Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I have about a week left in my term. I urge you to contact me if you need any assistance navigating state government or have any questions. I am still helping constituents who are waiting for unemployment benefits, and hearing from folks who are concerned about the latest restrictions on businesses and kids not being back in schools.
My service for the great folks of the 42nd District has been to help those in need and advance legislation that benefits our communities, region and state.
The 2021 Legislative Session
The 2021 legislative session is fast approaching. It will be different in this era of COVID as our legislative session will be virtual. House facilities will remain closed to the public, floor sessions and committee meetings will be held remotely, and staff must telework. Click here for the full plan.
I urge you to stay engaged, especially in this difficult time. It is important the citizens of Washington feel there is transparency and accountability in the legislative process. Legislators in Olympia need to listen and be your voice in Olympia!
The call for a special session
During the interim I received many emails and calls regarding the restrictions in place due to the pandemic. There are no easy answers. We need to be smart and safe, have compassion for those who have lost loved ones and been greatly impacted by the virus.
However, we must not forgot about those who have lost work, their business or livelihood. I am very concerned about the latest restrictions, which the governor recently extended until Jan. 11. We need to find a balance so we can maintain a sense of normalcy in our communities. Our small businesses are struggling, students want and need to be back in school, and mental health issues are becoming concerning at all age levels.
Republicans had hoped to address many of the challenges presented by COVID-19, by calling for a special session in the spring. The governor could have called a special legislative session so lawmakers who are more connected to their communities could come up with a plan to offer immediate help to businesses and families.
In a special session we could have considered legislative oversight of the governor's emergency powers, property tax relief, assistance to our restaurants and small businesses, a break on unemployment taxes, and ensure our parents, educators and school districts are equipped with the resources and support they need to make sure students are on the path to success.
Legislators from both parties have requested a special session since August. It could have been a bipartisan discussion. The pandemic is not a partisan issue. Legislators from both parties should be included in the decisions being made. Instead, our state has been managed by – not one party rule – but one person rule. The governor has tried to manage the pandemic by himself since March. All legislators have a responsibility and a right to be involved in the decisions being made. The governor should have let us in long ago to be part of the discussion of the rules and regulations impacting our communities and citizens.
Employment Security Department
We are about nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) continues to have problems. I continue to help constituents who are working diligently to get their unemployment benefits.
I understand we are in unprecedented times. However, thousands of folks have had to wait many months for their benefits. The ESD also lost an estimated $600 million in unemployment funds this spring.
In October, the State Auditor's Office was trying to investigate the fraud and other issues within the ESD by conducting a series of audits. Unfortunately, ESD was less than cooperative and was interfering with the audits.
About a week ago, the audit findings were released and according to the report ESD was at fault for failing to fix a software vulnerability that contributed to the spring's massive unemployment fraud.
The governor needs to take a hard look at the leadership of this state agency and instill some accountability.
While the 2021 Legislature will be “virtual,” I urge you to stay connected and be in touch. Below are some helpful links to keep you informed about what is happening in Olympia.
- The Washington State Ledger: This is a legislative news aggregator administered by state House Republicans. It is a great source for information related to state government, public policy and the legislative process. Check it out!
- Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
- The Current: This an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans that is sent out every week during the legislative session.
- TVW: The state's own version of C-SPAN, TVW broadcasts floor and committee action live online. This will be an important tool with the session being “virtual.”
My time as your state representative is coming to a close. I hope you will still contact me if you need any assistance or have any questions. I want to provide any help I can until my term ends.
As we say goodbye to the difficult year of 2020, my hope and prayer for you is a happy and prosperous new year.
Luanne Van Werven