House approves bills on public access, tax exemptions, online training

Three bills designed to keep essential functions of the state running during the COVID-19 pandemic and future emergencies passed unanimously on Jan. 22 in the first virtual roll call vote the state House of Representatives held this legislative session.

They were: House Bill 1056, which establishes that governing bodies may meet remotely in an emergency and requires public access to these remote meetings, House Bill 1095, which exempts businesses from paying taxes on emergency assistance grants from the state or federal government and House Bill 1007, which allows social workers to receive their training virtually.

All three measures were brought forward with bipartisan support from their respective committees.

HB 1056 requires the government to post agendas online prior to remote meetings and allow the public real time access as public meetings take place.

As of now, this is only able to happen because of a proclamation of the governor.

“We are now trying to move ahead so we do not have to continue to rely on proclamations, but to adopt these principles that the public’s business should be conducted openly and in public and observable,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle.

“When necessary to be online, it will be conducted where everyone can observe it, which is vitally important.”

Certain agencies in small districts and towns are exempt for equity as the online capabilities may not be feasible.

HB 1095, the tax exemption, was passed to assure concerned business owners they would not face additional taxes from receiving government aid.

Lawmakers explained how small business owners from their districts were reaching out to them unsure of whether they could utilize the entirety of their grants or whether they needed to set aside a portion for eventual taxes.

“These are struggling families who are facing incredible challenges and by voting for this bipartisan effort, this does demonstrate and send a message to everybody across Washington,” said Rep. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick.

“We do care about you.”

The final bill at the meeting, HB 1007, removes limits on social workers to receiving training virtually.

Previously, online training for social workers was limited to no more than 60 hours.

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