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District 19's legislators expect "damage control" in upcoming session

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District 19 reps

District 19 representatives Jim Walsh, right, and Joel McEntire, center, meet with Longview city officials Thursday night to discuss the city's priorities for the 2022 legislative session.

Local politicians expect that the upcoming 2022 legislative session will be dominated more by last session’s controversies than new bills.

District 19 Sen. Jeff Wilson and Rep. Jim Walsh each said they expected the short session to be “damage control” for the high-profile actions taken at the start of this year. The two of them, along with District 19 Rep. Joel McEntire, said they expected issues like COVID-19, police reform and taxes would once again be major points of action.

A top issue for all three locally elected Republicans was the emergency powers being used by Gov. Jay Inslee. Walsh introduced a bill last year to limit the length of the governor’s emergency declarations and plans to take a second crack at the issue in 2022.

“If there’s a bleeding wound in the state right now, it’s the emergency powers issue. That is where the triage needs to be done,” Walsh said.

Wilson said his issues with the emergency powers was not about Inslee personally, but about “checks and balances of power.”

Walsh didn’t expect his version of the bill to make it far in the House. But he argued that, as the pandemic state of emergency in Washington approached 650 days of being in effect, there might be increased bipartisan interest in adding some limits. One House Democrat, Amy Walen from District 48, told multiple media outlets she would support some level of restrictions.

One proposal on the table would require after 30 days of an emergency declaration, the governor gets approval from the Legislature or the party caucus leaders to extend it. That process already is in place for executive orders that suspend state laws.

Walsh said whether a limit on states of emergency would apply to the existing COVID orders would be a “negotiation point” during the session.

Fight over pandemic limitsOne fight over the pandemic’s effects in the Legislature already has kicked off.

Walsh joined a lawsuit last month opposing the House of Representatives’ limits on members who don’t show proof of vaccination. The House rules have limited the members’ access to their offices ahead of the session and would keep them from entering the House floor during the session.

McEntire was not part of the lawsuit, but said he was unvaccinated and also opposed the House rules. He called the differing treatment of unvaccinated members a form of apartheid, creating a tier of elected officials who will have to “legislate from afar.”

Wilson had his own issues with the Senate’s COVID-19 requirements, saying they were more restrictive in some ways than this year’s session. Wilson especially was frustrated with the strict public attendance limits for the Senate Gallery.

“Who gets to decide who is worthy enough, who is special enough to be allowed into the people’s building?” Wilson said.

The lawsuit involving Walsh and five other House Republicans is scheduled to be heard in Thurston County Superior Court on Friday.

Not all of the changes caused by COVID-19 were received badly by the legislators. Wilson and McEntire each said the expanded livestreams and virtual public comments hopefully would help get more members of the public engaged with the process this year.

“They don’t have to go to Olympia to testify or listen to committee hearings. From the comfort of home, they can log in and get in line for any testimony they choose,” McEntire said.

Personal planned bills

Wilson felt most passionate about a new bill addressing the recent spurts of catalytic converter thefts which has already gotten bipartisan support. Catalytic converter thefts spiked nationally during the pandemic and remain a frequent crime in Washington. Earlier this week, a Longview business reported multiple cars had their converters sawn off overnight.

“When you steal someone’s catalytic converter, most likely that’s their only source of transportation to go to work. The average Washington family, do you think they have $1,500 for when surprise, your converter is off?” Wilson said.

Wilson’s bill is based on an Oregon law that takes effect in January. The bill would prohibit scrap metal dealers from buying catalytic converters from anyone other than commercial businesses or the owner of the car the converter came from. Individual sellers could be charged with a misdemeanor for selling a stolen or third-hand catalytic converter.

McEntire’s biggest bill for this session would create a new funding mechanism for rural Washington schools to repair their buildings. The bill would set aside capital budget funds for the program, where school districts could apply for money for building renovations they aren’t able to raise with bonds.

“I’m generally not one for developing new government programs,” McEntire said. “But in terms of our public education, which is a duty of our government, I think this one is probably necessary.”

Outside of the top issues, Walsh has some more bureaucratic bills he hopes to work on. With his position on the House Transportation Committee, he plans to push for changes to how funds get reappropriated for transportation projects and has been working with District 20 Rep. Ed Orcutt on a bill to reduce state property taxes.

Walsh also plans to introduce bills that modify the two controversial restrictions on police use-of-force that were passed during the last session. His proposals likely will face an uphill battle against changes written by members of the Democrat’s House majority, but he is fine with that.

“Strategically, the way I look at it is my bills are the clearest, simplest and strongest statements. They’re not the ones that get through to (Inslee’s) desk, but that’s OK as long as we move the window on the issue,” Walsh said.

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