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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Sen. Andy Billig, Rep. Timm Ormsby, and Rep. Marcus Riccelli: Focus on key priorities made historic 2021 session a success

By Sen. Andy Billig, Rep. Timm Ormsby and Rep. Marcus Riccelli

By Sen. Andy Billig, Rep. Timm Ormsby and Rep. Marcus Riccelli

When a crisis bears down, you can panic, ignore it and hope for the best, or confront it head-on.

We chose to confront the COVID-19 pandemic with every available legislative tool to protect and help workers, families, and small businesses that were hit hardest.

That’s the story of the 2021 legislative session, the first mostly remote session in our state’s history, and one that we believe put our state on a more sustainable path for generations to come.

Last year across Washington, we saw businesses shut down, workers laid off and furloughed, and we faced an estimated $9 billion state budget shortfall. Our Republican colleagues called for a special session to slash the budget.

Remembering the lessons of the Great Recession, when deep budget cuts slowed recovery and left many people behind, we chose a different path. Instead of cutting vital services like education and health care, we passed landmark legislation and state budgets to promote a robust, equitable, and sustainable recovery that put people first.

Because when Washingtonians are hurting, our job is to help them.

That’s why one of the first votes we took in January was Step One for Washington’s Community and Economic Recovery, which sent $2.2 billion in federal funds to help struggling renters and landlords, small businesses, school districts, vaccination efforts and those most harmed by the pandemic.

Another round of federal aid arrived after President Joe Biden signed the American Recovery Plan, sending $4.2 billion to our state to help finish the fight against COVID-19 and restore jobs. That funding helped us pass the Washington Recovery Budget, which will give more help to working families, renters and landlords, struggling small businesses, while bolstering our health care system and pandemic response. Our state had the first recorded outbreak in the country, but also one of the most successful responses. All Washingtonians should be proud of this collective effort.

We passed a strong state construction budget, with $411 million toward a massive push to boost broadband access. With parents trying to work from home on a slow internet connection while their kids were remote learning, it became more clear than ever that broadband is not a luxury – it’s an essential service for families and businesses, just like power and running water. We did this all while investing in local community priorities such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, the Joya Child & Family Development Center, the MAC, Spokane Public Radio, The NATIVE Project and VOA’s new Crosswalk homeless youth shelter.

This session was about more than budgets, though. We passed landmark policy reforms to make childcare more accessible and affordable, reduce deadly force by police, protect our clean air and water, boost equity and opportunity, and start fixing our state’s unfair tax system that’s hardest on working families and easiest on millionaires and billionaires.

The Working Families Tax Rebate will help more than 400,000 people with a tax credit of $300 to $1,200 per year. One in four children in this state will benefit from this policy.

Finally, we finished our work on time, without a single case of COVID-19 transmission traced to the legislative campus. The same cannot be said for our neighbors to the south and east, where legislatures had to pause or shut down due to outbreaks. Moreover, public engagement skyrocketed with the use of universal remote testimony available to everyone in the state. Whether you live in Spokane, Colfax or Tekoa, you can weigh in on a bill just as easily as someone living in Olympia.

More than 93 percent of bills passed with bipartisan support, something you may not believe if you listen to the talk about our polarized politics. Not in our Washington.

The virus was the biggest threat we had faced in generations, so we kept our focus on what was needed to help our state get through this challenging time. That’s something nearly everyone could get behind.

We each have deeply held principles and values, and are passionate about them. Yet our biggest passion is serving the people of this state, which means listening to each other, and working together.

That’s the only way we will beat this virus and rebuild our lives, our communities, and our economy: together.

Sen. Andy Billig and Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli, all D-Spokane, represent the 3rd Legislative District.