Legislature sees massive outpouring of support for safe business restart, Wilson says

Huge number of sign-ups lead ranking Republican on Senate committee to call for additional hearing on bill to reopen restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues

OLYMPIA – An outpouring of frustration with Washington’s COVID lockdown restrictions greeted lawmakers Wednesday as they held their first hearing on the issue, ten long months after the governor ordered businesses across the state to shut their doors.

Some 1,620 people signed in to comment on a bill that would accelerate the state’s plan to reopen the economy, allowing restaurants to resume indoor dining, reopening gyms and entertainment venues, and relaxing other restrictions.

Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, ranking Republican on the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, is urging Democratic colleagues to schedule a second hearing on Senate Bill 5114 so that more people can testify.

“This was the first chance for the people to tell their state government what they think, and their sense of frustration was overwhelming,” Wilson said.

“Getting the state back to work is the number one concern for the thousands of business owners across the state and the people they employ. We need to let them know the Legislature is concerned, and is interested in doing something about it.

“We can start by holding another hearing, and giving more people a chance to testify. And a great way to finish would be to pass the bill.”

SB 5114, a bipartisan measure sponsored by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, would move all of Washington to “Phase 2” of the state’s lockdown plan, allowing businesses to reopen under social-distancing guidelines.

Wilson noted that 1,620 sign-ups on a bill is enormous by legislative standards. Of those, 1,519 were in support.

Two hundred and eighty people sought a chance to testify on the bill. But only 40 people got a chance to speak during the 65-minute hearing. Of those, 36 were in favor.

“What these numbers really tell us is that economic recovery is the top issue for the people of the state of Washington,” Wilson said. “I wish people had more time to tell us about the struggles they have faced trying to stay afloat while the bills pile up and no money comes through the door. More and more businesses are closing for good, and people are losing their jobs permanently.

“Those who did get a chance to speak told us some pretty obvious things the Legislature needs to hear. Washington’s restrictions are far more stringent than other states, and they are based more on guesswork than science. The state’s plan for reopening contains so many stipulations there is no telling when businesses will be able to open again. Yet during the brief respite we had last summer and fall, businesses proved they can operate safely while observing all the rules regarding social distancing.

“Our legislative session is just 10 days old, and already our colleagues have spent many hours holding hearings on legislation driven by urban political agendas, like the income tax, cap and trade and proposals to increase the price of gasoline. But when we have an issue like this one, so important to so many people, we ought to give it at least as much attention, and make it our top priority.”