$2.2B COVID conversation begins; a road feud may be easing

Here’s what’s happening on Day 15 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2021 Washington Legislature, Day 15 of 105

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, Jan. 25, 2021 — Good morning. It is Week 3 and the state’s pandemic response will be a focal point of lawmakers’ attention.

House and Senate Democrats are fast-tracking their blueprint for directing $2.2 billion in federal aid to the state’s ongoing COVID-19 relief effort.

The plan, released Friday, includes $618 million to boost vaccination efforts, testing and contact tracing; $365 million to aid renters and landlords; and $240 million for grants to businesses.

There’s also $668 million for school assistance plus directives to public, charter and tribal schools to update their reopening plans by March 1, with an eye to offering some in-person instruction this school year.

House Bill 1368 is the vehicle. The House Appropriations Committee is to hold a hearing on it Tuesday and vote it out Thursday, setting up possible action on the floor Friday.

Expect it to be a big topic at 2:15 p.m. today when leaders of the Democratic caucuses meet with reporters. The weekly news conference will be streamed on TVW.org.

On a related note, the mutant coronavirus variant from the U.K. has reached Washington via Snohomish County.

Road feud

On the first day of the session, Gov. Jay Inslee surprised lawmakers by pausing a handful of highway projects, ostensibly to pressure them to get serious about complying with a federal court order to remove hundreds of fish-passage barriers.

He’s earmarked $726 million for the work in his proposed transportation budget and wants to see similar-sized sums in House and Senate budgets. To that end, he figured he’d free up dollars by delaying spending on projects contained in the 2015 Connecting Washington package. It is an odd bargaining tactic that immediately triggered bipartisan anger and prompted a polite blistering in a House hearing last week.

On Saturday, Inslee signaled a change of heart.

“We are reviewing all options that include restoring the paused projects, while working with legislators on assuring funding for required investments in culverts and other critical programs,” said Debbie Driver, a senior policy advisor for the governor.

On the move

A sweeping reform of policing tactics cleared the House Public Safety Committee on Friday. House Bill 1054, as amended by the panel, would bar law enforcement officers from applying chokeholds and neck restraints and from using unleashed police dogs to arrest or apprehend individuals. It also outlaws “no-knock” warrants, bars police agencies from acquiring or using tear gas and certain types of military equipment.

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