As COVID bills advance, Inslee urges teachers to suck it up

Here’s what’s happening on Day 17 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2021 Washington Legislature, Day 17 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, Jan. 27, 2021 — Good morning. Votes are expected in both chambers today on COVID relief bills. The Senate is set to approve a bill shielding businesses from a huge spike in their unemployment insurance rates, while the House is teeing up legislation allowing waiver of some high school graduation requirements.

Both are expected to pass on bipartisan votes.

But don’t think for a minute all is well between the parties. Republicans continue to be frustrated with the conduct of the virtual session. They contend it isn’t allowing for enough public comment or discussion among lawmakers in committee meetings.

“There aren’t more people testifying. There are more people signing in to testify,” Senate Minority Leader John Braun told reporters Tuesday. Remote testimony is good, he said, “but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t testify.”

And they argue majority Democrats are moving quickly on complex and controversial policies. In the House Public Safety Committee, Republicans put forth 19 amendments to a bill prescribing new limits on certain law enforcement tactics. The bill advanced, but it was a tactic to force conversation on the provisions, said Rep. Gina Mosbrucker.

“We are going to find strategies” to slow such bills down, she said.

Buck it up

Gov. Jay Inslee had stern words Tuesday for teachers whose reluctance to return to classrooms is preventing reopening of public schools around the state.

“The fear of this is understandable. But it is not backed up by experience,” he said at a news conference. “Our experience shows we can operate a school safely.”

Where schools have reopened for some grades there’s been very minimal transmission, he said, because of safety measures.

“There’s no zero risk. Any time you step out of your living room there’s some risk,” he said. In asking educators to go back to campuses, “we are not asking more than we’re asking grocery clerks. We’ve asked our grocery clerks to go on site, do their jobs, and as a result we have food to eat.”

Road news

Details should emerge today on a multibillion-dollar transportation package pieced together by Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Expect a slightly modified version of the $17 billion “Forward Washington” plan he pursued, without success, the past two years.

Material should get posted on the committee website Wednesday, and Hobbs will gather public reaction at a 4 p.m. hearing Thursday.

Last week, House Democrats released a massive 16-year, $26 billion plan containing an 18-cent increase in the gas tax over the next two years, plus a fee on carbon emissions.

Inslee hasn’t endorsed either plan, as of yet. Both do something he very much wants — commit money to comply with a federal court to fix culverts blocking fish passage.

Boundary battles

The state Redistricting Commission gets to work at 4 p.m. today on the once-a-decade task of redrawing boundaries of the state’s 49 legislative and 10 congressional districts. You can watch on TVW.

April Sims, secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, and Brady Walkinshaw, Grist CEO and a former state representative, will represent Democrats. Joe Fain, president and CEO of the Bellevue Chamber and a former state senator, and Paul Graves, a former state representative, will be the collective voice of Republicans.

The quartet will get organized today and meet again Saturday to choose a fifth member who will serve as the non-voting chair.

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