A1 A1
Local
Yakima doctor retires after delivering an estimated 12,000 babies
  • Updated

Retirement parties are usually a big deal. When the person retiring has delivered about 12,000 babies, the “big deal” factor grows exponentially.

Though Dr. Kevin Harrington can’t have a retirement party this year because of COVID-19, many will be thinking of him — and will miss him. Thursday was his last day as an OB-GYN partner at Generations after practicing in Yakima for 38 years.

And not that Harrington would want a big party, “but we would have loved to have given him one because he deserves one,” said Generations office supervisor Gayle Schwartz. “We would have given him a big send-off whether he wanted one or not.”

“I’ve been working for him since 1986 and I wish we had many, many more years because it’s been such a great privilege to work for him. But we’re happy for him at the same time,” she said.

Harrington, who grew up in Yakima, knew from a young age he wanted to be a doctor. But he didn’t decide until medical school that he wanted to be a doctor like his dad, longtime OB-GYN Dr. John Harrington. His dad was in practice for 37 years, 11 of them with his son.

Kevin Harrington started in practice with his father in 1982. Since then, he estimates he’s delivered about 12,000 babies.

“I know I’ve delivered a lot of kids ... I never kept track of that too much,” Harrington said. “It’s been very wonderful. I have a lot of patients say, ‘Your dad delivered me.’ Then I delivered their children and grandchildren.”

Kevin isn’t the last Harrington practicing in Yakima, either. His daughter, Seana Moore, is a certified women’s health care nurse practitioner at Generations. His dad started practicing in Yakima in 1958, so a Harrington has delivered babies in Yakima for 62 years. And while Moore doesn’t do deliveries, her dad said, she will continue the Harrington tradition of helping women of all ages stay healthy and navigate health challenges.

Roles in the medical field can infringe on precious family time. Moore remembers her father doing up to 30 deliveries a month while she was growing up, his pager buzzing on nights, weekends and holidays. In 2008, she began working with him.

“It has been an honor to work with Dad and this is the part of my career that I am most proud of,” Moore said in an email. “I am so grateful we were able to work together for the past 12 1/2 years. He will be greatly missed by his patients, our staff and throughout the entire organization.”

‘Great bedside manner’When Generations OB-GYN partner Dr. Roger Rowles retired at the end of June 2017, his staff, family and friends had a big party, Schwartz said. Those were different days, though, so they feted Harrington a “little bit” at a small staff meeting with a certificate, she said.

Rowles, who also retired after 38 years and more than 10,000 deliveries, recorded a video to be shown at the gathering.

“One of my big regrets right now is I’m not going to be there to wish him well. He was very gracious when I retired,” Rowles said.

He came to Yakima in 1979, when Dr. John Harrington was the leader of the OB-GYN community, Rowles said. At that point, Kevin Harrington had finished medical school at the University of Washington and was doing his residency at UCLA. He then returned to Yakima and joined his dad in practice.

“Initially we had kind of a loose relationship where we would cover for each other occasionally. At some point his dad retired and he and I, even though we didn’t do any paperwork, formalized our relationship,” Rowles said. “If I was out of town, he’d cover for me. That’s when our professional relationship started.”

Kevin Harrington and Rowles practiced together, but not in a formalized sense, from 1984 to 2006. They jointly recruited Dr. Anna Dufault three years later, Rowles said, and decided to formalize their practice into a group practice, Generations, in 2010.

Harrington has received awards “too numerous to count” and has been in several leadership positions locally and on the state level, Rowles said. But what really sets him apart from other OB-GYNs is his skill as a surgeon, he added.

“In our practice, doing vaginal surgery is a real challenge, and doing difficult vaginal surgery is a real challenge. Kevin really is a master of that,” Rowles said. “Single-handedly he probably taught a number of residents ... to do good vaginal surgery.”

His interactions with University of Washington medical students and residents during their time in Yakima motivated many to go into obstetrics and gynecology, Rowles said, and helped with recruitment as well.

