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Legislative Week in Review – Sine Die Edition

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Friday, March 4th

State Representatives held a floor debate on Senate Bill 5078, which aims to ban the making, sale, and distribution of high-capacity magazines that can hold ten rounds of ammunition or more.

  • The bill passed on a party-line vote in the Senate on February 9th.
  • The bill does not ban the possession of high-capacity magazine weapons.
  • It provides limited exemptions to licensed gun dealers who can still sell high-capacity magazines to military and law enforcement.
  • Sponsored by Senator Marko Liias, and at the request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the bill follows data claiming that states with magazine capacity restrictions tend to have lower gun violence rates.
  • Critics argue that the bill is unconstitutional against the right to bear arms, and limits an individual’s ability for self defense.
  • During Friday’s floor debate, a number of Democratic Representatives voiced their support for the bill, claiming it’s become a normalcy for the younger generations to grow up with mass shootings to the point where they have been forced to grieve over losses of loved ones lost from mass shootings.
  • House Republicans strongly opposed it, with Rep. Joel McEntire saying it impairs citizens’ rights to defend themselves, and that constitutional rights should be upheld over safety. Representative Robert Sutherland also cited the Ukraine crisis, claiming Americans need to have high-capacity magazines to defend themselves in the event of a national attack on the US.
  • The House voted on the bill, and passed with a 55-42 vote. It awaits the Governor’s signature.

Saturday, March 5th

During a public hearing, the Senate Ways and Means Committee discussed Senate Bill 5983, which would protect consumers from untested and unregulated cannabinoid products.

  • The bill would expand oversight on cannabinoids that can impair users, modify the uniform controlled substances act, and ban the sale of certain cannabinoids that are not from licensed retailers.
  • It would also regulate the use of additives in cannabinoid products, require product testing and disclosures, and ban artificial and synthetically-derived cannabinoids.
  • At the public hearing, the Washington State Public Health Association spoke in favor of the bill, voicing their concerns over accidental poisoning that happens to young users of unregulated cannabinoid products.
  • The bill received push back from those concerned about how it defines “impairing substances”, saying it’s not enforceable by definition, as it includes substances found in harmless everyday consumable products as “impairing substances” (i.e., substances found in coffee, nutmeg, etc.)
  • Others who support the bill say it will address the harmful sale of unregulated and synthetic Delta-8 THC products.
  • The Industrial Hemp Association also spoke to oppose the bill, saying the bill has inaccurate testing standards.

Monday, March 7th

The House of Representatives held a floor debate on House Bill 1851, which aims to give specific authority to certain licensed medical professionals and providers to be allowed to perform abortions.

  • The bill will allow physician assistants, advanced registered nurse practioners, and health care providers who are qualified to perform abortions within their scoope of practice to do so.
  • The bill passed in the House last month, and also aims to protect an individual from being penalized or prosecuted based on outcomes of a pregnancy or for assisting someone who exercises their right to reproductive freedom.
  • The bill was amended in the Senate to reflect gender-neutral terminologies.
  • During Monday’s floor debate, Democratic Representative My-Linh Thai spoke in favor of the bill, saying it insures accessibility to abortion for all pregnant individuals.
  • Republican Representative Michelle Caldier urged the floor to oppose the bill in its amended form, as she stood opposed to the Senate amendment, which proposed to revise the bill to include gender-neutral terms.
  • The House voted on their concurrence with the Senate, and concurred in the Senate Amendment with a 57-41 vote.
  • The bill awaits the Governor’s approval.

The House of Representatives held a floor debate on Senate Bill 5910, which aims to accelerate the availability and use of renewable hydrogen in the state.

