OLYMPIA - With COVID-19 cases declining, Washington Republicans feel that now is the time to advance into the next phase in the reopening of Washington’s economy. This week, Republicans in the state’s House of Representatives unveiled their “Open Safe, Open Now” plan. The plan returns decision-making authority to local officials, ending top-down state mandates. It requires all school districts in the state to resume in-person instructions and opens all business activity in the state to 50% capacity, with 100% capacity possible within three weeks. Those behind it say it’s a plan that puts more trust into Washington residents to act responsibly and acknowledges people must learn to live—and earn a living—in the presence of COVID-19.
“The majority of our state's K-12 students have been kept out of their classrooms for nearly a year. It's simply unacceptable that so many of our children have been deprived of so much, not just academically but socially and emotionally. We're glad to see the governor and the state school superintendent agreeing with us that schools may open safely. The time has come to give our districts clear direction that they need to bring their students back full-time,” said Senate Republican Leader John Braun. “Look at what's happening to the COVID-19 curve – cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in free fall. We're at a point where county health officials can handle what's ahead, so the focus should be on being open unless there is ample reason not to be. The centralized approach to responding to this pandemic needs to end. Our plan represents the 'light at the end of the tunnel' that the governor seems unable to define.”
The plan was formulated by 8th District Sen. Sharon Brown, a Republican out of Kennewick.
“Last month, our region dodged a bullet,” said Brown. “We were left out of phase two, because of alarmingly high hospitalization rates. It turned out to be a mistake, which was only identified thanks to the keen observations of a county official who caught the error and brought it to the attention of the Department of Health. Had she not, a swath of the state – from the Tri-Cities to Ellensburg to Walla Walla – could still be in Phase 1 today.
“This near disaster highlighted how flawed the governor's reopening plan was – overly large regions, failure to trust the public, and managed from upon high by the governor through top-down decrees.”
Brown says reopening decision authority would defer to county health experts.
“If the COVID-19 numbers continue trending as they are, it becomes harder to claim that our state is still experiencing an emergency. I'm not saying the governor should end the state of emergency – not yet – but he should let go of the statewide mandates and let county health officials do their jobs,” said Wilson, who is Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the prime sponsor of legislation that would have given the Legislature more authority to oversee Inslee's emergency proclamations.
“It has been two months since the governor unveiled his plan and he has still not identified Phase 3. This is unfair to families, businesses and local governments who have all made great sacrifices over the last year and want to know how their communities can move forward,” said House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm. “While many families and businesses are in crisis, the state health emergency has subsided. It's time for the Legislature to exercise its proper role and for state lawmakers to make subsequent policy decisions. Republicans have a plan that would get kids back to school and people back to work. Washingtonians know how to do these things safely and it's time to trust them. Both caucuses have also proposed operating budgets that would provide the necessary resources and relief to those who need it the most.”
“It's time to open up the state to Phase 3,” said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and ranking Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. “And it's time to place the responsibility of health and safety back into the hands of the people.”