“That actually allowed us to recruit three of them to our practice. I know a lot of people struggle to get OB-GYNs into their practice,” Rowles said. “The influence that Kevin would have on these students and the residents was significant. The three residents we recruited from the University of Washington have all been outstanding. We also managed to recruit Anna Dufault from the University of Arizona.”

Rowles said Harrington is a really good doctor with great bedside manner. That came across on the phone as well, he said.

“I used to tell the medical students ... go in and listen how Dr. Harrington talks to his patients on the telephone. He had that ability for that bedside manner to come through the phone,” Rowles said. “He really had empathy and he really cared about the patients he was talking to.”

Marianne and Daniel Kihn will never forget Harrington’s care and attention through some difficult pregnancies and the birth of their “miracle baby,” Tommy.

A Type 1 diabetic, Marianne had a complicated first pregnancy, which was also a surprise as she was on birth control; even with that, she wasn’t sure she could ever get pregnant. That came after other health issues that Harrington took care of before she became pregnant.

After learning their child was not growing at 25 weeks, “Dr. Harrington made sure I saw all the appropriate people at the University of Washington and advocated for me all the way,” Marianne Kihn said. “Dr. Harrington checked on me every single day I was over there, though I wasn’t technically his patient. He made sure to call every single day.

“I had our son early, at 27 1/2 weeks. When he was four days old ... he got a very rare infection. He just couldn’t fight it and passed away. Dr. Harrington would not charge us anything for our prenatal care,” she said.

After a molar pregnancy and miscarriage, Marianne became pregnant with Tommy, who is 1 1/2 and was recently diagnosed as diabetic. Throughout that pregnancy, Harrington continued his care and close attention, seeing her every week, including ultrasounds he didn’t charge her for.

“It’s just the level of care he gives his patients, and I know I’m not the only one. He makes you feel like you are the most important patient when you walk into his office,” she said. “He is the most compassionate person and doctor, just as a person in general.”

Kihn is glad Harrington will be able to spend more time with his wife of 46 years, Rena, their three children and seven grandchildren (with another on the way). But his retirement is “a real loss,” she said.

They don’t plan to have another child, in large part because of Harrington’s retirement, Kihn said.

“I would never trust anyone else. Nobody that I have ever known gives the level of care that Kevin Harrington gives,” she said. “He is just one of a kind.”

The Kihns exchange Christmas cards with Harrington, and Rena “almost became part of the practice because she’d always be bringing in cupcakes and celebrating people’s birthdays,” Rowles said. “He is a great family man, at the same time being a really, really busy practitioner.”

Yakima Valley

Family is important. Born in St. Louis while his dad was in medical school, Harrington was 5 1/2 when they moved to Yakima in 1958. His parents grew up in Seattle and knew of the Yakima Valley, said Harrington, who has five brothers and two sisters.

After medical school at the University of Washington and his residency at UCLA, Harrington and Rena — who both grew up in Yakima — wanted to return. “My dad was extremely accommodating and absolutely wonderful to work with. He taught me a lot about surgery. It was just a perfect partnership,” he said.

As it has with every aspect of life, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted his last several months in practice. Harrington and others at Generations worried about their patients and pregnant clients. They made an accommodation with telemedicine, but he had a “really hard time with that.”

“It’s better for me to see somebody face to face,” he said. “You can’t do a lot of things over the computer. The patients that we could see that way, our office did. I was not one that utilized that technology as some of the people in our office had to do.”

Also because of COVID-19, traveling won’t be part of retirement right away. Harrington’s son and sons-in-law want him to take up golf. “We’ll see what kind of disaster that is,” he said. He likes to read and exercise, Harrington added, and will probably continue teaching medical students.

Obstetrics and gynecology has been “ a fantastic profession” and it’s been a privilege to be involved in his patients’ lives, Harrington said.

“The role I’ve played is very small. Women are amazing. Being able to go through pregnancy, labor and delivery, it’s not an easy thing. I’ve just been amazed how brave, resilient and strong people are,” he said.

