OLYMPIA — Providing economic assistance to families and businesses, improving broadband internet access, reopening schools and allowing for more flexibility in child care options are just a few of the broad recommendations released by a Senate special committee for economic recovery post-COVID.
The seven-member bipartisan committee released the economic recommendations on Thursday after months of meetings and presentations from economists and experts, but exact legislative proposals and next steps remain to be seen.
"I hope this will serve as a guidepost for a lot of work going forward," said committee chairman Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle.
The recommendations are broken into five categories:
* Focus on those at risk of immediate housing, food, child care or job crisis;
* Provide relief for small businesses and support hospitality and leisure;
* Support the aerospace and manufacturing sectors;
* Address health care needs;
* Expand internet access
The recommendations take a broad look at how to recover, Frockt said. Some recommendations are for immediate proposals while others look at a long-term plan to stabilize the economy.
The purpose of the report is to help lawmakers understand what the urgent needs are and what needs to be done in the long term, said state Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy.
"It's going to take time for our state to recover," she said.
While the Legislature has a lot to do this session, Frockt said he expects much of these recommendations will turn into legislative proposals this session and next. The focus this session is economic recovery, as leadership has already identified it as its priority.
Short said relief for unemployed people and small businesses needs to be addressed this session.
Part of that will be getting federal relief money out to people who need it quickly, Frockt said. Legislative leadership has already discussed passing a COVID relief package early in the session, but what that looks like is still being discussed.
House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, of Tacoma, told reporters Wednesday that leadership is moving quickly on COVID relief and hopes to have legislative proposals in the next week. Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, of Spokane, said he expects to start passing bills in the third week of the session, with the first set of proposals likely being recovery related.
Another short-term priority is supporting school districts to reopen schools as soon as possible.
The recommendation doesn't go into specifics, but Frockt said the committee wanted to issue a general statement that this needs to be thought about this legislative session.
"We've got to find a way to get schools reopened safely," Frockt said.
Short said reopening schools should still be a local decision, but if there's a legislative role to be had, they should use it to whatever degree is appropriate.
It was important to acknowledge in this report that keeping schools closed negatively affects students' health, Short said.
"We don't want to lose sight of that," she said.
Another recommendation involves reducing barriers to child care, finding ways to allow everyone to have access to it. The report outlines a number of ways to do that, including reducing regulatory burdens for providers to operate, providing tax relief for child care providers and investing capital dollars in the early learning facilities fund.
Short said she will be introducing a bill soon that would allow for flexibility in child care options statewide.
Longer term, Frockt said the state needs to be more intentional with economic development.
Specifically, Frockt said there needs to be more investment in tourism marketing, especially as the industry looks to recover from the pandemic.
The state also needs to improve broadband access, something lawmakers have been talking about for years but that has been especially important during the pandemic. Frockt said he is fairly confident the Legislature will hear a broadband bill within the next two years. Until then, he expects large investments in capital projects that involve increasing broadband.
"I'm hopeful we can find a way to just get it done," he said. "It's time to get it done."
The report also looks at how to expand the aerospace and manufacturing sectors in the future. One of the ways is to diversify the aerospace manufacturing sector in Washington, especially with new reduced demand from Boeing. Boeing announced last year it would be shifting production of the 787 Dreamliners from Everett to South Carolina.
The state needs to start thinking of itself as not a home to Boeing, Frockt said, but an aerospace hub in general.
"We've done everything (Boeing's) asked us to do and yet we're still losing jobs," he said.
So far this session, Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on what the priorities should be moving forward but differ on how to implement them. This report reflects recommendations that had consensus from the bipartisan committee, Frockt said.
Short also said she appreciated the bipartisan nature of this committee, which gave lawmakers the opportunity to hear input on these issues in the interim before coming up with legislative proposals for the session.
"We're back in session," Short said. "We have an opportunity now to really flesh out these ideas and bring legislation and budget pieces forward that help see them to fruition."