OLYMPIA —A new speaker of the House, a new seat for an embattled lawmaker and a renewed battle on an old issue highlighted Monday’s opening day of the 2020 legislative session.
The spotlight was trained on the House of the Representatives where Democratic Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma was sworn in as speaker, the first woman and the first lesbian to ever occupy the powerful post.
“We are all witnessing history today,” said Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, who served as acting speaker ahead of the session. “Another barrier falls as the first woman in Washington state will stand on this spot and hold this gavel as Speaker of the House.”
Jinkins, in her speech, paid tribute to female trailblazers before her, noting this year is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage which made it possible for women to vote and participate in civic life.
“Another barrier is broken today, but it won’t be the last,” she said. “Today represents another step toward inclusion, toward more seats at the table.”
The new speaker proceeded to lay out an agenda for the 60-day session.
At the top is homelessness and housing which she said demand an approach that is “comprehensive, creative and strategic. She urged representatives to work to provide greater access to affordable child care and lower health care costs and called on them to act on climate change though she did not endorse any specific legislation.
She said they’ll be grappling with the “devastating” impacts of Initiative 976, the voter-approved measure reducing the cost of car tabs. It is on hold pending a legal fight. If upheld, it will create a $454 million hole in the state transportation budget.
And, she noted, lawmakers should look to make gains on reducing gun violence, investing in public education and safeguarding data privacy.
There’s only 60 days, she said. “It might not be possible to accomplish everything, I get it.”
Jinkins begins work after months of traveling the state to meet nearly every member of the House from both parties.
“These visits made me really optimistic about what we can accomplish together,” she said. “The title of my role might be speaker, but as I view it, my primary job is to listen. I promise to listen to every one of you, even when we disagree.”
The cost of car tabs is one such subject on which the two parties won’t see eye-to-eye.
Republicans are urging Democrats to abide by the results of the November election and cap the annual renewal fee at $30 as contained in the initiative.
And Monday morning a small crowd of people gathered on the Capitol steps in chilly temperatures for a rally at which the theme was convincing lawmakers — chiefly Democrats — to implement lower car tab costs.
“The people who voted need to be heard,” said Carolyn Strong of Edmonds, one of the event organizers.
A House-commissioned report released last month alleges Shea promoted and engaged in armed anti-government protests in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The report described the activities as domestic terrorism.
House Republican leaders booted him from their caucus based on the findings. On Monday, Shea got a new seat, in the chamber’s back row sitting alongside Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls. Sutherland recently took to Facebook to question caucus leaders’ treatment of Shea.
Jinkins and her Democratic colleagues want to expel Shea. That would require a two-thirds majority, which means getting votes from nine Republicans. There are no signs yet of that happening.
Democratic and Republican leaders prefer Shea resign. Shea said Friday he has been “falsely accused” and he vowed not to resign. He did not answer questions Monday.
On Monday, a dozen of his supporters stood in a light snow fall at the Capitol’s main entry road at 7 a.m., waving signs emblazoned with “We Stand With Matt Shea”.
Participants said it is wrong for legislative leaders to try to expel the six-term lawmaker or get him to resign. They criticized the House report as slanted, said Shea did not receive adequate time to respond to its findings and defended the lawmaker’s right to not speak with its authors.
“We are here for due process,” said Ken Morse of Olympia, a leader of the Informed Citizen Network also known as the Olympia Tea Party. “We want all the lawmakers to know we support Matt Shea.”
A short time later, the president of the Spokane City Council, who Shea allegedly targeted for surveillance, told reporters that lawmakers should hold public hearings on the report and hoped Shea would testify.
“I support the process moving forward. We need to get to the bottom of it. Put him under oath,” Breean Beggs said in a conference call with other Shea critics. “Everybody needs to know and draw their own conclusions.”
And, he said, if it turns out that his actions rise to the level of “crimes against the community” than expulsion would be appropriate, he said.
The 60-day session is slated to end March 12.