Pregnancy and delivery aren’t always happy times, Harrington said; there are sad times, too. “You have to be there for the sad times as well as the happy times,” he said.

“It’s just been a privilege and I’ll never forget that.”


Politics
AP
Trump, on tape, presses Ga. official to 'find' him votes

ATLANTA — President Donald Trump pressured Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state’s presidential election, repeatedly citing disproven claims of fraud and raising the prospect of “criminal offense” if officials did not change the vote count, according to a recording of the conversation.

The phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday was the latest step in an unprecedented effort by a sitting president to pressure a state official to reverse the outcome of a free and fair election that he lost. The president, who has refused to accept his loss to Democratic President-elect Biden, repeatedly argued that Raffensperger could change the certified results.

“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said. “Because we won the state.”

Georgia counted its votes three times before certifying Biden’s win by an 11,779 margin, Raffensperger noted: “President Trump, we’ve had several lawsuits, and we’ve had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. We don’t agree that you have won.”

Audio snippets of the conversation were first posted online by The Washington Post. The Associated Press obtained the full audio of Trump’s conversation with Georgia officials from a person on the call. The AP has a policy of not amplifying disinformation and unproven allegations. The AP will be posting the full audio as it annotates a transcript with fact check material.

Trump’s renewed intervention and the persistent and unfounded claims of fraud come nearly two weeks before he leaves office and two days before twin runoff elections in Georgia that will determine political control of the U.S. Senate.

The president used the hourlong conversation to tick through a list of claims about the election in Georgia, including that hundreds of thousands of ballots mysteriously appeared in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. Officials have said there is no evidence of that happening.

The Georgia officials on the call are heard repeatedly pushing back against the president’s assertions, telling him that he’s relying on debunked theories and, in one case, selectively edited video.

At another point in the conversation, Trump appeared to threaten Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s legal counsel, by suggesting both could be criminally liable if they failed to find that thousands of ballots in Fulton County had been illegally destroyed. There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

“That’s a criminal offense,” Trump says. “And you can’t let that happen.”

Others on the call included Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and attorneys assisting Trump, including Washington lawyer Cleta Mitchell.

Democrats and a few Republicans condemned Trump’s actions, while at least one Democrat urged a criminal investigation. Legal experts said Trump’s behavior raised questions about possible election law violations.

Biden senior adviser Bob Bauer called the recording “irrefutable proof” of Trump pressuring and threatening an official in his own party to “rescind a state’s lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place.”

“It captures the whole, disgraceful story about Donald Trump’s assault on American democracy,” Bauer said.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in that chamber, said Trump’s conduct “merits nothing less than a criminal investigation.”

Trump confirmed in a tweet Sunday that he had spoken with Raffensperger. The White House referred questions to Trump’s reelection campaign, which did not respond Sunday to an emailed request for comment. Raffensperger’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has repeatedly attacked how Raffensperger conducted Georgia’s elections, claiming without evidence that the state’s 16 electoral votes were wrongly given to Biden.

“He has no clue!” Trump tweeted of Raffensperger, saying the state official “was unwilling, or unable” to answer questions.

Raffensperger’s Twitter response: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”

Various election officials across the country and Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election. Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, key battleground states crucial to Biden’s victory, have also vouched for the integrity of their state elections. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, which includes three Trump-nominated justices.

In Georgia, the ballots were counted three times, including a mandatory hand count and a Trump-requested recount.

Still, Trump has publicly disparaged the election, worrying Republicans that may discourage GOP voters from participating in Tuesday’s runoffs pitting Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Rebecca Green, who helps direct the election law program at William and Mary Law School, said that while it is appropriate for a candidate to question the outcome of an election, the processes for doing so for the presidential election have run their course. States have certified their votes.

Green said Trump had raised “lots of questions” about whether he violated any election laws.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said Trump is guilty of “reprehensible and, possibly illegal, conduct.”

Trump noted on the call that he intended to repeat his claims about fraud at a Monday night rally in Dalton, a heavily Republican area in north Georgia.

“The people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry,” he says on the recording.

