23rd-District Legislative E-News: April 3, 2021
Dear friends and neighbors,
A pivotal time in virtual Olympia
At the beginning of this legislative session House Democrats committed to protecting Washington’s families and communities, and to ensuring an equitable and inclusive recovery. We made our goals and focus clear. My hope is that you will evaluate how well our Legislature performs at protecting the health, safety, and well-being of families and communities by how we prioritize COVID-19 response, economic recovery, climate change, and addressing systemic inequity. As we head into the last few weeks of this session, crucial bills in these areas are still possible in play. As I’ve heard often during my first session as your representative, our work is a marathon, and we still need to get across the finish line.
Operating: Washington Recovery Budget
This weekend the House will be working to pass our version of the operating budget, the Washington Plan for Community and Economic Recovery. While there is more work to do before a final budget is approved and sent to Gov. Inslee, our first draft reflects our priorities and our commitments. Some highlights are:
- $1.9 billion for homelessness and affordable housing, including enough rental assistance to protect those who have fallen behind during the pandemic from facing eviction, and new revenue dedicated to permanent supportive housing to address the homelessness crisis that affects cities and towns throughout Washington.
- Nearly a billion in recovery support for small businesses, including small business grants.
- $2.7 billion for public health and healthcare, including more than a billion dollars to continue to fight COVID-19 with vaccinations, contact tracing and testing.
- $790 million for early learning and childcare, including stabilization grants for childcare providers, and an ongoing commitment to increasing the available slots and the reimbursement rates.
- $133 million for the skilled nursing safety net trust account, including increased Medicaid reimbursement rates.
- $340 million for the immigrant relief fund, to support our neighbors who, because of broken and unjust laws, have been left out of much of the federal support.
A more complete summary is available here, and all of the details and accompanying documents are available on our LEAP system.
Capital: Historic construction plans to rebuild the economy
Shovels will be flying throughout the 23rd district and all around the state, thanks to the combined list of proposed projects funded by the House and Senate’s 2021-23 capital budget. At this point it’s a certainty that the final budget will break the record for total investments and put tens of thousands of people to work rebuilding the economy. On Friday the House approved its version of the budget, and we’ll soon begin negotiations with the Senate to produce a final product.
Federal funding is helping immensely this year, with the House budget (HB 1080) including $400 million from the American Recovery Act to invest in water, sewer, and broadband service along, with $189 million for critical capital budget projects enabling work, education, health monitoring, and other items related to responding to the pandemic.
A total of $48.5 million would go toward grants and loans for early learning facilities. Public schools would receive $969.9 million, while community colleges get $299.8 million and public universities are set for $678.9 million in construction funding. The largest project is the construction of the Behavioral Health Teaching Facility at the University of Washington ($191.3 million).
This proposal also sets new records for investments in housing ($240 million), early learning ($48 million), and broadband internet access ($155 million). Just a few of the projects on track to receive funding here in the 23rd district include:
- $1.6 million for Bainbridge Performing Arts to expand its services to the community.
- $320,000 for improvements at Madrona Day Treatment School in Bremerton.
- $2 million for vital Ridgetop habitat protection in Silverdale.
- $600,000 for modernization of facilities at TC Chief Kitsap Suquamish tribal compact school.
- $2.5 million for the Hood Canal fish passage.
As I said, this is the House version of the budget; the Senate version does not track the House plan line for line, so until we’ve completed cross-chamber negotiations, some of these details are subject to change. Full details about the budget are available here. You can also find district project lists and maps.
Transportation: Investing in our shared future
In 2020, transportation funding took a huge hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pending decision on I-976, and the need to construct new fishing passages, adding a great deal of strain on our transportation budget. As a result, Gov. Jay Inslee put many construction projects on hold.
Reduced travel as a result of COVID-19 restrictions also created a sizable reduction in funds from gas taxation.
Almost $800 million in federal funding and the state Supreme Court’s rejection of I-976 changed that financial landscape.
The 2021-23 budget proposed by House Democrats, which we approved by an 87-11 vote Friday afternoon, restores paused projects and continues the work of building a transportation system for the future, with investments in green transportation, mass transit, fish passages, and critical projects such as the I-5 bridge between Washington and Oregon. Here in the 23rd, we’ll see evidence of the transportation budget throughout the district:
- $500,000 to prepare for traffic improvements at the Kingston ferry dock, easing the traffic congestion on surrounding streets.
