Gov. Inslee vetoes some spending in response to coronavirus

Gov. Inslee vetoes some spending in response to coronavirus
Gov. Inslee announces the extension of the statewide stay-at-home order through May 4.

SEATTLE — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars of spending in hopes of making a dent in the loss of state revenues as the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep the state’s economy largely shut down.

Inslee vetoed nearly two dozen bills in their entirety, as well as more than 140 separate budget items in the state supplemental budget that will save the state $445 million over the next three years.

The vetoes include a bill that created a pilot program to review and vacate criminal convictions based on current statutory eligibility requirements and another bill that established recycled content requirements for plastic beverage containers.

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Also vetoed was a bill creating a prescription drug affordability board.

The budget section vetoes range from money to add about 370 K-12 guidance counselors statewide to spending on paraeducator training.

Also eliminated were a variety of task forces and studies. All of the veto letters state that circumstances “have changed dramatically” since the budget was approved by the Legislature last month.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is having catastrophic effects on the health and welfare of Washingtonians,” Inslee’s veto messages read. “It will also have a major impact on the economic health of our state. I have conferred with leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate, and we agree that we must prepare for the effects of the lost revenue that will result from this pandemic.”

When the Legislature adjourned March 12, there were just over 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, and fewer than 40 deaths. The last bill lawmakers passed before they left town was a measure drawing $200 million from the state’s emergency “rainy day” fund, with $175 million going to the public health system and the remainder to a dedicated unemployment fund.

Three weeks later, more than half of that money has been spent.

Inslee signed the budget a day after he extended the stay-at-home order through May 4, and as deaths and cases in Washington continue to increase.

The statewide death toll as reported by the Department of Health had reached 284 among 6,966 confirmed coronavirus cases as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the counties with the highest totals: King County has 188 deaths among 2,711 cases; Snohomish County has 38 deaths among 1,317 cases; Pierce County has 7 deaths among 433 cases.

Click here to see where other counties in the state stand.

Key coronavirus updates:

Information from local officials

Extension of stay-at-home order: Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 4. The order was previously set to expire on Monday. The restrictions remain the same: schools will remained closed, gatherings are not permitted and only essential travel and work is permitted. All businesses other than those deemed essential will remain closed. Businesses that are working remotely can continue to do so.

Stimulus money: Washington state is set to receive nearly $3 billion from the federal stimulus bill passed to help with the economic hit from the coronavirus outbreak, with at least $1.6 billion coming directly to the state, and the amount to be allocated to local governments to be determined by the U.S. Department of Treasury in the coming weeks, said Casey Katims, Gov. Jay Inslee’s director of federal and interstate affairs. State and local governments will be taking huge budget hits due to the shutdown of many businesses.

Complaints about businesses: A day after the release of a website where people can report violations of non-essential businesses operating in violation of the governor’s current stay-at-home order, the state has received more than 4,000 complaints through the online form, according to David Postman, Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff. Postman said they will be wading through the complaints and following up with the businesses. The public has been told to not call 911 to report individuals or private groups who are not following the proclamation, but should instead contact local law enforcement.

Ferguson warns price gougers: Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is warning Amazon sellers who hike prices on virus-related products like hand sanitizer and face masks that he could sue them. Ferguson ‘s office said Tuesday it sent letters to five Washington-based independent sellers who raised prices. “We will use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent price-gouging during this public health emergency,” Ferguson said in a statement. He also is warning of scams related to stimulus checks.

Information from the White House, federal officials

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, emphasized Thursday that Americans still have time to avoid the 100,000 to 200,000 deaths predicted in the U.S. from the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s within our power to modify those numbers,” Fauci said in an appearance Thursday on “CBS This Morning.”

At a press conference later in the day, President Donald Trump said he again tested negative for COVID-19.

News also surfaced Thursday the the White House is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face coverings when leaving home, in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The recommendations, would apply to those who live in areas hard-hit by community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force’s discussion said officials would suggest that non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth when outside the home — for instance, at the grocery store or pharmacy.

Medical-grade masks, particularly short-in-supply N95 masks, would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.

How you can protect yourself and what to do if you think you were exposed

Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Patients reportedly have mild to severe respiratory illness. These are steps health officials recommend to protect yourself:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
  • Stay at home and away from others if you are feeling ill.
  • Washington State Department of Health: What to do if you have confirmed or suspected coronavirus disease
  • Washington State Department of Health: What to do if you were potentially exposed to someone with confirmed coronavirus disease
  • If you are in King County and believe you were exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19, or if you’re a healthcare provider with questions about COVID-19, contact:
  • For general concerns and questions about COVID-19, call the Washington State Novel Coronavirus Call Center at 800-525-0127 and press #.

Cases and guidelines for senior living facilities

Senior living facilities have been the focal point of the state’s fight against the spread of coronavirus, as health officials said older adults with preexisting conditions are the most vulnerable. Inslee announced new rules around nursing homes and assisted living facilities centered around visitors, screening, and precautionary measures.

  • Visitors must be adults and the visit must take place in the resident’s room. This does not apply to end-of-life situations.
  • All visitors must follow COVID-19 screening and follow reasonable precautionary measures. Precautionary measures include, but are not limited to, wearing personal protective equipment, social distancing, or visiting in designated locations.
  • All visitors must sign into a visitor’s log. Owners and operators must retain that log for 30 days.
  • Employees or volunteers must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms at the start of each shift.
  • People who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and who test positive for COVID-19 must be isolated away from other people.
  • Owners, operators, staff and volunteers are prohibited from disclosing protected and confidential health information, except as otherwise provided by law or with the resident’s consent.
  • The rules are expected to be in effect until midnight on April 9, 2020.

Colleges no longer meeting in person

The University of Washington, Western Washington University and Washington State University all moved to online classes and will continue to do remote instruction through spring quarter.

Seattle Pacific University, Shoreline Community College, Pacific Lutheran University, Bellevue College and the DigiPen Institute of Technology all announced that classes will be canceled or completed online.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.