Biden is also due to campaign in Georgia on Monday, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stumped in Garden City, Ga., on Sunday, slamming Trump for the call.

“It was a bald, bald-faced, bold abuse of power by the president of the United States,” she said.

Loeffler and Perdue have largely backed Trump in his attempts to overturn election results. But on Sunday, Loeffler said she hadn’t decided whether to join Republican colleagues in challenging the legitimacy of Biden’s victory over Trump when Congress meets Wednesday to affirm Biden’s 306-232 vote win in the Electoral College.

Perdue, who was quarantining after being exposed to a staff member with the coronavirus, said he supports the challenge, although he will not be a sitting senator when the vote happens because his term has expired. Still, he told Fox News Channel he was encouraging his colleagues to object, saying it’s “something that the American people demand right now.”

His rival, Ossoff, speaking at the Garden City rally, attacked Perdue and Loeffler for failing to stand up for Georgia’s voters, specifically saying that the state’s Black voters were being targeted.

“When the president of the United States calls up Georgia’s election officials and tries to intimidate them to change the result of the election, to disenfranchise Georgia voters, to disenfranchise Black voters in Georgia who delivered this state for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, that is a direct attack on our democracy,” he said.


Politics
AP
Republicans condemn 'scheme' to undo election for Trump

WASHINGTON — The extraordinary Republican effort to overturn the presidential election was condemned Sunday by an outpouring of current and former GOP officials warning the effort to sow doubt in Joe Biden’s win and keep President Donald Trump in office is undermining Americans’ faith in democracy.

Trump has enlisted support from a dozen Republican senators and up to 100 House Republicans to challenge the Electoral College vote when Congress convenes in a joint session to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 win.

With Biden set to be inaugurated Jan. 20, Trump is intensifying efforts to prevent the traditional transfer of power, ripping the party apart.

Despite Trump’s claims of voter fraud, state officials have insisted the elections ran smoothly and there was no evidence of fraud or other problems that would change the outcome. The states have certified their results as fair and valid. Of the more than 50 lawsuits the president and his allies have filed challenging election results, nearly all have been dismissed or dropped. He’s also lost twice at the U.S. Supreme Court.

On a call disclosed Sunday, Trump can be heard pressuring Georgia officials to “find” him more votes.

“The 2020 election is over,” said a statement Sunday from a bipartisan group of 10 senators, including Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah.

The senators wrote that further attempts to cast doubt on the election are “contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans’ confidence in the already determined election results.”

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said, “The scheme by members of Congress to reject the certification of the presidential election makes a mockery of our system and who we are as Americans.”

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said in a statement that “Biden’s victory is entirely legitimate” and that efforts to sow doubt about the election “strike at the foundation of our republic.”

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, warned in a memo to colleagues that objections to the Electoral College results “set an exceptionally dangerous precedent.”

Other prominent former officials also criticized the ongoing attack on election results. In a brief op-ed in The Washington Post, the 10 living former defense secretaries — half of them having served Republican presidents — called on Pentagon officials to carry out the transition to the new administration “fully, cooperatively and transparently.” They also asserted that efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes “would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”

Citing election results, legal challenges, state certifications and the Electoral College vote, the former defense secretaries said that “the time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the Electoral College votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived.”

The unusual challenge to the presidential election, on a scale unseen since the aftermath of the Civil War, clouded the opening of the new Congress and is set to consume its first days. The House and Senate will meet Wednesday in a joint session to accept the Electoral College vote, a typically routine process that’s now expected to be a prolonged fight.

Trump is refusing to concede, and pressure is mounting on Vice President Mike Pence to ensure victory while presiding in what is typically a ceremonial role over the congressional session. Trump is whipping up crowds for a rally in Washington.

The president tweeted Sunday against the election tallies and Republicans not on his side.

Biden’s transition spokesman, Mike Gwin, dismissed the senators’ effort as a “stunt” that won’t change the fact that Biden will be sworn in Jan. 20.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues that while there is “no doubt” of Biden’s victory, their job now “is to convince more of the American people to trust in our democratic system.”