- $2.3 million for a new regional public transit terminal in Silverdale.
- $3 million for a similar terminal in Bremerton.
- $1.5 for a new battery-powered bus for Kitsap Transit.
- $43 million to convert two Jumbo Mk II ferries to electric-hybrid for the Bainbridge-Seattle run.
- More than $200 million to make significant repairs and improvements on ferries serving our district’s riders.
A more in-depth look at the transportation budget proposal can be found here.
Vaccine eligibility expands to all adults on April 15
The governor recently announced that all adults over 16 will be eligible to receive the vaccine starting April 15th. So far, the phased approach has helped to ensure that the most vulnerable among us were the first to receive doses. Now, thanks to the heroic work of healthcare professionals and the expanded supply from the federal government, eligibility can expand even more quickly than expected.
As the governor indicated in his announcement, the accelerated timeline comes, in part, as a response to a recent increase in COVID cases. New variants are highly transmissible, and we must continue to wear masks, keep our distance, and wash our hands to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system's capacity to care for people who become sick.
I know it’s hard, we’ve all been living under these restrictions for so long. But now is not the time to give up. Let’s remember, this time last year we didn’t even know much about the virus. Since then, we’ve come together, protected each other, developed multiple vaccines, and given doses to millions of people.
Use the Vaccine Locator, now available in multiple languages, to find a vaccination appointment. And if you can’t get online, call the state COVID-19 Assistance Hotline at 1-800-525-0127.
Here is a snapshot of the most recent date from Kitsap Public Health:
Getting more assistance to families in need
The House’s bill to bolster economic recovery and provide food and cash assistance to families in need was signed into law this week by Gov. Jay Inslee. We all have a friend or neighbor who is struggling right now to make ends meet or worrying about where their next meal will come from. That’s why HB 1151 expands a cash assistance program for families, allows for five additional months of food assistance and requires the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to update the standards of need for cash assistance programs — last updated three decades ago.
Food insecurity has skyrocketed during the pandemic. This bill will update existing programs to help ensure families have options beyond food banks to put food on the table. We also know that families’ needs have changed over the past 30 years, so HB 1151 will update or modernize standards of need to include expenses like internet, childcare and health care.
My voting-rights bill awaits the governor's signature
I’m very pleased to say that HB 1078, my proposal that will make the restoration of voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals automatic rather than provisional, has been approved by both the House and Senate and now requires only Gov. Inslee’s signature to become law. This has been a multi-year effort, one I’ve worked on both before and after becoming your representative, and I especially want to thank Sen. Patty Kuderer for having been so helpful over the last several years. It’s a shame it has taken so long for the state to enact such a common-sense policy, which is already in place in red and blue states around the country. But it’s finally happening, and by all measures this reform, which comes at no cost to taxpayers, will actually reduce recidivism and in the process drive down the exorbitant costs of our corrections system.
And an update
I promised to keep you posted on my other bills, and I am hopeful that soon after you read this another priority bill will have been debated and approved in the Senate. HB 1086, creating the state office of behavioral health consumers, has made its way through the Senate committee process and is now in the Rules Committee, the last stop before reaching the virtual Senate floor.
HB 1411, which will expand healthcare workforce eligibility for thousands of qualified Washingtonians by prohibiting the Department of Social and Health Services from automatically disqualifying persons with criminal convictions from certain caregiver jobs, also has reached the Senate Rules Committee and is poised for floor action. I look forward to this bill becoming law this year.
It’s hard to believe, but as I write this on Friday, April 2, there are barely three weeks left in my first session in the House. I’ll be providing another update before we adjourn, and a final session wrap-up shortly afterward. But I want to stress that although the Legislature will not be in session, I work for you year-round. I’m very hopeful that as the threat of COVID-19 subsides due to the measures we are taking, I’ll be able to meet with many of you face-to-face. Regardless of when good sense and good science allow us to resume personal meetings, I always welcome your emails, letter, and calls. Please keep in touch to help me do this important job better and better.
Rep. Tarra Simmons