OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday called on state lawmakers to take action on a multitude of issues during their 60-day legislative session, including addressing the homelessness crisis, helping children affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and taking more steps to address climate change.
In his annual State of the State speech, the Democratic governor said that “this may be a ‘short session,’ but it is unlike any in our history.”
“We must act according to what this moment demands,” he said. “We must be big. We must be bold. We must act at a scale commensurate to our challenges because of the multiple, urgent crises facing our state.”
Inslee delivered the speech in the Capitol’s state reception room, which was limited to a handful of attendees and media who had taken COVID-19 tests, and it was broadcast by TVW, the state’s government affairs channel.
In pre-pandemic times, the speech is delivered to a joint session of the House and Senate in the House chamber. But amid rising cases of the virus, the House and Senate each have scaled back their operating procedures on the floor, allowing only a limited numbers of lawmakers in each chamber and holding all committee hearings remotely. Since Friday, at least five lawmakers have tested positive, and last month, Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen died after he contracted COVID-19 in November.
Inslee said more than 10,000 people in the state have died from the virus, “each one of whose lives mattered.”
While the state is increasing access to testing and masking and helping educators navigate the pandemic, the governor said, lawmakers “must take action this day to keep and strengthen our commitments to those in need right now and in the future.”
Inslee pointed to proposals from his $62 billion supplemental state budget plan he released last month that looks to increase the number of K-12 school nurses, social workers, counselors and psychologists.
“Students have lost opportunities during remote learning despite the best efforts of our educators,” Inslee said. “To keep schools open, we must invest more to deal with COVID and address learning opportunity loss. We are committed to having our schools open this year, but the impacts of necessary closures linger.”
The governor also wants to see $815 million in spending on homelessness efforts, including acquiring housing ranging from tiny homes to enhanced emergency shelters, and expanding homeless shelter capacity. He also wants to expand treatment beds for chronic behavioral health conditions and to increase access to supportive housing and employment, and to help people maintain both even during behavioral health crises.
Inslee also wants to see a policy change on so-called “middle housing” and called on lawmakers to pass a new statewide policy to expand where housing supply such as duplexes, triplexes and quads can be built.
“Look, we cannot tell our constituents we are fighting homelessness and yet not provide ways to build more housing,” he said. “That means we must allow housing that meets the realities of our tremendous population and economic growth this century.”
Inslee is also pushing for spending $626 million on his climate proposals, which include tax rebates on electric vehicles, and expanding clean building requirements, including requiring all new construction that begins in 2034 to reduce energy use by 80% and use all-electric equipment and appliances.
“Climate change is not merely a graph on a slide deck with an arrow pointed at calamity,” Inslee said. “It’s found in the eyes of people who saw floods go through their windows in Everson; evacuees who returned to see the charred ruins of their homes in Malden; or the Colville Tribes who lost 600,000 acres of timber to wildfires.”
Inslee also repeated his call for legislation that would make it illegal for politicians to knowingly spread lies about elections that result in violence, “violence we have already seen in state capitals and our nation’s capital.”
The Washington State Supreme Court has in the past rejected efforts to ban lies by political candidates.
In a televised Republican response to Inslee’s speech, Sen. Chris Gildon said majority Democrats should pass property tax cuts and eliminate the business and occupation tax on manufacturing to encourage more jobs in that industry. He also said a capital gains tax that was approved last year should be eliminated, along with a long-term care payroll tax that Democrats are looking to delay collection of.
“We believe the state should not collect more in taxes than is absolutely necessary to properly perform the functions of government,” he said. “The last thing you need as you recover from the pandemic is for government to take more away from you.”
Democrats hold a 57-41 majority in the House and a 28-21 advantage in the Senate.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.