The effort in the Senate was being led by Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Hawley defended his actions in a lengthy email to colleagues, explaining that his Missouri constituents have been “loud and clear” with their belief that Biden’s defeat of Trump was unfair.

“It is my responsibility as a senator to raise their concerns,” Hawley wrote late Saturday.

Hawley plans to object to the state tally from Pennsylvania. But that state’s Republican senator, Pat Toomey, criticized the attack on Pennsylvania’s election system and said the results that named Biden the winner are valid.

Cruz’s coalition of 11 Republican senators vows to reject the Electoral College tallies unless Congress launches a commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. They are zeroing in on the states where Trump has raised unfounded claims of voter fraud. Congress is unlikely to agree to their demand.

The group formed with Cruz, which presented no new evidence of election problems, includes Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Mike Braun of Indiana. New senators in the group are Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

The convening of the joint session to count the Electoral College votes has faced objections before. In 2017, several House Democrats challenged Trump’s win but Biden, who presided at the time as the vice president, swiftly dismissed them to assert Trump’s victory. Rarely have the protests approached this level of intensity.

The moment is a defining one for the Republican Party in a post-Trump era. Both Hawley and Cruz are potential 2024 presidential contenders, cementing their alignment with Trump’s base of supporters. Others are trying to forge a different path for the GOP.

Pence will be carefully watched as he presides over what is expected to be a prolonged showdown, depending on how many challenges are mounted.

The vice president “welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections,” Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said in a statement Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned Republicans off such challenges but said little when asked about it as at the Capitol as the Senate opened Sunday.

“We’ll be dealing with all of that on Wednesday,” he said.

But Republicans simply said they do not plan to join the effort that will fail.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday his colleagues will have an opportunity to make their case, but they must produce evidence and facts. “They have a high bar to clear,” he said.

Congress have been loathe to interfere in the state-run election systems, a longstanding protocol. States choose their own election officials and draft their election laws. During the coronavirus pandemic, many states adapted by allowing mail voting to ease health risks of voting in person. Those changes and others are now being challenged by Trump and his allies.

Trump, the first president to lose a reelection bid in almost 30 years, has attributed his defeat to widespread voter fraud, despite the consensus of nonpartisan election officials and even Trump’s attorney general that there was none.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the latest challenge from Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and a group of Arizona electors, who filed suit to try to force Pence to step outside mere ceremony and shape the outcome of the vote. The appellate court sided with the federal judge, a Trump appointee, who dismissed the suit.


Coronavirus
spotlight
As 2021 session approaches, Yakima Valley lawmakers say they want to roll back governor's emergency powers
  • Updated

A new Washington legislative session is set to begin Jan. 11, and lawmakers representing Yakima County are eager to get to work.

During a virtual town hall held by the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce last week and in interviews, state Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, as well as Reps. Jeremie Dufault, R-Selah, Chris Corry, R-Yakima, and Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, shared their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

A top item on their agenda: pulling back Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency powers.

Lawmakers also said they would work to prevent tax hikes and intend to advocate for local projects, from funding for a clean drinking water project in the Lower Valley to local road projects and brick-and-mortar capital budget requests. Many of their priorities are in direct response to the impacts of COVID-19 and statewide restrictions.

Here’s what you need to know:

Remote lawmaking

2021 is considered a long session. It’s planned to stretch from Jan. 11 through April 25.

Senators will be participating in the 2021 legislative session through a combination of remote sessions and limited in-person votes, while the House will be conducting the session entirely remotely in attempts to protect against COVID-19.

Local lawmakers expressed concern about how this might impact lawmaking, already challenging under normal circumstances.

It’s possible the number of bills will be limited, lawmakers warned.

Lawmakers typically discuss bills in real-time on the floor as they are being presented, Dufault said. With a virtual model, they’ll have to connect by phone or video call instead, making it more challenging to collaborate with or persuade others.

