Rep. Luanne Van Werven: There is no such thing as a non-essential worker
These are tough, heartbreaking times. COVID-19 has completely upended our daily lives for over a month now. Many of you have lost your jobs or know someone who has. You've stayed at home. You have missed events, holidays, and gatherings with your family and friends. You have done your part.
I care about lives, and I also care about dreams that are dying because businesses are failing. I care that nationally, calls to suicide hotlines have increased by 800 times. Seattle and King County announced domestic violence calls increased by 21%, and downtown crime up 87%. I care about all of it.
But even in the face of these mounting problems, the governor has not produced a plan to restart the economy. Because the Legislature is adjourned, and with emergency powers activated, the governor is solely running the state.
It is time for our state to do their part by easing restrictions and providing a path forward. It is heartbreaking to hear people who fear losing their homes and providing for the needs of their families. I am also hearing that many are not getting their unemployment checks or loan relief from the state as promised by Gov. Inslee.
Social distancing, an emphasis on washing hands, and a ban on large gatherings have all gone a long way in combatting this virus. Our health care workers, grocery stores workers, and local charities deserve major kudos too. However, there are also many restrictions that have overreached unnecessarily in our lives. Additionally, you deserve to have some clarity in your future to know when you can begin to return to normal. That means having a plan. A recovery plan to open businesses up again, bring jobs back, and provide you the financial security you need for yourself and family.
- Elimination of “essential” and “non-essential” labels and restart business activity if safety protocols can be established and maintained. These labels are dehumanizing. Your job is essential if it provides basic human needs for your family.
- Restart residential construction if it can be done safely. Construction for government projects is still allowed but not for private-sector projects. If public construction projects can be done safely, then so can private-sector construction projects.
- Property tax deferral until Oct. 31 for those affected by COVID-19. Property taxes were already too high before the crisis. You should not be taxed out of your home or be forced to make painful fiscal decisions to pay this bill.
- Business and Occupational (B&O) Tax Holiday for small businesses. This is burden we should be removed for six months to help small businesses get back on their feet.
- Provide clarity and establish goals. The governor has been incredibly murky when providing details of who is allowed to work. At the very minimum, Inslee's office should be putting out detailed descriptions of restrictions of activities and not vague edicts leaving people and small businesses in a guessing game. We need clear, concise definitions. Additionally, we need targets to set our minds to when some business restrictions will be lifted. The uncertainly alone is damaging to businesses.
- Restoration of fishing rights. We are the only state in the nation barring these activities. This is completely unnecessary as this is a safe activity with a high degree of social distancing. Recreational fishing provides restorative health to many including those suffering from PTSD and others with mental health challenges.
- Reverse order releasing prisoners early. It is unconscionable that our governor has been releasing prisoners early due to COVID-19, including 1,000 more last week. This is unfair to victims and simply wrong. At a time when crime is already spiking, this action will likely stretch our local law enforcement thin and make our communities less safe. We need more safety and less anxiety, not the other way around.
Our shared sacrifice has “flattened the curve” against COVID-19, we need to act now to make sure we do not flatten the economy too.
There is no greater gift than for a free citizenry to trust our leaders enough to voluntarily give up our freedoms for the common good. The least the governor owes us is to provide leadership now so we know the sacrifice was worth it.
Rep. Luanne Van Werven represents the 42nd Legislative District. She serves as the ranking member on the College and Workforce Development Committee, and also serves on the House Transportation and Innovation, Technology and Economic Development committees.