More than 1,000 sign-ups so far for hearing on reopening state economy

Bipartisan bill to move state to “Phase 2” gets Senate hearing Wednesday

OLYMPIA – More than 1,000 people have signed up so far for a Senate hearing Wednesday on reopening businesses that have been shuttered by the state’s COVID lockdown, demonstrating the issue is one of the state’s top concerns, says Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.

Wilson is ranking Republican on the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, which is due to hear testimony on SB 5114 at 8 a.m. tomorrow. The bipartisan measure, sponsored by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia and Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, would move all of Washington into “Phase 2” of the state’s lockdown plan.

The measure would permit restaurants to offer indoor dining, and would allow gymnasiums and entertainment venues to reopen, following social distancing protocols. Other restrictions also would be relaxed.

Wilson said 1,149 people had signed up to express their views on the bill by 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, and 188 had asked for the opportunity to testify before the committee. Those numbers are expected to increase by the time the hearing takes place.

That makes it the most notable recent case of public interest in a specific piece of legislation. In 2019, a proposal that would have imposed heavy restrictions on the way hairdressers do business brought huge crowds to Olympia, and bill sponsors were forced to relent. Yet in that case, just 114 people signed up to testify.

“When the hairdressers came to Olympia, people said it was the biggest demonstration of public frustration they had ever witnessed on a single bill. But this is even bigger. If we didn’t have COVID restrictions this year to prevent public access to the Legislature, I think we would see enormous crowds for this hearing, standing-room-only seating, and huge crowds rallying on the Capitol steps.

“People are out of work, and they’re hurting. Businesses have been struggling to hang on, but now many of them are closing for good because of the state’s arbitrary rules. Yet these business owners have demonstrated they can operate safely and observe social-distancing precautions. When this bill comes up for hearing tomorrow, it will be the public’s first opportunity to tell the Legislature what it thinks about the state’s lockdown restrictions.

“I hope my fellow lawmakers recognize this as a cry for help that is coming from every corner of the state. I hope majority Democrats will recognize the significance of this outpouring of public frustration, and will give the people an opportunity to be heard in committee, just as they gave it to the hairdressers three years ago.”