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Legislative Week in Review

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Monday, Jan. 31st

The Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5751, which addresses healthcare staffing needs, overtime, and rest breaks for healthcare workers.

  • The bill aims to establish minimum staffing requirements for patient units and provide administrative reinforcement.
  • Should it be enacted, the lawsuits may be filed by healthcare staff against employers who violate the mandate.
  • Senator June Robinson said the bill will help retain nurses.
  • A number of nurses testified to support the bill–citing difficulty to get personal time off, and emphasizing problems arising from minimal healthcare staffing.
  • The Washington State Hospital Association opposed Senate Bill 5751. They believe it will deepen the staffing crisis in other areas of healthcare, such as long-term care; and will result in patients being turned away.

The Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5768, which aims to regulate flavored vaping products that are determined to cause a risk to public health.

  • The bill would require the State Board of Health to determine vaping nicotine limits, and make any product that exceeds that limit illegal.
  • It would also require all vaping stores and manufacturers to label vapes that meet the requirement.
  • Democratic Senator Patty Kuderer sponsored the bill, claiming flavored vapes are marketed to entice young adults, which creates a new generation of nicotine addicts. The Department of Health backs testified to support the bill.
  • The Washington State Board of health raised concerns about not having enough resources to mandate a nicotine limit at the moment.
  • Speaking in opposition, the Washington Retail Association said the bill will impact profits for family-owned businesses.

The House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1772, which aims to limit the duration of a Governor-ordered State of Emergency (SOE) to 60 days, unless specifically extended by legislature.

  • It also proposes to limit a Governor order that prohibits certain actions, to 30 days.
  • The bill also gives authorization for the legislature to terminate an SOE, end a restriction of an SOE, or reinstate an SOE.
  • The penalty for a person who violates a Governor’s emergency order is changed from a gross misdemeanor (1 year jail time, $5,000 fine), to a civil infraction and a fine up to $1,000.
  • Republican Representative Chris Corry, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation needs checks and balances, and the government should have the power to take control of an emergency order.
  • Supporters of the bill werequick to point out the actions of Governor Jay Inslee during the onset of the pandemic. They claimed there should be more legislative oversight on a governor’s power over a state, especially during COVID-19.
  • The Washington State Labor Council did not share that stance. They believe that the Governor’s orders during the pandemic was in the best interest of the state.
  • No other opposition was heard.

Tuesday, Feb. 1st

The House Local Government Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1952 which would allow counties under a growth management area (GMA) to house and assist homeless communities outside of urban growth areas (UGA).

  • Under the bill, a county must first establish a process for reviewing proposals to authorize housing and services for the homeless while meeting certain criteria.
  • Requirements call for the location to be within 1 mile of the UGA, county must determine that there is a shortage of land available to house and provide service to homeless people outside of the UGA, and they must identify the need for additional land within a homeless housing plan.
  • Republican Representative Michelle Caldier sponsored the bill. She said it would expand the state’s ability to help the homeless.
  • Pierce County Council Member Hans Zeiger expressed support for the bill, saying it was modeled after “Community First Village”, an R-V and tiny home community in Texas for homeless individuals.
  • The Washington Department of Commerce opposed the bill, and cited concerns about isolating homeless individuals from urban areas where resources are most prevalent.

The House Local Government Committee held a public hearing House Bill 2001, which authorizes tiny house communities to be built around a UGA, and be part of an affordable housing incentive program under the GMA.

  • The Washington Tiny House Association spoke in favor of the bill, saying both rural areas and UGA communities need the help.
  • The Department of Commerce expressed their concern about the authorization of tiny home communities outside of the UGA.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a public hearing to discuss Senate Bill 5919, which aims to expand situations where law enforcement may detain or pursue an individual, and when physical force may be applied.

  • Under the bill, physical force may be used when criminal conduct and probable cause is present, to prevent an escape, and-to protect against imminent threat of bodily injury.
  • The bill would require peace officers to use a standard for reasonable care when determining whether or not they should use physical force on someone.
  • The bill would also require a peace officer to try to de-escalate a situation before considering the use of force, and if doing so, only using the amount of force necessary to overcome resistance.
  • Under the bill, use of force must be ended as soon as it is safe, and officers must use less than lethal alternatives before resorting to deadly force.
  • Democratic Senator Keven Van De Wege claims the bill will hold bad police officers accountable.
  • Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidel supported the bill, claiming it provides the tools law enforcement needs to help the people who need help.
  • Renton City Mayor Armondo Pavone said the bill will restore balance to law enforcement.
  • The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability expressed their opposition to the bill, saying it gives police officers too much authority over situations.
  • Also testifying in opposition, Disability Rights Washington said the bill would allow police officers to use force even when an individual is cooperating, which would pose a threat to the arrest of individuals with disabilities, where police miscommunication is common.

Wednesday, Feb. 2nd

The Senate Health and Care Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5660, which would legalize psilocybin (commonly known as “magic mushrooms”) for individuals over 21.

  • The bill regulates the psychedelic compound that naturally occurs in certain types of mushrooms, which alters perception, mood, and thought.
  • Psilocybin is considered a schedule 1 controlled substance under federal and state law, and the possession and manufacture of it are both illegal.
  • The bill would direct the Department of Health to create manufacturing, testing, and labeling standards.
  • The bill would only allow the sale of magic mushrooms if under the supervision of a trained professional in a licensed facility.
  • Senator Jesse Salomon, the bill’s sponsor, cited studies on the usefulness of psilocybin on terminally-ill patients, those under end-of-life care, and those who suffer from anxiety and depression.
  • A number of doctors supported the use of psilocybin on these patients, saying it could help with addiction and lower suicide rates.
  • Supporters of the bill also recognized the use of psilocybin use in religious, indigenous, and cultural ceremonies; with some sharing their personal experience of being healed by “magic mushrooms.”
  • While no one testified to oppose the bill, a number of testimonies suggested that psilocybin should also be made available for personal use.

The Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee held a public hearing to discuss Senate Bill 5438, which provides unemployment benefits to undocumented immigrants who lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

  • If passed, the bill would be the first policy in the nation to provide unemployment relief for immigrants.
  • Senator Rebecca Saldaña sponsored the bill, claiming that many essential workers are immigrants who have, for decades, contributed to the state’s economy, and served its essential workforce.
  • Speaking in favor of the bill, labor union SEIU 775 said the bill would help undocumented immigrants who risk their lives every day with very little support.
  • The Washington Citizens Against Unfair Taxes spoke to oppose the bill, saying undocumented immigrants are already get housing, medical, and education, and work benefits shouldn’t be given to those who are here illegal.
  • No one else testified to oppose Senate Bill 5438.

The House Healthcare and Wellness Committee discussed House Bill 1854, which aims to require health insurance providers to include hearing aids in their health plan coverage by next year.

  • Coverage must include cost of hearing aid, assessment, fitting fees, earmolds, and auditory training. Maximum amount is $2,500 per ear with hearing loss, every 36 months.
  • Democratic Representative Emily Wicks sponsored the bill, saying hearing is an essential health benefit, and should naturally be covered; and that fixed-income families should be able to get hearing aids if they want to.
  • The bill received support from parents of deaf and hard of hearing children, as well as hearing aid advocacy groups. Among them, “Let Washington Kids Hear,” who claimed that 1 in 1,000 children are born with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears and need cochlear implants to be able to access sound.
  • Sharing their concerns with the committee, the Association of Washington Health Care Plans said the bill will affect premium costs.
  • No one else testified to oppose the bill.

Senators gathered for a floor session to hear Senate Bill 5560, which aims to promote transparency in the state’s redistricting process.

  • Last year, the state’s redistricting commission failed to meet the deadline to redraw congressional and legislative maps—and received accusations of violating the state’s Open Public Meeting Act.
  • The bill would require the commission to make plans available to the public for a minimum of 3 days before voting on it’s approval, and amendments must be debated and voted on via open session.
  • The bill would also require the final plan to include maps showing congressional and legislative districts with a complete description for each.
  • Speaking on the bill’s third and final passage, Senator Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the bill, said he believes it will restore public confidence in the redistricting process.
  • The bill passed with bipartisan support, and is headed to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Thursday, Feb. 3rd

The House Finance Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1734, which aims to tax “low-proof” alcoholic drinks, such as flavored canned beverages with less than 7% alcohol, that are marketed at 16 ounces or less.

  • The bill would charge a sales and distribution tax of $1.19 per gallon on these beverages.
  • The Republic National Distributing Company testified in support of the bill, saying it would set a fair tax rate on these drinks.
  • The Washington Beer and Wine Distribution Association opposed the bill, saying it would create a tax disadvantage for local suppliers.
  • The Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, also testified to oppose the bill, saying flavored alcoholic drinks are harmful to young consumers.

The House Transportation Committee met to discuss House Bill 2026, which aims to implement a per-mile charge on vehicles.

  • The bill would require the Department of Licensing and the Transportation Commission to establish a pilot program that places a road usage charge (RUC) of 2.5 cents on vehicles that use public roads.
  • Participation in the RUC program will be voluntary for drivers of older electric vehicles (EV’s) but mandated for those that own new EV’s with a charge capped at $225 annually.
  • Beginning July 2026, owners of specific hybrid vehicles will have the option to voluntarily pay the RUC with their registration fees. The same option will be available in 2027 to owners of passenger cars, light trucks, and SUV’s.
  • Proceeds from the RUC will fund transportation spending.
  • Supporters of the bill say RUC will sustain the state’s transportation funding without having to rely on fossil fuels, and that will also offer savings for low-income drivers, and make the gas tax burden more equitable.
  • Those opposed to the bill believe it will negatively impact low-income drivers.

Friday, Feb. 4th

The House Appropriations Committee held a public hearing to discuss the fiscal impacts of House Bill 1905, which aims to reduce homelessness among unaccompanied youth who are released from a publicly-funded care system.

  • The bill would impact young adults exiting child welfare, behavioral health, and juvenile justice systems; as well as programs under the Office of Homeless Youth (OHY).
  • The Bill would create a “Rapid Response Program” under the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
  • The program will be tasked to respond to and support transitioning young adults in various ways that will help them establish stability.
  • The bill also requires the OHY and DCYF to administer flexible funding for those individuals if they are under 25, and need to secure safe housing.
  • The bill requires the OHY to oversee housing stability for youth in crisis for a period of 3 years.
  • The Washington Coalition for Homeless Youth Advocacy, Nonprofit organizations Northstar Advocates, and the Raikes Foundation testified in support of the bill.
  • No one testified in opposition.

The House Transportation Committee met to discuss House Bill 1530, which aims to create Washington wine special license plates.

  • Revenues from the plates will fund the Washington Tourism Alliance.
  • Representative Kelly Chambers sponsored the bill, saying the plates will fund the state’s tourism marketing efforts and will benefit businesses hit by COVID.
  • The bill received support from the Washington Wine Institute, State of Washington Tourism, and the Washington State Destination Marketing Organizations.
  • No one testified to oppose the bill.

Legislative Review airs nightly at 8 and 11 PM. All hearings in the legislature air daily on TVW, as well as on