60-day sprint: State lawmakers plan to fix what’s broken

Here’s what’s happening on Day 1 of the 2022 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2022 Washington Legislature, Day 1 of 60

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

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OLYMPIA, Jan. 10 — Welcome to the opening day of the 2022 legislative session.

It’s going to be a 60-day sprint, on Zoom. Yep, another year of remote legislating because COVID-19 is raging. This past week Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane and Sen. John Lovick of Mill Creek tested positive.

Before diving in, there is breaking news out of Snohomish County to share.

Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, has drawn a Republican challenger, Snohomish County Councilman Sam Low, setting up an interesting intra-party matchup in the August primary.

Sutherland is an unabashed conservative and unapologetic in his beliefs. Low is a moderate, or, as he likes to say, “a balanced Republican.” Low says he decided to run when he saw how the Redistricting Commission redrew the map for the 39th Legislative District. It added his hometown, Lake Stevens, and subtracted other more conservative communities. Low has up to now lived in the Democratic-dominated 44th District.

Among Low’s early endorsers is former House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, who held this legislative seat for 16 years until retiring in 2018.

Now back to the matters at hand.

The To-Do List

Three things are certain to get done in the next two months.

1. Slam the brakes on WA Cares, the long-term-care insurance program funded with a payroll tax on workers. The well-meaning initiative of Democrats needs a major recalibration to survive politically and financially. Potential legislative fixes will get hearings Tuesday and potential committee votes Thursday. These fixes delay the program and collection of the payroll tax until July 2023. That will give majority Democrats this session and the next to try to get it right. It also gives Republicans more time to try to repeal it entirely.

2. Clear up confusion surround new policing reforms. Majority Democrats are seeking to clarify language in laws passed in 2021 imposing new restrictions on police tactics and use of force. Law enforcement officials say unintended consequences have resulted. Republicans are primed for a broader battle on crime, punishment and public safety.

3. A supplemental budget. Not just any supplemental budget. A big one. There’s $1.3 billion in federal COVID aid to dish out. There’s another billion-plus in tax collections, too. Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee envision jumbo-sized investments in housing, health care and transportation. Republicans want a little relief for taxpayers.

People watching

What will be on my radar this session?

The dynamics within the Senate Democratic Caucus following the departure of unflinching moderate Steve Hobbs (he’s now Secretary of State) and the arrival of steady liberal John Lovick.

Hobbs was a speed bump, sometimes a barrier, to an array of policies pushed by Inslee and progressive Democrats. Lovick is the opposite. Democratic leaders can count on his vote. He veers wide of conflict and will be the last member of the caucus looking to create any — unless you are not a fan of his push for Pickleball.

The absence of Hobbs’ voice, and vote, could clear a path for action on stalled legislation. Maybe it makes for an easier conversation to advance some form of a transportation package. We’ll see.

I’d like to know what’s on your radar. Send me an email.

Now let’s get this session started.

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