OLYMPIA — The 24th District’s three lawmakers will join their legislative colleagues Monday in agreeing to do the public’s business via Zoom for the foreseeable future, spending barely one day inside the newly-fenced state Capitol before going home.
While they are approving rules allowing them to work remotely, law enforcement will be on guard to protect them and the legislative building from the kind of mayhem that struck the nation’s Capitol Wednesday.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday he is activating up to 750 National Guard troops to join state police and other law enforcement agencies in patrolling the Capitol grounds when lawmakers open the 2021 session. An area will be set aside for demonstrators to hold rallies.
“But in light of the most recent insurrection activity, the state cannot tolerate any actions that could result in harm, mayhem or interruption of function of democratic institutions,” Inslee said in a statement.
“Any illegal intrusion of the Capitol, state buildings or restricted areas will not be tolerated and strictly enforced.”
The 8-foot-high fence was erected Friday.
A right-wing militia group had encouraged its members to occupy the Capitol when lawmakers meet, and that intention was echoed by several people who broke down a gate outside the governor’s mansion and occupied the grounds there Wednesday, the same evening Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
An organizer of the planned occupation said later that the event was canceled, although protesters from both the right and left may still make their views known while lawmakers meet, State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis said.
After Monday, Legislators will convene remotely to avoid COVID-19 during the four-month legislative session.
“We have to meet in person to change the rules, then change the rules and make it to carry [the legislative session] remotely,” state Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend said Friday.
“Monday is the last day we have to be physically in Olympia.”
The 24th District, represented by Tharinger, state Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles and state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County. All three are Democrats.
Tharinger said top priorities include approval of biennial operating, capital, and transportation budgets, and economic relief funds to quell COVID-19 impacts.
“It will be very challenging to develop complicated policy without being able to meet in the hallway and meet on the floor to develop legislation,” he said.
Projects such as funding for the Tri-Area sewer in Jefferson County and for a new emergency operations center for Clallam County will be considered in the Capital Budget Committee, which he chairs.
“Those are ones that are being requested, but whether [funding] happens or not, I don’t know,” Tharinger said.
The session’s legislative proceedings will be livestreamed on tvw.org.
Loftis said Friday that when lawmakers arrive they can expect to see a “very robust” presence of State Patrol, Thurston County and Olympia officers, some in riot gear, as well as federal law enforcement personnel.
“A number of groups and individuals have indicated intent to come to the campus and in some cases, openly and aggressively attempt to disrupt the opening of the Legislative Session,” he said late Friday in a news release.
“There are groups on the right and the left who might be here, and we will be ready for them,” Loftis said in the interview.
He cited the right-wing militia group The Three Percent of Washington, Stop the Steal voter fraud conspiracists, MAGA (Make America Great Again) protesters and antifa, an amalgam of leftist groups. Contingents from both political spectrums often show up at protests just to confront each other, he said.
“Entry into the [Capitol] building will be very tightly controlled, and entry generally around the building will be tightly controlled,” he said.
House Democrats have been asked by new Speaker Laurie Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat and the first woman House speaker, to propose no more than seven bills each, about half their average, so staff is not overwhelmed during the pandemic with bills that won’t get considered.
Tharinger expects to sponsor legislation that would make tribes eligible for a state program under which a payroll tax increase pays for long-term care.
“They want to be included in the program,” he said.
Also on Tharinger’s agenda: Obtaining greater broadband access to remote areas such as the West End in Clallam County.
The 24th district is unique among the state’s 49 districts in having all three legislators chair committees.
Van De Wege
Van De Wege chairs the the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
Its duties include oversight over fish and wildlife issues and forest practices and forest fire protection.
“My biggest priority will be getting control of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and attempting to bring accountability to them,” Van De Wege said.
He wants to eliminate a rule that prohibits steelhead fishing from a boat, calling it “unfair and foolish;” wants to get rid of a moratorium on whale-watching of resident orca whales, to limit gill-netting and increase fees on individual salmon fishing licenses.
He also wants his committee to have more say on the governor’s appointments to the fish and wildlife commission.
Van De Wege is hoping Chapman’s new chairmanship of the companion panel in the House, the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, will help him achieve those goals.
Chapman said some of those ideas are good but will wait to see the legislation.
He will work on removing a fee charged to yachts that dock for two weeks that could help, for example, the Port of Port Angeles and marine trades that lose business as a result.
“My focus will be on legislation like that that restarts and rebuilds our rural economy,” Chapman said.
He was chosen by the party caucus to chair the committee. The House has a 58-41 Democratic Party majority but his committee is divided 8-7 along those lines.
“The committee is probably the most bipartisan committee of all,” Chapman said, adding it produces much legislation generated by Republicans that still passes the House.
Chapman said he expects construction on the Morse Creek curve east of Port Angeles to begin this summer and said the Elwha Bridge project is still on track. But he had few specifics on either effort because he hasn’t been able to meet with staff due to COVID restrictions.
Beyond the budget, “there’s probably not going to be a lot of legislation that going to be passed,” Chapman predicted.
“We have to rebuild the economy and get through the virus.
“I’m hoping we can accomplish things. It going to be really difficult to know what we can and can’t be done with a remote session.”
Chapman, expecting the session Monday to last just a few hours, was still worried about protesters despite the apparent removal of one threat of disruption.
“My fear is they are going to protest at our homes, and that will be a bigger dynamic,” he said.
“They know where we all live. That won’t be fun.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]