Legislative update from Rep. Mike Steele

Law enforcement reform

House and Senate Republicans recently called for a special session to fix some bad police reform bills approved during the 2021 session. Unfortunately, these bills have overshadowed other good, bipartisan policing measures that were also approved.

Two bills in particular are especially problematic: House Bill 1310, regarding the permissible use of force by law enforcement and correctional officers, and House Bill 1054, establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers. I voted “no” on both these bills. Here's why: Each bill contains conflicting, vague language — creating gray areas that put law enforcement and the public at risk.

Unfortunately, we are now seeing the sad results of these policy choices. Two months after the governor signed these bills — embarking on a massive experiment in police reform — discrepancies in how officers may or may not intervene in active crime scenes and mental health crisis incidents continue to cause uncertainty and danger. Take a look:

* Police around Washington scrambling, and struggling, to adapt a massive reform package (The Seattle Times)

* What happens when police don't show up to 911 calls (The Olympian)

* New laws add restrictions to policing, authorities look to adapt (The Wenatchee World)

* Bonney Lake officers say new reform laws kept them from tracking armed suspect (KING TV)

* Man jumps onto cop car, allegedly hits officer who was following police reform rules (KOMO TV)

* They had probable cause after he made threats, but law prevented Bellingham police pursuit (The Bellingham Herald)

* Lower Columbia SWAT team arrests man after three-hour standoff with nonlethal weapons barred by new state law (The Daily News)

* OPINION: Legislative Democrats' attempts at police reform puts communities at risk (The Seattle Times)

Sheriffs, police chiefs, troopers, patrol officers, and other law enforcement officials have joined with Washingtonians from across the state to express concern about the unintended consequences of these bills. A special legislative session is needed — and soon — to fix these bills and put real, commonsense solutions in place that keep our communities safe and hold law enforcement accountable.

A new payroll tax | The Long-Term Care Act

 

A new, and for many, unwelcome payroll deduction begins in 2022. Starting on Jan. 1, wage-earners will pay 58 cents for every $100 of their earnings to fund the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program. The WA Cares Fund, intended to assist with long-term care-related expenses, was authorized by House Bill 1087 in 2019 — approved on a party-line vote with all House Republicans voting in opposition.

Here's why I voted no: Acquiring this type of insurance coverage should be a personal choice, not one mandated by the state. Many hard-working Washingtonians simply can't afford to pay more in taxes. Struggling with yet another additional expense — whether it be through the new payroll tax or the cost of private long-term care insurance — will be tough. Further, the costs versus the benefits breakdown for the state-managed plan are abysmal for most working individuals and families.

Here are a few other reasons the program is objectionable:

* If a worker retires or moves out of state, their benefits will be forfeited.

* Workers retiring within three years have no chance to benefit, but are not exempt from the payroll tax.

* Those who live in another state, but work in Washington, will be forced to pay the tax, but will not be eligible to receive benefits from the program.

* The plan costs versus benefits margin is narrow for most working Washingtonians. Some estimates put the state-managed plan projection costs at nearly three times that of private insurance.

* It's likely, in years to come, very real, large tax increases will be needed to keep this program afloat.

Unless they choose a private insurance plan, most Washington workers will be automatically enrolled in the state program, including the payroll tax. For those who do not wish to take part in the program and its payroll deduction, there is a brief window of opportunity to opt out. Once an eligible private plan is purchased, individuals must apply for an exemption from the program between Oct. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2022. 

Standing against forced vaccine mandates

The governor recently issued a mandate that requires most state workers, as well on-site contractors and volunteers, public and private health care and long-term care workers, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct 18, or lose their jobs.

This underscores, yet again, the necessity of collaboration between the Legislature and the executive office in times of crisis. State government can and should make recommendations about actions like wearing masks or getting the vaccine — not force personal, individual health care choices. I'm absolutely against this heavy-handed approach. If the governor wants to get more people vaccinated, he should focus his efforts on continuing to educate and/or incentivizing the public to do so.

Stay in touch!

Your input is vital in helping me represent your values in Olympia. Feel free to call or email my office with your comments, concerns, or ideas about state government. My contact information is listed below.

State Representative Mike Steele, 12th Legislative District, 122F Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600; 360-786-7832 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000; mike.steele@leg.wa.gov; RepresentativeMikeSteele.com

 

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