Sheldon backs legislative Phase 3 plan, urges governor to come up with own plan

Bipartisan plan to reopen state comes at governor’s invitation – Legislature also could pass bill itself

OLYMPIA – State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, cosponsor of a bipartisan legislative plan to reopen businesses and schools across the state, says lawmakers are responding to an invitation from the governor, and it’s about time for the governor to come up with a plan of his own.

“The governor seems to be having some trouble coming up with a plan to get the state to Phase 3,” Sheldon said. “But it really isn’t as hard as he makes it sound. The governor invited the Legislature to come up with a plan of its own, and we’ve got a great one. We hope the governor will recognize this is such an important issue for the people of our state that he ought to take a couple of minutes to read it.

“As COVID winds down, I am sure he will appreciate our help, and that he will want to adopt our ideas in whatever plan he announces at some indefinite date in the future. Or there’s another thing the Legislature could do. We could pass the bill right now and take care of the problem ourselves.”

Sheldon is Democratic cosponsor of Senate Bill 5473, introduced Tuesday by Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick.

The bipartisan “Open Safe, Open Now” plan would continue to encourage masking and social distancing, but also would take clear and meaningful steps to reopen the state. Among other provisions, the bill would:

  • Require public schools to reopen for in-person instruction, with safety protocols in place.
  • Allow restaurants and other businesses serving the public to operate at 50 percent capacity, rather than the 25 percent currently permitted.
  • Allow limited live audiences at sporting events.

Under the plan, all counties of the state would move to Phase 3, and further relaxations of restrictions would be permitted if no significant increases in COVID hospitalizations occur, unless county health officials object.

Washington remains one of the most-restricted states in the country a year after the COVID outbreak began. Majority Democrats in the Legislature have voted to give the governor all decision-making authority. The governor announced his phased reopening plan more than two months ago, and the entire state moved to Phase Two by February.

But the governor has yet to announce what Phase 3 means, or what criteria will be used to determine whether the state is ready.

In December, the governor invited the Legislature to come up with a plan of its own. The invitation came in a tweet in which he called legislative critics “grossly irresponsible” and referred to them as “those who criticize our proposals and… don’t actually propose policies that get the job done.”

Sheldon said, “We were pleased to receive the governor’s invitation to propose our own policies, and since the governor seems to be having so much trouble, we are delighted to step forward and show him the way.

“I am sure he understands how important this issue is to the people of our state. These lockdown orders have had a terrible impact on businesses statewide. Thousands have already closed their doors for good, taking jobs with them. State agencies have proven incapable of dealing with the issue, and a year after this started, thousands of people are still waiting for their first unemployment checks. Online instruction has proven a poor replacement for in-person instruction, and our children are suffering.

“I am sure the governor will recognize that we are doing exactly what he invited us to do. Now we are inviting him to adopt the ideas we have suggested and get Washington back to work.”