Legislative Commentary -- March 20, 2020

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March 20, 2020

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I was here in Adams County when the ash cloud drifting east from the first eruption of Mount St. Helens turned daytime into darkness nearly 40 years ago. A few weeks back I recalled what it was like at the Capitol in 2001 when the Nisqually earthquake hit. While those natural disasters caused a lot of disruption, they weren’t even close to what we’re all seeing because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

As of this morning there have been 11 confirmed cases in 9th District counties (9 in Spokane County, two in Franklin County), and thankfully no deaths. But as a whole our state has been hit hard, with 75 deaths from 1,376 cases. The vast majority of the cases are in King and Snohomish counties, with King County recording all but 14 of the deaths. However, neighboring Grant County has had eight cases and one death, and neighboring Benton County's only case ended in death just yesterday. Columbia and Lincoln counties also have one case apiece, so as time goes on and more people are tested, we should expect to see the numbers within our district and statewide continue to rise.

That said, I’m hoping people will follow all the recommendations for minimizing the spread of the virus. As a lifelong wheat farmer I’ve learned a thing or two about disease management – for instance, there are no shortcuts. If you need to do A, B and C, that’s what you do.

I mentioned disruption – much of that comes from the string of proclamations Governor Inslee has been making in relation to COVID-19 (click here for them). The latest, issued yesterday afternoon, prohibits medical procedures that aren’t urgent. I understand the purpose of these restrictions, but I also understand the frustrations they cause.

As Senate Republican leader I frequently meet with people between legislative sessions, usually in Ritzville, but those meetings are now being done by phone. I’m on a lot of conference calls with the governor’s office and others, partly to discuss the public-health side of the issue and partly to talk about the economic concerns. On Wednesday the call included the news that the state Department of Commerce has established coronavirus.wa.gov as a one-stop place for information. Here’s some other information that has appeared in my inbox:

  • For small businesses: All counties in Washington are now qualified for disaster assistance from the federal Small Business Administration; businesses should apply here. Also, the state Department of Revenue will grant extensions for the tax returns and taxes it administers (this does not include property tax) upon request of the taxpayer: 60 days for monthly filers and 30 days for quarterly and annual filers. Penalties and interest also be waived. We will also delay other actions that we have with taxpayers as described in the link. Click here for information.
  • For taxpayers: The deadline for filing federal income tax returns has, as of this morning, been postponed to July 15. The Secretary of the Treasury announced it here: "At @realDonaldTrump’s direction, we are moving Tax Day from April 15 to July 15. All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties." 
  • For retired public employees: the Department of Retirement Systems is closed to in-person visits and onsite services but offers customer account access, live webinarsinformation resources and tools to apply for retirement online. DRS also continues to process retirement applications and benefit payments as normal. Email and telephone services will continue on the regular 8-5 Monday-Friday schedule, with use of email preferred.
  • For homeowners: The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has implemented an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages for the next 60 days.
  • For counties: The state Department of Commerce is making $30 million in funding immediately accessible to every county under a new grant. The money will help local governments create housing necessary for quarantine, isolation, and additional sanitation. Each county will receive a minimum of $250,000, with the rest distributed based on the number of homeless persons as measured by the annual Point-In-Time Count. 

Please be safe!

 

cdc

Bill signings on TVW only: The governor typically has a ceremony for every bill he signs, and sometimes those draw a crowd. That’s exactly why the signings have been canceled this year – to promote “social distancing.” They’ll be viewable only on TVW. I hadn’t planned to attend the signing of my Senate Bill 6218 today, so this change didn’t affect me, but I know it will be a disappointment for some legislators and constituents.

Surprise from the Senate president: The voters made history four years ago by electing a blind person to serve as lieutenant governor – a job that includes presiding over the Senate. Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib had been a Democrat senator prior to that, so he knew the ropes – and while I disagree with some of the actions he took with the gavel in hand, his ability to “run’ the Senate has been pretty remarkable given his physical disability.

Today the lieutenant governor surprised probably all but those closest to him by announcing he will not seek re-election – because he intends to join the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church. I am very happy for him, because moving into religious life is a calling. Few listen for such a call in their lives, and fewer answer the call. Our society is strengthened by those who do.

 

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I welcome your comments about anything in this newsletter and questions about what I’m doing on your behalf in the state Senate. Please call, e-mail or write using the contact information at the end of this report.

Click here to visit my legislative webpage!

Legislative E-mail: Mark.Schoesler@leg.wa.gov

Legislative Phone: (360) 786-7620

Toll-Free: 1 (800) 562-6000

 Olympia Address:

314 Legislative Building

P.O. Box 40409

Olympia WA 98504-0409