  • Currently, most hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels. In an effort to move towards decarbonization and clean energy use, supporters say renewable hydrogen can be mass produced through a process called electrolysis.
  • The Department of Energy says that through this process, renewable resources can produce carbon-free energy, which in turn, can result in zero greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the burden on the electric grid.
  • Renewable hydrogen offers an alternative operating option for large companies, like oil and gas firms, that are burdened by calls to dial down their use of fossil fuels.
  • Senate Bill 5910 aims to create a statewide office of renewable fuels and its own independent accelerator account.
  • It also authorizes the Department of Commerce to secure federal funding to develop a regional clean hydrogen hub, and directs the Utilities and Transportation Commission to report specific issues in advancing the production of non-fossil feedstock hydrogen in the state.
  • Under the bill, municipal utilities and PUDs would also be authorized to produce, sell, and distribute renewable hydrogen.
  • During the House floor debate, Democratic Representative Alex Ramel spoke in favor of the bill, saying it provides a pathway to develop renewable and green hydrogen to be widely used in the state.
  • Republican Representative Mary Dye also offered support for the bill, saying it provides great incentives for the state’s economy and environment, and will help Washington become a leader in renewable energy.
  • The House voted on the bill’s passage, and amended the bill to include regulations on gas utility companies for adopting the use of clean hydrogen. It passed in the House with 96 votes in favor, and 2 opposed. It passed the Senate on March 9th, and awaits further approval from Governor Jay Inslee.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee convened for a public hearing to discuss House Bill 2018, which concerns a 3-day “Shop Local and Save” sales tax holiday for Washingtonians.

  • If passed, the 3-day tax event will occur around Labor Day, between September 3-5’
  • The tax holiday will exclude personal use items of $1000 or less from being charged a sales tax.
  • Items purchased for business purposes are not be eligible for the tax exemption.
  • Also excluded from the sales tax holiday are vehicles, watercraft, alcohol, soft drinks, prepared food, tobacco, vapes, and marijuana products.
  • If enacted, the bill’s fiscal impact is projected to decrease state revenues by $216 million.
  • The Washington Retail Association offered their statement of support for the bill, as read by committee chair Christine Rolfes. They said as 3-day sales tax holiday would boost retails sales and produce a consumer response likened to a “Black-Friday” sale. 
  • The bill received opposition from the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, who said that big-box retailers like Amazon and Walmart would be the primary beneficiaries of the tax holiday, and not Washington’s low-income consumers. They said the tax holiday would only target higher-income families who can afford to time purchases within a tax-break window.. 
  • Echoing the Washington State Budget and Policy Center’s stance, non-profit think tank Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy also opposed the bill, saying low-income families—who pay the state’s highest tax rates—will not benefit from it.
  • No one else testified in support.
  • The bill passed in the House on March 4th, with a 91-7 vote, but didn’t get any further traction in the duration of the 2022 legislative session. 

Tuesday, March 8th

The House of Representatives held a floor debate on House Bill 1519, which addresses enrollment declines in schools due to COVID-19.

  • Since the pandemic, enrollment rates have declined by 5% across the state, which affects funding for school staff and resources, creating a learning loss for students.
  • Last year, to offset COVID-19 enrollment loss and stabilize school funding, the legislature revised the enrichment levy formulas for the 2022 calendar year, which requires that the 2019-2020 enrollment rate take the place of the 2020-2021 school year (if the 2019 school year had a higher enrollment rate, and the district offered in-person learning). This means that schools would receive proportionate funding to what districts were previously receiving prior to the pandemic, regardless of enrollment rates.
  • HB 1519 authorizes the extension of this change in levy formulas to cover both 2023 and 2024 calendar years.
  • The Senate amended the bill to:
    • Clarify the stabilization effort to be a one-time legislative push;
    • Eliminate an extra year which was proposed to also be covered under the bill; and
    • Reduce the stabilization amount to match only 50% of a the enrollment rate, instead of the full 100%.
  • During the debate, Democratic Representative Laurie Dolan spoke in favor of the bill, with hopes that this will be the final step in seeing stability in school systems in a year’s time.
  • Republican Representative Joel Mcentire also expressed support for the bill, citing his experience as a teacher and believing that COVID-19 responses for schools were not effective enough, and school districts shouldn’t have to suffer for it.
  • Republican Representative Drew Stokesbary spoke in opposition, saying it will be costly to taxpayers, and that money would better spent on helping students, instead of institutions.
  • Democratic Representative Tana Senn also opposed the Democrat-proposed bill in its amended form,citing her disagreement with the Senate amendments that reduced stabilization amounts to 50%.
  • The house voted on their concurrence with the Senate, and passed the bill on a 62-36 vote. It awaits the Governor’s final approval.

