Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you are healthy and well in these difficult and uncertain times. I am sending this final email update to you before election-year restrictions go into effect on May 11.
I care deeply about everyone who has been impacted by COVID-19 and each loss of life is sad and tragic – and I also worry about the livelihoods in jeopardy and being lost. We must find a balance to keep people safe and healthy, reopen our economy and respect the individual rights of our citizens. I discuss this in my op-ed “There is no such thing as a non-essential worker.” If you did not get a chance to read it, I urge you to do so and contact me if you have any questions.
Last Friday, May 1, the governor said he will extend his Stay Home, Stay Healthy order through May 31 and it could be longer. He laid out a four-phase plan for Washington businesses to reopen and that also modifies physical distancing measures, including the categories of: high-risk populations; recreation; gatherings; travel; and business/employers. The governor's four-phase chart can be found here.
Under his approach, 10 counties (Pend Oreille, Ferry, Lincoln, Columbia, Garfield, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kittitas, Skamania and Wahkiakum), that have not been hit as hard by COVID-19, might be able to open sooner. The counties would be able to apply to the Department of Health for a variance from his new order, which would allow them to move on to the next phase more quickly.
I am concerned there are no firm timelines on his phases, and he mentioned it could be three weeks in moving between the phases. That means we could be looking at mid-July before Washington state is reopened. I am very worried this will be too late for many of our small businesses.
Legislative Republicans offer a plan
In addition to the economic action I introduced, Republicans in the state House and Senate released the Safe Economic Restart Plan. Our plans share similar goals. We have been looking at various ideas and strategies to reopen our economy in a safe and smart manner.
Our plan has three sets of actions to enable the safe restart of Washington's economy and promote its continued recovery over the long term. Some proposals would require legislative action in a special session.
This continues to be a work in progress with the ever-changing numbers of the coronavirus. We will continue to fine-tune our ideas and proposals to address the gaps in the governor's plan. It is imperative we continue to move forward.
After the governor's press conference on Friday, there still seems to be many questions and not the hope and certainty many of you are looking for and need as you fight for your livelihoods.
I am continually pushing for answers and solutions on issues pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have signed on to three letters with other state lawmakers and elected officials that were sent to the governor. Here is an overview of those correspondence:
- A letter on April 20 asking the governor to start reopening the economy in rural Washington.
- A letter on April 27 requesting the governor revise the proposed housing rules under the Emergency Regulations for Agricultural Employers, (known as the Bunk Bed Rule), since the agriculture industry is approaching crisis mode in the need for workers.
- A letter on May 1 requesting a decentralization approach to Washington state's recovery from the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.
These letters express the urgency and concern many of us have. We want to work together and get people back to work. The ability for our communities to function is dependent on businesses remaining open and keeping people employed.
I can assure you, we will continue to press forward and engage the governor on many ideas and strategies to get through this pandemic.
Finally, when I go back to Olympia, whether it be in a special session, or next January, I can assure you I will be fighting against any new or increased taxes to make up for lost revenue. For a list of tax increases proposed and passed by state Democrats in the past two years, click here. There have been articles in the media about some lawmakers interested in pushing a state income tax next year. Our state government should not be taking more of your hard-earned money, especially during this tough financial time.
Release of inmates unnecessary
As you may be aware, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) is in the process of releasing approximately 1,000 inmates from our state prison system. This comes from a ruling in which the state Supreme Court has said the state needs to take action to protect inmates, but there was no specific directive that indicated that should be “early release.”
I am adamantly opposed to this for a variety of reasons. First, the DOC is not alerting criminals' victims and families – that is wrong! Where are these inmates going to go? This may end up contributing to the homelessness problem in our state. They will not be able to get a job, with more than one million Washingtonians already filing unemployment claims.
There have only been 18 confirmed cases in a prison system of about 16,000 inmates. With prisons now limiting visitation, work release and social outings, the prisoners may run a higher risk of getting the virus once they are released from prison. Finally, as we release inmates back into Whatcom County with crimes such as burglary, possession and intent to sell controlled substances, unlawful possession of firearms and many others, keep in mind many of these may have been plea bargained down from a more serious crime. We are putting our communities in harm's way with this flawed policy decision.
In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on our economy, the announcement from Alcoa Corporation officials to close down the Ferndale Intalco Works smelter, citing declining market conditions, is another devastating hit to our region. Officials say they expect to complete the curtailment by the end of this July.
It is crucial to Whatcom County that we save this facility. Read my statement on Intalco's closure here. I have already had many conversations with representatives from Alcoa, smelter workers, other elected officials and many more folks about saving this plant and the 700 family-wage jobs that are vital to Whatcom County and its economy.
Due to election-year restrictions after May 11, I will no longer be able to send you an email update until after the November election is certified, unless we are in a special session. We will be able to send email updates during that time.
While I will not be sending out updates, I can respond to your questions, any concerns you have with a current law, or issues with a state agency. I am your state representative year-round and I hope you will not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or need assistance with legislative or state-related issues.
It is an honor and privilege to represent you.
Luanne Van Werven