Mosbrucker also expressed concern about connectivity. If one lawmaker’s internet fails, she wondered how a vote might be handled or postponed.

But Mosbrucker also said there are benefits to the remote system: Community members can testify before the House or Senate remotely, eliminating the barrier of traveling to Olympia and providing more transparency to the process, she said.

The governor’s power

Honeyford, King, Dufault, Corry and Mosbrucker all said they would support bills in the House or Senate to limit the governor’s emergency powers.

Under current law, the governor has power to issue emergency orders that “he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace.”

Inslee issued a state of emergency Feb. 29 in response to growing cases of COVID-19 in the state. Under the order, health requirements and limitations on businesses and gatherings have been implemented. Businesses were labeled as essential or nonessential. The governor’s office was able to access and distribute federal emergency funds and support.

Since then, there have been requests for a special session so lawmakers could weigh in on the orders; those requests have been denied. Some see the governor’s use of the emergency orders as overreaching. In response, lawsuits have been filed against the governor, with Corry joining one. But courts have found that Inslee is within his powers.

Going into the new session, local lawmakers hope to change the law to limit those powers. Dufault suggested that emergency powers should be limited to 15 or 30 days, with the possibility of renewal upon approval by Legislature.

“The emergency powers that were given to the governor were anticipated to be for volcano, earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown — things that are in a true state of unsteady emergency,” he said. “And this is a serious thing. This is a crisis. But there’s enough time, there’s enough information, there’s enough data in 30 days that you can all sit down and collectively decide what’s best for the state.”

The lawmakers expressed concern that the circumstances and needs of Eastern Washington and Yakima County weren’t well represented in statewide orders. They said by reducing the governor’s emergency powers, local leadership like county commissioners and the Yakima Health District could lead decision making. They said there is support for such measures across the political aisle.

The governor’s press secretary, Mike Faulk, said lawmakers’ frustrations are misplaced.

“They’re blaming the governor when they should be blaming the pandemic,” he said. “I think that 2020 is actually a year where you look at the powers the executive branch has in times like this and say, ‘It’s a good thing that was there.’

“Otherwise, you have seen so many other levels of dysfunction in other states during this time,” Faulk said. “To try to go down the path of states that have really failed to control this is just not something we want to do in Washington. … 2020 is a year that, if anything, proved the value of those statutes in an unprecedented emergency.”

Labor and unemployment

Yakima Valley lawmakers said providing support to small businesses is a priority — something they said would be easier accomplished if the governor’s emergency powers are rolled back.

Honeyford said he hopes to see money from the capital budget go to businesses on main street that have closed or lost revenue during the pandemic.

Corry also said businesses are his focus, with an eye on making sure employers don’t have to pay more into unemployment to respond to the increased need this past year.

“I want to make sure that your (unemployment) rates as business owners aren’t going to skyrocket because for no fault of your own … your employees were forced into this,” he said. “I don’t think you should be held accountable for that given that it was a government-mandated shutdown.”

Dufault echoed him, saying that relief for small businesses is a focus of lawmakers statewide.

The lawmakers also addressed failures of the state Employment Security Department, which oversees unemployment, pointing to $600 million in funds stolen by hackers due to software vulnerability.

The agency is now under audit, and King said results from the audits would help lawmakers create policy to better regulate the agency.

But he also expressed concern that many community members who were qualified for unemployment had not accessed benefits for months at a time. One of his staff members has dedicated much of the year to fielding calls about this and helping individuals get access to unemployment funds. Both Mosbrucker and Dufault said their offices have received similar calls for help from community members, with Mosbrucker pointing to individuals going 10 months without employment or unemployment funds.

“There’s lots of work to do in labor, and you’ll see that in the House and the Senate,” she said.

Faulk said the governor’s office is open to finding ways to improve the unemployment system.

“We’re in agreement that the best way to improve the unemployment system is to get benefits out to people as quickly and securely as possible,” he said. “(In 2020) there was unprecedented need for unemployment that made it a strain. … If it revealed things that really can be improved, we’re all on board with that.”


Back