Possibly 150,000 are in line to clear overturned convictions

Here’s what’s happening on Day 5 of the 2022 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2022 Washington Legislature, Day 5 of 60

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

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OLYMPIA, Jan. 14 — We’ve reached the first Friday of the session. It’s been quite a week.

Gov. Jay Inslee did something Thursday he hadn’t done during the pandemic — namely, deploy the National Guard to assist in hospital emergency rooms — as well as something he has done before — order a halt in non-urgent medical procedures.

Inslee stepped in to bolster a health care system overwhelmed by the latest storm of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations while coping with a shortage of staff, some sidelined by the omicron variant itself.

“This is going to be a tough few weeks for us in Washington,” the governor said, adding hopefully that the other side of the peak, and the pandemic, “is not far off.”

By this time next week, residents may be able to acquire, for free, a rapid COVID test or KN95 mask from the state. Inslee’s promised a few million of both will be available through an online ordering system and delivered to homes by Amazon.

On the subject of tests, my colleague, Claudia Yaw, reports that testing sites in Everett and across the country are closing because of questions about the legitimacy of the company running them, the Center for COVID Control. The firm is under investigation in a couple of states. Complaints have been made to Washington’s attorney general.

Center for COVID Control CEO Aleya Siyaj seems to have an interesting background. Her LinkedIn profile says she ran an Illinois axe-throwing lounge for 2½ years and a donut cafe for another 2½ years before landing her current gig.

Blake II

Thousands of men and women got their convictions for simple drug possession nixed by the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision last February. They’ve been queuing up ever since to get their names cleared by the courts and money back for fines they paid. Both lines are long, and getting longer. Estimates are 150,000 cases dating back to 1971 may be subject to Blake. About 10,000 have been tackled so far.

Enter Senate Bill 5663. It seeks to provide the municipal and superior courts with an orderly method for handling cases. And it would create a “refund bureau” run by the Department of Revenue to be the exclusive means for people to get refunds of legal financial obligations they paid.

This bill is en route to the Senate Law and Justice Committee where the author, Sen. Manka Dhingra, is chair.

She’s hired

Former Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson is joining the Biden Administration as the new Washington state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program. She’ll guide an office which provides federal financial aid and technical assistance to rural communities.

Johnson, a Democrat, served 12 years on the County Commission. In 2020, she challenged Republican Sen. Ron Muzzall, losing by roughly 2,000 votes. She’ll succeed Kirk Pearson of Monroe, the ex-state senator appointed to the post by former President Donald Trump. Pearson stepped down shortly before President Joe Biden took office.

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