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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I have heard from many of you recently regarding mask and vaccination issues, the police reform legislation, long-term care payroll tax and more. Below is an update on some of those issues and other things happening in the 13th District.

Governor's latest announcement on vaccinations

On Monday, the governor announced COVID vaccine mandates for most state employees and health care workers or they could lose their jobs. While employees will be able to apply for religious or medical exemptions, I believe this is heavy-handed and unnecessary.

Many of you know I contracted COVID, but I have since been vaccinated, given experience I had and the seriousness of this virus. I would add, the most important part of my job as your state representative is being able to meet with you and travel the district. My calendar is full of meetings, tours, speaking engagements, events, public hearings and more. Being vaccinated allows me to do my job more effectively and fulfill my duties. That said, I certainly respect the decision of those of you who do not wish to be vaccinated. You should weigh the pros and cons and do what you feel is best for you and your family, not have that decision dictated to you by the governor or state government officials.

The unfortunate part of the governor's announcement is that he is able to do this under his emergency powers – which we tried repeatedly to address and amend during the session. State lawmakers should have a role in these decisions. We are calling for a special session to address this issue and others as you will read below.

At this time, the governor's decision does not affect our K-12 or higher education system. For more information, you can check out the governor's FAQ page on his announcement here.

I would add, I have signed onto a letter to the governor requesting he reconsider his mandatory mask mandate for all schools this fall. The letter urges him to give more weight to local control and parental input. The one-size-fits-all mandate does not work when you compare school districts in the Puget Sound region to those in the 13th District, such as Davenport, Kittitas and Odessa. You can read the letter here.

Police reforms

Recent figures released from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs show that crime increased overall in 2020. The report also shows that Washington is ranked 51st out of the 50 states and District of Columbia for the number of officers per thousand people.

This comes on the heels of the police reforms passed by the majority party. If you have been following the news over the last several weeks, it is clear the controversial legislation is threatening the public safety of our communities across Washington state. I opposed House Bill 1310 and House Bill 1054 for fear it would make communities less safe. That is exactly what many of us are hearing from our law enforcement officials in our districts. Click here to read a story from iFiberOne in which I discuss the issue. To see many more stories, news releases, editorials from across the state on this issue check out our webpage on why the police reform bills have made communities less safe.

I am also hearing from mental health professionals on this issue. Under the new legislation, law enforcement officers no longer respond to certain calls such as mental-health related concerns, checking on someone's welfare, civil disputes and suspicious person reports. Many in our mental health or social service fields are not prepared to handle some of these emergency calls. Some are terrified to respond without law enforcement back up. Imagine being a Child Protective Service staff person retrieving children from an abusive parent without police support. This is a legitimate concern that has been shared with me. This is unacceptable and must be changed.

Some legislative leaders have called for a special session to fix the problems caused by the police reform bills. You can read the statement from Senate Republican Leader John Braun and House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox here. We are working on real solutions to keep our communities safe.

New payroll tax to fund long-term care program

Many of you have become aware of a new payroll tax passed by the majority party in 2019 that will fund a new state long-term care program, called the WA Cares Fund. To address the many inquiries House Republicans are receiving on this issue, we created a new web page to help you answer some of your questions.

Long-term care is important, but this tax should not be mandated. The flaws in this plan are very concerning. You only receive up to $100 per day for a maximum lifetime benefit of $36,500 (adjusted annually). The benefit is available only for care provided for Washington residents and is not transferable. So, if you move to another state, you will lose whatever you've paid into the system. Also, if you retire within the next 10 years, you will not receive a benefit for your contribution because you must work 500 hours per year for 10 years.

If you do not want to pay the payroll tax you must opt-out and purchase a qualified long-term care insurance plan before Nov. 1, 2021. Do not wait until the opt-out period to secure private insurance. With the underwriting process insurance companies go through, it could take three months and you could miss the opt-out window.

