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Legislature opens on historic note amid plenty of protests

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 13, 2020

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, center, is applauded as she steps up to speak after being sworn, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, on the first day of the 2020 session of the Washington Legislature at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, center, is applauded as she steps up to speak after being sworn, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, on the first day of the 2020 session of the Washington Legislature at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – With some members wearing white to mark the centennial of American women getting the right to vote and various groups demanding action on $30 car tabs, support for farmers or protection of Puget Sound, the 2020 session of the Legislature opened on a historic note.

Tacoma attorney Laurie Jinkins, a five-term legislator, was sworn in as the first woman and first lesbian to be elected as speaker of the House of Representatives.

“Another barrier is broken, but it won’t be the last,” she told House members after she was elected unopposed.

After meeting with legislators in most districts around the state in recent months, Jinkins said it’s clear homelessness and the lack of housing are issues in every community.

They should work this session to get people out of the cold and provide stable housing, she said. That includes more homeless shelters, transitional housing and low-income and affordable housing opportunities for families in the state.

“I’m also hoping we can be leaders this year by bringing down the high cost of health care,” Jinkins said, adding that ensuring affordability of prescription drugs such as insulin is something that should get done.

The Legislature should take additional steps to protect families and communities by reducing gun violence, strengthening consumer protection, safeguarding data privacy, investing in education, making child care more affordable and helping families, farms and businesses affected by climate change, she said. But 60 days might not be enough to address all public concerns, she acknowledged.

“Sometimes success is measured in increments,” she said. “What’s important is that we keep moving forward.”

Legislators must deal with the effects Initiative 976 has on the transportation system, Jinkins said. The impacts are most devastating to people with disabilities, seniors and low-income people who rely on public transit, she said.

“We will fight to protect our most vulnerable communities,” Jinkins said.

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, said Republicans celebrate some of the same goals as Democrats, and both sides want many of the same things for the state’s residents.

“People that live in the state of Washington have a right to be safe,” Wilcox said. “Homelessness is a problem that brings us all together, in the biggest cities and the smallest towns.”

The two parties might have different solutions to the state’s problems, he said. Being in the minority shouldn’t mean that Republicans aren’t heard; being in the majority shouldn’t mean that Democrats get to implement their whole agenda.

“Let’s not break what we’re trying to fix,” Wilcox said, adding everyone should “fight hard but do it respectfully.”

Before legislators gathered in the chambers at noon, some made a stop at a small rally on the steps outside, where about three dozen people were demanding lawmakers pass a bill that with the same language as I-976. The ballot measure, which reduces the cost of motor vehicle license tabs by removing many fees and taxes, passed in November but is tied up in a court fight. Those fees and taxes are still being collected but put in escrow in case they have to be refunded.

The court battle is likely to continue for months, but passing the initiative during the session could end the lawsuit. Lawmakers who have proposed such plans in the House and Senate said the Legislature and courts should abide by “the will of the people” expressed by November’s vote on the initiative.

The House Transportation Committee began working on a revised budget that will decide how to cut some $454 million those taxes and fees would have provided if the initiative is upheld. The panel received a briefing on Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to “pause” some projects that have been approved but not yet put out to bid, with Republicans questioning the source of money for bonds that would pay for other projects in the interim.

Local officials from SeaTac, Pasco and Covington asked that their local projects not be delayed members, and the Association of Washington Business asked the committee not to cut the budget for maintenance and preservation projects.

Earlier in the day, climate activists and Native American leaders who have formed the group Protectors of the Salish Sea, which has been holding demonstrations for months calling for the state to declare a “climate emergency” to block all fossil fuel projects, held a sunrise ceremony at the Capitol.

The King and Pierce County Farm Bureau held an agriculture rally, complete with tractor driving around the Capitol campus in the morning.

Supporters of Rep. Matt Shea, who was removed from the House GOP caucus and stripped of his committee assignments last month, stood at the intersection leading into the campus with signs saying they stand with the Spokane Valley legislator.

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