bills to the Senate floor next Wednesday. It would increase the minimum weekly unemployment benefit amount from 15% to 20% of the average weekly wage. Speaker Laurie Jinkins expects significant federal funding soon, and believes the minimum federal contributions include about $25 million for food assistance, over $300 million for rental and utility assistance and $120 million or more for business assistance grants. To access those funds, Billig says that a bicameral emergency budget bill may drop before the end of the week.

House Appropriations Ranking Member Drew Stokesbary is calling for the state to use $200 million from the Budget Stabilization Account to provide rebates and grants. Breaking down his proposal, Stokesbary said about a third of the support would go to individuals, another third would go to businesses, and the final third would go to schools. He also said that individual members of the Democratic leadership have been amenable to his ideas.

3. Blue-Green coalition formed in SW Washington

“Blue-Green” coalitions, meaning those between labor and environmentalists, have been dreamt of for a few decades in progressive Washington State politics. One such coalition is building in SW Washington around the $2.3 billion methanol production facility at the Port of Kalama. The plan is to create over 1,400 new jobs while off-setting as much carbon as is produced annually by the cities of Seattle, Bellevue and Everett.

But labor leaders are awaiting approval for a shoreline permit from the Washington Department of Ecology after a lengthy review process. Ecology is expected to release its decision on the permit by the end of this week. With an unemployment rate of 14.6% and a labor force of almost 1.6 million in the twelve county region around the project, labor leaders believe this is a moment the state can make good on promises to prevent the emergence of “haves and have nots” among its counties. 

4. Getting redistricting done on time

After a year of tumult culminating in the Census Bureau director’s resignation yesterday, 2020 data from the Bureau is expected to arrive months late. A bill from Sen. Sam Hunt aims to ensure redistricting is still completed on time by cementing deadlines for local jurisdictions to submit their redistricting plans to the county auditor. Local government officials told Hunt that they are “extremely neutral” on his bill.

For the 2021 Washington State Redistricting Commission, Democrats selected April Sims, secretary treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, and Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, a former state representative and CEO of Grist, the environmental media nonprofit. Republicans announced on the Friday deadline that they would be represented by Joe Fain and Paul Graves, two former state legislators.  A fifth non-voting member of the chairperson will be elected by the four members by Jan. 31.

For the line-drawing geeks among us, the Wire ran a seven-part series on re-districting in Washington State in 2019. I think it’s perhaps the most comprehensive reporting and analysis on the matter that you’ll find in recent years. You can see the primary takeaways here, including that the current model provides Republicans as much partisan advantage in Washington State as is provided in Texas. 

5. COVID’s disparate impact on taxable business income 

From January to October 2020, the agriculture industry saw the largest increase (18%) of any sector in taxable business income from the same period last year. The leisure and hospitality industry has saw the largest decline (32%) followed by manufacturing (22%). The data, compiled by the Washington Department of Commerce , details the sectoral impact of COVID-19 on taxable business income, which will affect the state operating budget.

To address the disparate impact of the pandemic across sectoral and demographic lines, COM is setting up a $30 million revolving loan fund for small business assistance. Commerce also says it will use a combination of federal funds and venture capital from the private sector to provide grants this spring to organizations that can create “Innovation Clusters.” These clusters will encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors, as well as academia, to drive innovation. 

6. WA among the worst vaccinating states in US 

Washington State is 37th among 50 states plus DC for the percentage of vaccines received and distributed to its residents. We are two spots behind Mississippi. As of Friday, King County had received 23% of the statewide allocation. It had distributed a full 2/3rds of that total. This means the remaining 38 counties have collectively only been able to distribute approximately 22% of their total allocation.

Yesterday, five weeks after the approval of the first vaccines, Gov. Inslee set a new goal of providing 45,000 vaccinations per day. A DOH release called this news “exciting.” The same release also noted Washington currently provides an average of 14,300 per day. 

The CDC allocated 46,800 first-dose Pfizer vaccines to Washington State for the full week of January 18th. It also sent 46,800 second-dose shots for the full week. Almost the same amount was provided of Moderna shots. This means the state is getting enough doses for about 26,500 vaccinations per day from manufacturers, a number that has been steady for four weeks. 

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