Republican lawmakers: Move schools, employers to next phase now

‘Open Safe, Open Now: A Republican plan for Phase 3 and Beyond’ shows trust in the people

In response to sharply declining COVID-19 case rates and hospitalization rates statewide, legislative Republicans today announced a simple, practical and consistent plan to get all communities in Washington fully open for both school and business.

The Republican “Open Safe, Open Now” plan returns decision-making authority to local officials, ending top-down state mandates. It requires all school districts in Washington to resume in-person instruction and opens all business activity in the state to 50% capacity, with 100% capacity possible within three weeks.

The plan puts more trust in Washington residents to act responsibly, more than one year into the pandemic, 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 Republican plan was crafted by 8th District lawmaker, Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. She began questioning the governor’s ability to fairly reopen Washington after her district and the rest of the Governor’s south-central region was temporarily kept in Phase 1, while the rest of the state moved to Phase 2.

“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 officials 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 said her plan instead looks to county health experts, who know what is going on in their counties and can spot when data doesn’t mesh with the reality seen on the ground. More importantly, Brown said that it is a plan for moving forward, something Gov. Inslee’s staff neglected to provide her when she met with them in mid-February to discuss the issue.

“The restaurants and other employers and organizations that have been under the governor’s restrictions need to know what’s next, and how to get there. Governor Inslee made it clear last week that he has no plan. Republicans are stepping into the void with a sensible and straightforward approach that will free these important members of our communities from the limbo they’re in, and offer a clear path back to full operation,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver.

“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.”