A new reopening plan emerges, and a road-work pause ends

Here’s what’s happening on Day 19 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2021 Washington Legislature, Day 19 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, Jan. 29, 2021 — Good morning.

The new, new, new, updated road map to recovery is out from Gov. Jay Inslee, and plenty of folks are wondering if it will ever get the state to its destination.

His changes mean that next week you can put out the “open for limited dining” signs in Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston, Lewis, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties. In those places, the coronavirus is in retreat. Elsewhere, it continues to wage a good enough fight to keep in place restrictions on commerce — including a ban on indoor dining — which the governor imposed in November.

If you’re wondering, yes, Washington is one of the most buckled-down states. It’s also had fewer cases and suffered fewer deaths per capita than other states.

“We are getting closer to finding our way out of this mess, but we aren’t there yet,” Inslee said at a news conference Thursday. “We have sacrificed too much to let our frustrations get the best of us now when the finish line is in sight, however distant that may seem in our field of vision.”

At a news conference Tuesday, Inslee swatted aside any notion of imminent adjustments to the “Healthy Washington” approach. But growing political pressure from within his party, coupled with a frustrated citizenry and a climb in vaccinations, looks to have moved him to re-position the needle for when counties can reopen.

He’s also insistent that no one let their guard down. He told reporters Thursday that he hopes folks will avoid large Super Bowl parties as such social gatherings can become super-spreader events.

“We are on the path to success,” he said. “We are not going to allow the virus to win the Super Bowl.”

Implode, explode

Moderate Democratic senators surprised colleagues Wednesday by helping pass a Republican amendment to scale down the amount of a planned increase in jobless benefit checks. Democrats hold a 28-21 edge in the chamber and figured to put it down easily, but that is not what happened.

In caucus Democrats went. And when they returned to the virtual floor, they pushed for another vote and this time got the originally desired result.

The bigger deal was the legislation, Senate Bill 5061. It is a centerpiece of the Legislature and the governor’s pandemic relief package and would provide more aid to unemployed and prevent a huge increase in unemployment insurance rates paid by businesses. It passed on a 42-7 vote and heads to the House.

Back on track

Inslee on Thursday lifted the pause imposed on a handful of highway projects as part of a broader strategy to get lawmakers focused on making serious investments to fix culverts ahead of a federal court’s 2030 deadline. He made the move on the first day of the session to set the table for negotiations.

He got lawmakers’ attention and their ire. City and county leaders weren’t happy, either. This week, Inslee received letters from a slew of Pierce County and Snohomish County lawmakers urging him to allow those projects to proceed while they sort out money issues through the budget process.

Not sure the governor is all that happy with what looks to be an honorable retreat.

“I am lifting the pause today based on the agreement reached between the Legislature and the governor. WSDOT may proceed with projects as authorized in the current budget,” he wrote in a memo. No details on the agreement were provided.

Law and order

A measure prescribing when cops can use potentially deadly force will be the sole subject of a 10 a.m. hearing Friday in the House Public Safety Committee.

House Bill 1310 is intended to limit “the use of deadly force to very narrow circumstances where there is an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death,” according to the legislation. Among its provisions is one directing Attorney General Bob Ferguson to “develop and publish model policies on law enforcement’s use of force and de-escalation tactics.” Agencies would need to adopt those policies.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a bill banning the open carry of weapons near permitted demonstrations and on the grounds of the state Capitol, and another outlawing high capacity ammunition magazines, advanced out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

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