20th District City Hall strikes as legislature session wraps up, voter questions on masks and secession
By Claudia Yaw / [email protected]
Thursday’s virtual town hall allowed Republican Sen. John Braun, Rep. Peter Abbarno and Rep. Ed Orcutt to reiterate their condemnations of a capital gains tax, new environmental regulations and the governor’s executive powers.
But at the request of the callers, lawmakers in the 20th Legislative District also weighed in on more sensitive issues: masks, secession and the prospect of Lewis County becoming a Second Amendment “sanctuary” county.
When Darla Ridilla, a self-proclaimed ‘strong anti-masker’, asked lawmakers if there was anything ‘in my back pocket besides the constitution’ that she could use to defend her refusal to mask, Braun told her. said he expects the full reopening of Washington to happen. even earlier than Governor Jay Inslee’s June 30 plan.
“Now, that being said, I think legally you have to understand that just like … we all have rights, individual businesses have rights,” said Braun, the Senate Minority Leader. “And we don’t have to like it or agree with it, but they have the right to say, ‘You have to wear a mask if you want to enter my establishment’.”
The Centralia Republican said he doesn’t think lawmakers will pursue a “vaccine passport” policy, saying “even Democrats know this is a loser.” But he added that because fully vaccinated people are allowed to remove their masks in many situations, he doubted Ridilla’s vaccination status would be checked. Unvaccinated Washingtonians are still required to wear masks in most settings.
“I don’t think there will be a vaccine police. Keep in mind that we are 7.5 million, there are only 70,000 state employees. There aren’t enough of them to enforce it themselves,” Braun said. “This is going to be done because we, individually, are making wise decisions to keep ourselves, our families, our communities, our colleagues, our customers safe. This is what will make the difference. Not an Olympia rule.
On the question of secession, Orcutt intervened. Caller Lizzie Barnts pointed to several Oregon counties whose residents voted to join Idaho this week. The secession movement has also long had a place in the Washington State Legislature, including the push to turn Eastern Washington into a new “Liberty” state.
Orcutt said he understands why people would want to join “another state that adheres a little more to the Constitution and believes more in individual liberties.”
“There are a lot of people on the West Side who disagree with Puget Sound and would love to leave us and be out of the control of some people in Seattle. So if you’re going to do something, include us,” Orcutt said of some eastern Washington proposals. “But I think we’re going to keep working to try to bring our state back, to try to stop bad policies.”
Regarding the new “Second Amendment sanctuary” proposal being considered by the Lewis County commissioners, Orcutt gave his support for the idea, although he used the term “constitutional sanctuary”. At county meetings, Commissioner Lindsey Pollock also said she would prefer a sanctuary resolution focused on the entire constitution, rather than just one amendment.
“I know there have been many sanctuary cities and sanctuary counties for other things. Why not have one for the constitution? said Orcutt. “That seems like the most appropriate one to have. More appropriate than some of the ones we’ve seen in the Puget Sound area.”
Income tax, emergency powers and the state budget
District 20 lawmakers also used the virtual event to echo concerns expressed by the state’s GOP throughout the legislative session. The three lawmakers blasted the state’s new capital gains tax, a controversial tax aimed at wealthy Washingtonians and estimated to affect around 7,000 people. Republicans condemned the tax as unconstitutional and the beginning of a broader income tax.
While the language of the new law prevents voters from overturning it by referendum, Braun hinted Thursday that a 2022 ballot initiative would give voters the option to defeat it. In 2010, 64% of voters also rejected an income tax on the wealthy.
“Culturally, Washington State is different,” Braun said. “We just don’t want income tax.”
And lawmakers who voted to approve the tax, he said, “are going to have to go back to their constituencies and explain themselves.” And voters should hold them accountable.
While Orcutt feared the courts would uphold the tax, Braun said he had some confidence it would be ruled unconstitutional.
Abbarno said he would follow tax lawsuits closely and argued that to fix the state’s regressive tax structure, “you cut regressive taxes…you don’t just add another layer of tax “.
However, Centralia Councilwoman Rebecca Staebler asked lawmakers how they would cover state spending for a growing population “without raising taxes, especially among our state’s wealthiest businesses and individuals.”
In response, Braun pointed to the growing state budget, saying Washington didn’t have a revenue problem, but “a spending problem.”
Lawmakers also spent much of the 90-minute town hall discussing the governor’s emergency powers and blasting Democrats for failing to limit them. Republican attempts to call a special session last year and reign in the executive branch failed that session.
Braun called it a “failure” for Democrats, arguing that the party is afraid to “let their votes show” on measures that restrict business.
“We’re not going to let go, just to be clear,” Braun said.