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By Sydney Brown
Washington State Journal 

$2.2 billion in COVID-related funding for mental health, vaccine sites ready for passage


Last updated 2/24/2021 at 12:58pm

Funding for vaccine support, housing, mental health services and childcare is included in a hefty Democratic-led $2.2 billion COVID-19 relief package expected to get widespread support on the Senate floor.

After this package is heard on the floor Feb. 10, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said he hopes it will fund more services, including the expansion of access to mental health counselors in public schools and technical and community colleges.

“We’re really focusing on COVID-19 response this week, both relief but also addressing some of the other important measures that will ensure we continue to have a strong response,” he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Feb. 8 signed into law an unemployment insurance tax cut and fast-tracked a bill extending jobless benefits for those hurt by the pandemic.

Senators will also vote on — and likely pass — a Business & Occupation tax exemption for small businesses who took a loan for payroll protection on Feb. 10, Liias said.

Another bill slated for the floor would also offer insurance reimbursement for personal protective equipment purchased by healthcare providers, he said.

At a press conference Feb. 8 Democratic leaders also expressed support for a proposed capital gains and wealth tax. The capital gains proposal requested by Inslee would tax 9% of annual investment earnings over $25,000 per person and $50,000 per married couple. In addition, the wealth tax would charge a 1% tax on modes of income like bonds, contracts and stocks for anyone making over $1 billion.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said these tax proposals will address a “regressive tax structure.”

“The wealth tax bill is just being heard, and so is the capital gains, so I don’t have a prediction yet about how they’ll move,” Jinkins said. “I do hope both the revenue side and the tax structure side are things we think about as we decide how to move forward.”

Other items on the Democrats’ agenda included police accountability, some of which Jinkins confirmed would move through a House vote in the week ahead.

One bill, sponsored by Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, would tell prosecutors which officers are on a “Brady” list to consider the credibility of that officer's testimony during court. Another, sponsored by Rep. Bill Ramos, D-Issaquah, would require the state Auditor’s Office to continuously check that investigations on law enforcement practices are progressing.

Both will have a vote this week on the Senate floor, Jinkins said.

“The policy cutoff is next Monday (Feb. 15) so a lot of the focus will be on committee action and making sure those priority bills get passed out of committee,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.

As the deadline for other bills still in committee approaches, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said lawmakers are still working with shareholders to address police use-of-force, gun control legislation and affordable childcare.

Bills to ban open-carry at public demonstrations and high-capacity magazines will likely move to the Senate soon, Dhingra said. Senators also hope to take action on police tactics "by the end of the session," she said.


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