(The Center Square) – On the second day of the 2022 legislative session, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee gave the annual State of the State speech, calling for “action” on a variety of fronts.
Inslee touched on a number of issues he and lawmakers will be grappling with this session, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, K-12 education, homelessness and affordable housing, transportation, and salmon recovery.
“We have begun a short session with a long list of things to get done,” the governor told a noon joint session of the Washington State Legislature on Tuesday that was kept small in terms of attendance due to concerns about the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19.
“And I can encapsulate the state of our state very simply: We need action,” Inslee said. “We can wake up every morning the next 60 days understanding that we need action this day.”
Amid rises COVID cases related to the more communicable – but apparently less-virulent – omicron iteration of the virus, Inslee touted his administration’s efforts to keep Washingtonians safe by providing more access to testing and masks.
“If you compare our success to others, we’ve saved more than 17,000 lives,” he said. “These people are all still with us because of what all Washingtonians have contributed to stay safe and healthy.”
Last week, Inslee announced new plans in the state’s fight against coronavirus, including more masks, increased testing, and greater vaccination access. That translates into plan for ordering 5.5 million at-home test kits and an online portal through the state Department of Health allowing people to register and receive tests at home.
Inslee touched on his signature issue – climate change – in proposing to reduce Washington state’s emissions via modernizing building regulations for clean energy projects, making electric vehicles more affordable, and decarbonizing homes and workplaces via the Climate Commitment Act.
He said his plan adds $626 million to the work the state has already done in combatting climate change.
“It is our state’s legal obligation to reduce emissions – but it is also practical, and most importantly it is a moral obligation,” Inslee said.
Inslee stressed his commitment to keeping schools open during the pandemic, claiming the $900 million in his proposed budget will increase access for students to school counselors, nurses, and social workers.
“This proposal further empowers educators so they can innovate to address what kids have suffered through because of COVID, just as they have done throughout the pandemic,” the governor said. “Educators, when empowered, can develop solutions to overcome opportunity gaps.”
HOMELESSNESS AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING
On the homelessness crisis and the related challenge of affordable housing, Inslee pushed his $815 million proposal for services such as safe housing for the homeless, behavioral health, and increasing the affordable housing supply.
“We must pass legislation that removes antiquated barriers to middle housing options in our cities and provides more housing supply to make it available to all income levels,” Inslee said. “Look, we cannot tell our constituents we are fighting homelessness and yet not provide ways to build more housing. That means we must allow housing that meets the realities of our tremendous population and economic growth this century.”
That’s in addition to Inslee’s budget creating a $125 million reinvestment fund to address social and economic disparities.
Tying the issue of transportation to climate change, Inslee noted legislation on the latter “must go into effect in concert with our transportation budget.”
Inslee referred to this year’s one-time federal funds in talking up his proposal for nearly $1 billion on clean transportation, including $324 million to electrify the state’s ferries.
“As the future of salmon goes, so goes the future of our state,” Inslee told lawmakers.
To protect the iconic fish, Inslee’s plans include restoration of green corridors, which he said will keep the water “clean and cool.” The legislation would include the Lorraine Loomis Act, to conserve critical lands. The legislation is named after Loomis, a late Swinomish leader in tribal salmon management, who passed away in August, the governor said.
Inslee ended his speech as he began it, with a call to action.
“We will continue to build our resiliency against COVID,” he said. “We will meet the challenge of climate change while building the clean energy future with good jobs here in Washington. We will restore our children’s opportunities. We will make necessary revisions to our long-term care bill and our police accountability measures. We will protect salmon and bring back our orca. And we will house those impacted by homelessness and behavioral health conditions and provide more affordable housing options for everyone. This is our charge. We can do this if we act together. There is no time to lose. We can start now by taking action – this day.”