Two stories: Deadline coming on Washington long-term care: private or state plan (AP) and Long-term care tax looms for nearly all Washington workers (Columbia Basin Herald), give overviews on the decisions many are facing. There is a lot of information to digest so I would urge you to look into it as soon as possible.

Telford Rest Area helipad open for business

In July, I had the honor of cutting the ribbon on the Telford Rest Area helipad. I, along with my seatmates, were able to secure funding in the Legislature for the project. The helipad will allow Life Flight helicopters who need to land at the Telford Rest Area to transfer or pick up a patient from an ambulance without landing in the parking lot and clearing visitors out of the way.

Left photo: Rep. Dent speaks at the Telford Rest Area helipad ribbon cutting. Right photo: Dent poses with helicopter pilots before a test flight.

The helipad has already been used utilized by emergency responders a number of times. The community of Sprague is interested in doing something similar in the future. I will be looking into this.

Shree Saini – Miss World America Washington

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Shree Saini, Ms. World America Washington. She is also former Miss India USA and Miss India Worldwide. Shree recently graduated from the University of Washington and has also been a student at Harvard, Yale and Stanford University. She has received more than 500 civic awards and volunteered for more than 100 nonprofits.

Shree's life has been full of challenges – including heart surgery and a pacemaker implanted at age 12, as well as being a survivor of bullying and facial burns from a car accident. At a time when we are faced with difficult challenges in our state and country, it is great to see the drive, heart and kindness in someone like Shree who has not had an easy path.

Shree has visited the Legislature while we are in session, and we have had many conversations about our state government, legislation and public service. With her work ethic, kind heart and passion for her community and state I hope she will pursue a career in public service. I know she is keeping that open as an option in her future.

Rep. Dent and Rep. Ybarra with Shree Saini during the 2019 legislative session.

Honoring Will Craven, first Black mayor in Washington

Many of you may not know, but the first Black mayor elected in Washington state happened in Kittitas County. Last week, I and other legislators, as well as community members of Roslyn, had the opportunity to honor William Craven. Craven was chosen to fill a vacant mayoral slot in 1975 and then ran for the position that fall and served until 1979. He was a school custodian and gravedigger, but he dedicated his life to doing a little bit of everything for Roslyn. He was a trailblazer for many elected officials, but he just wanted to do what was right by his community. Click here to read the Daily Record story on Craven and the monument dedication.

Thirtymile Fire victims honored; Legislature continues firefighting work

This session, the Legislature passed House Bill 1168, legislation to fully fund wildfire prevention and forest health. It will allow us to strengthen forest management and restoration, upgrade firefighting equipment and our aviation assets, as well as hire and train more firefighters. We know these are critical tools in fighting wildfires and our initial attack efforts. These tools not only protect our communities and natural resources, but our firefighters who continually put their life on the line.

That really hit home with me last month. I had the opportunity to speak at a memorial event honoring the four firefighters who lost their lives in the Thirtymile Fire 20 years ago this summer. The victims were Tom Craven, Jessica Johnson, Karen Fitzpatrick, and Devin Weaver. Tom was the son of Willie Craven, Roslyn's first black mayor who I mentioned above.

I was deeply touched and honored to speak. Every wildfire season, men and women leave their homes and their families to protect our natural resources, our communities and our lives. They protect us, despite not meeting or knowing us – it is a service done with courage, fortitude, and strength. They are heroes. For more on the memorial event click, here.

Stay in touch

Please continue to share your concerns and ask questions. It is important to me that I hear from you. I am working on legislation for next session – child care/early learning, aviation/transportation and more. If you have any thoughts or ideas, do not hesitate to contact me.

A few websites to follow during the interim to keep up on state government news include:

  • Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
  • 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. It is updated frequently.
  • The Current: This an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans that is sent out every week during the legislative session and every month during the interim.

Sincerely,


Tom Dent

State Representative Tom Dent, 13th Legislative District
RepresentativeTomDent.com
437 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
tom.dent@leg.wa.gov
(509) 941-2346 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000