Caldier says COVID restrictions on House floor hinder legislative work

Even so, 26th District representative has list of House bills ready for consideration

PORT ORCHARD — State Rep. Michelle Caldier, 26th Legislative District Republican, told her constituents in an emailed report last week that this year’s short 60-day legislative session still has as much to accomplish as do longer 105-day sessions held in odd-numbered years.

But accomplishments could be even more difficult to come by during the session because of COVID-19 restrictions at the State Capitol Building.

Caldier said the state House of Representatives is operating virtually through portals such as Teams and Zoom, with just two members from each caucus and a presiding officer allowed on the House floor because of pandemic restrictions. And as was the case last session, the public is not allowed in the galleries or in House offices, and all committee meetings are being conducted online.

There’s another complicating factor, she said in the report: legislators and staff members who are on the House floor must have proof of vaccination, and have received a booster shot. The only problem is, Caldier said, she isn’t qualified to receive a booster shot until Feb. 23.

“According to the requirement, I cannot be on the floor until two weeks after I receive a booster shot, which is March 9, the day before the session ends on March 10,” she said.

“I am willing to get my booster shot,” Caldier said, “however, I am concerned this requirement is preventing many legislators from being on the floor, even though we would like to be there voting for you.”

Despite the complications in Olympia, the state representatives said her fellow legislators are basking in some good news: the state has a record budget surplus of $8.8 billion, with another $2.2 billion in reserves and $1.2 in unspent federal stimulus funds.

With state coffers overflowing, Caldier said she can’t say the same about citizens in the 26th District and those around the state — including working families, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, she said.

“Families are paying more for groceries, energy, fuel and medical costs. We should be giving some of that back to the hard-working families in our state,” the state representative said.

Caldier said ways to address that issue are by expanding the Working Families Tax Credit, lowering property taxes and eliminating the Long-Term Care payroll tax.

Reduced ferry services

Due to a “perfect storm” caused by COVID illnesses, retirements and reduced staffing on Washington State Ferries vessels because of Oct. 18 terminations from the governor’s vaccination mandate, the ferry system has reduced the number of sailings on Puget Sound waters.

“I have introduced legislation to remove barriers in the hiring of new ferry workers and improve working conditions for ferry employees,” Caldier said in her report.

She noted that her bill — House Bill 1608 — would direct a review and analysis of collective bargaining agreements governing state ferry employees for the purpose of identifying provisions that she says create barriers and impacts on newly hired ferry employees. She said the bill also would require the executive branch to negotiate future collective bargaining agreements so that they encourage equity, diversity and inclusion within the ferry workforce.

In her report, Caldier included a prioritized list of House bills she has introduced during the short session.

House Bill 1183 — home sharing support grants — which would create a home-sharing support grant program using money from the state’s document recording fee. She said the program would support home-sharing programs matching homeless people with homeowners willing to share space on their property. The bill is a holdover from the last session.

House Bill 1949 — prioritizing higher education capital projects — would prioritize and increase four-year university health care slots under capital budget requests, in response to staffing shortages in hospitals across the state.

House Bill 1950 — protecting patients from certain unsafe dental practices — would require patients to have at least one in-person examination by a licensed dentist before they receive telemedicine services. It also would prohibit the providers from requiring patients to sign an agreement that limits the ability to file a complaint.

House Bill 1952 — legislation that concerns the location of housing and associated services that provide aid and assistance to homeless individuals and families. The bill would provide for the siting of master-planned communities, known as “Community First Villages,” that house people who have experienced homelessness. The siting could be adjacent to an urban growth area or in certain rural areas under the Growth Management Act’s “Limited Areas of More Intensive Rural Development.”

House Bill 2038 — supporting children with child welfare services — would reduce group home care and help put foster-care children in foster parent homes that could provide a more stable environment, Caldier said.