Legislative Building 2

The Legislative Building in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

When the 2021 legislative session begins this week, expect to see plenty of protesters in Olympia, along with National Guard personnel to keep the peace.

Don’t expect to see all of the lawmakers, however. Much of the people’s business this session is slated to be done remotely as the pandemic continues to ravage Washington. The 49 members of the Senate are planning to participate using a combination of limited in-person voting and remote sessions, according to a recent Herald-Republic report. The House, with 98 members, is anticipating using remote sessions to do almost all of its work.

And while some legislators voice concerns about the ins, outs and technical challenges of working remotely, this session does offer a pandemic-inspired perk for the general citizenry: Extensive use of remote testimony for House and Senate committee meetings. This means people in the Valley and across the state can now have their voices heard in Olympia without the hassle of winter travel across the passes.

Besides issues related to COVID-19 and working remotely, senators and representatives from the Yakima Valley have weighed in on a few of their other priorities and concerns for the upcoming session. Those concerns — theirs and ours — include:

  • Emergency powers granted by law to the governor: State law grants the governor a great deal of authority during declared emergencies, and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has been loath to share his power as the pandemic nears its one-year anniversary in Washington. In particular, he refused all requests — some from his own party — to call a special session last year to let elected lawmakers in on the decision-making, even as the state’s economy was under threat, scores of businesses were closing or drastically cutting back, workers were losing jobs in droves, and many of those workers were struggling to get timely unemployment benefits.

Inslee has yet to run afoul of state law, however, as courts routinely turn away challenges to his authority. Because of this, several local lawmakers have expressed support for rewriting state law.

And while our expectations are limited — Inslee’s party controls both chambers of the Legislature, while every Valley lawmaker is Republican — we agree that this is a conversation worth having. Inslee’s decisions on closures and timetables, his one-size-fits-all system of metrics from county to county, and his refusal to call a special session are causes for deep concern.

  • Jobs and businesses: Local lawmakers related stories of constituents who have gone months without being granted jobless funds, largely due to failures at the state Employment Security Department, which saw hundreds of millions of dollars whisked away by international scammers back in the spring. A series of audits now taking place at ESD should help, they noted.

Relief for small businesses is also of great importance, they said — not just here but across the state. We concur; revenue predictions are healthy, and it would be unconscionable for budget-writers not to offer meaningful relief to businesses that have suffered greatly through Inslee’s shutdown orders.

Taxes: In its recent 2021 wish list

  • , the Herald-Republic editorial board voiced concerns over Inslee’s efforts to institute a capital gains tax, along with the observation that tax dollars tend to disappear quickly with Democrats in charge in Olympia.

The quest for a capital gains tax is constitutionally questionable. Why not widen the conversation and get serious about up-and-down tax reform across Washington? There are plenty of voices ready to speak out on either side of our clearly regressive sales tax; our property taxes that suffer with housing shortages; the hated B&O — a business and occupation tax on gross receipts that must be paid even when businesses aren’t making money; and the list goes on.

Even now, a task force known as the Tax Structure Work Group is meeting regularly to research and analyze the current tax system and offer alternatives. Instead of hitting up residents with new taxes, let’s let this panel do its job.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Greg Halling, Joanna Markell and Bruce Drysdale.