Legislature: Governor Seeks $4 Billion as Session Began Monday

Inslee Seeks to Increase Funding ‘to Scale’ for Homelessness

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On an open-ended question in Crosscut-Elway’s annual poll, the single most-named issue registered Washington voters hoped the Legislature would focus on this session was “homelessness.”

With Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget recently announced and the legislative session set to begin on Jan. 9, he and other lawmakers participated in a pre-session press briefing on Thursday, Jan. 5 at the Capitol. Inslee spoke about his proposal to spend $4 billion with the hope of reducing homelessness by increasing the supply of housing. The proposal, as he stated on Jan. 5, would require approval by the Legislature and voters.

“(We) need to attack the homelessness crisis in the state of Washington with a degree of vigor and robustness in scale that is necessary to actually move the ball forward in reducing homelessness — the scourge of homelessness in our state,” Inslee said in an opening statement during the briefing.

He continued, saying the millions of dollars spent by the state on the issue so far have been helpful, but the increasing homeless population outweighs those efforts. Thus, he said, spending “to scale” to build more of all kinds of housing is a priority.

Recognizing the immensity of the sum of money he is proposing, the governor continued that Washington is one of the most beautiful places in the world, further calling homelessness a “blight.” He said he felt the voters would support the expenditure, which would add approximately 5,300 additional housing units to the state from 2023 to 2025 and 19,000 within the next six years, according to reporting by KING 5 news.

“This is not just a King County problem or a Clark County problem,” Inslee said. “This is a statewide problem. Virtually every city in the state of Washington has experienced homelessness in one form or another, and we have to address it on a statewide basis.”

While he said addressing housing is a main focus, the governor recognized there are many people for whom this method won’t work. Some, he said, will continue to “want to camp out.”

For them, Inslee said, it needs to become clear that “you can’t just take up public resources. We can’t just allow people to pitch their tent next to a playground in a local park. … The public needs protection.”

A Nisqually Valley News reporter then asked whether he was in support of a recent move by the Lewis County Board of Commissioners which banned homeless encampments. Of encampment sweep policies, a spokesperson from the ACLU said in an email to the Nisqually Valley News the organization “does not endorse policies that authorize sweeps which infringe upon a person’s right to due process and expose them to illegal searches and seizures, or which punish people simply for being unhoused.”

Inslee replied he didn’t know the details of the Lewis County ordinance, but clarified he thinks the state should do “everything humanly possible to eliminate those encampments,” due to sanitation issues, among others.

“But we also have to realize that playing whack-a-mole with homeless people doesn’t solve the problem,” the governor said, later adding, “If we do provide housing, if we do provide mental health (care), if we do provide chemical addiction services for people, they get into housing and we succeed. This is a successful strategy.”



Climate Change

Inslee also said a current focus for him is climate change, and while he’s proud of advancements made by the state so far, he hopes the topic will be a priority in the upcoming legislative session.

Steps he listed as hopes for Washington include more energy efficient buildings, increased access to electric cars and continuing to switch the state from fossil fuels to clean energy.

Inslee said the first action on this topic in the Legislature will arise in two weeks and will be related to clean fuels for transportation.

COVID-19 Vaccine State Worker Mandate

Asked by NPR Correspondent Tom Banse whether he is considering lifting the state worker COVID-19 vaccine mandate to increase the workforce, Inslee said he intends to keep the mandate in place to protect workers.

“It has not been any significant impediment to hiring,” he said.

The governor then encouraged everyone, especially people in his age bracket, to receive booster vaccinations if they had not already done so.

Public Safety

The governor said he was “one of 50” in the United States who is concerned with a rise in crime, which he said was due to COVID-19. Without listing specific upcoming legislative action, Inslee said some of the ways he intends to address public safety in Washington include increasing safety training for gun owners, making sure there are adequate staffing levels at law enforcement agencies and upping police access to de-escalation training.

Inslee then added, “We need to address the mental health of Washingtonians. And as I said, we want to make significant investments to deal with the mental health challenges that we have.”

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