State Representatives held a floor debate on Senate Bill 5488, which reduces toll rates on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

  • The bill aims to stop toll collection on smaller vehicles passing through west of the Puget Sound. The toll relief does not cover trucks.
  • The bonds used to build the westbound bridge have been paid by the tolls collected in 1965. Today, tolls are collected to pay for the eastbound bridge that cost $1.4 billion to build. (About $700 million of that has already been repaid by tolls since the bridge opened in 2007.)
  • The current toll rates for most drivers are at $6.25, but those with a Good-to-Go Pass pay $1 less.
  • If enacted, and approved by the State Transportation Commission, the bill would bring down current tolls by $0.75 by October 1st—meaning those crossing the bridge would have to pay $5.50, and those with a Good-to-Go Pass would have to pay $4.50.
  • Legislators in favor of the bill say the state is in a good position to stop toll collection ten years earlier than projected.
  • The Senate passed an amended version of the bill to transfer $130 million from the state’s general fund over the next decade.
  • During the debate, Democratic Representative Dan Bronoske spoke in favor of the bill, saying it is a “modest toll relief” that will help those who need to cross the bridge for day-to day activities, for school/work, or doctor appointments.
  • Republican Representative Andrew Barkis opposed the bill’s $130 million transfer from the general fund, saying that amount only addresses one transportation issue, while there are other projects and other toll roads that people also sneed relief from. He said the $130 million transfer could make a difference in other areas of the state.
  • Republican Representative Michelle Caldier of Port Orchard shared her support for the bill, saying that from the beginning, the toll system of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge has already been flawed, and that this would address a popular sentiment among her constituents.
  • Republican Representative Jesse Young of Gig Harbor echoed her remarks, saying $130 million is a decent amount of funding to go back to tollpayers, even if the reduction is at 0.50 cents.
  • No further opposition was heard on the floor.
  • The bill passed on a 58-39 vote, and awaits the Governor’s signature. The State Transportation Commission must still approve the bill’s proposed toll reduction in order to take effect.

Wednesday, March 9th

State Representatives held a floor debate on the Senate-proposed supplemental capital budget, (Senate Bill 5651.)

  • The bill passed with Senate bipartisan approval on February 23rd. It would invest almost $1 billion in state infrastructure, which includes a $100 million landmark investment in seismic safety, to prioritize the seismic retrofitting of school buildings in preparation for earthquakes and tsunamis. 
  • Another $472 million would be invested in affordable housing; of that, $376 million would go to rapid housing and crisis stabilization services.
  • The budget will also invest in behavioral health, homelessness, infrastructure, and in creating more jobs, preserving natural resources, and expanding broadband access–to which the budget allots $120 million.
  • The proposed budget also allocates $327 million to address environmental health issues, such as water quality, recreation, and conservation.
  • During the floor debate, Democratic Representative Steve Tharinger said the budget aims to adapt to the economic challenges caused by COVID-19.
  • Republican Representative Peter Abbarno also shared his support for the budget, saying it is another stride towards recognizing needs to improve the quality of life in a lot of communities.
  • The House amended the bill to authorize new capital appropriations of $1.5 billion in total funds– of which $107 million is financed with state general obligation bonds.
  • The bill, as amended, passed unanimously in the House.
  • The Senate debated their concurrence in the bill on March 9th, where it received bipartisan support, and passed with a unanimous vote. 
  • This marked the bill’s passage in both chambers, and will need the Governor’s final approval.

Thursday, March 10th–Last Day of Session (Sine Die)

State Senators gathered for a floor debate on House Bill 2124, which aims to grant collective bargaining rights to legislative employees.

  • The bill authorizes legislative workers to organize, but would prohibit them from going on strike, refusing to work, or declining to perform their official duties during session or committee assemblies.
  • The bill also prohibits legislative employees from collectively bargaining over certain management rights, such as their employer’s budget, hours worked during the legislative session, and retirement plans and benefits.
  • Under the bill, if a collective bargaining agreement runs conflict with a legislative code of conduct or policy, it will be considered invalid and unenforceable.
  • It would also create a new state agency, the Office of State Legislative Labor Relations, which would be tasked with considering legislative collective bargaining issues.
  • The Senate amended the bill to expand the scope of collective bargaining to include health care and other insurance benefits.
  • Democratic Senator Karen Keiser spoke in support of the bill, saying it would give legislative workers the right to unionize, which every working Washingtonian deserves.
  • Republican Senator John Braun spoke to oppose the bill, believing that this is not the next best step to reach the bill’s intended goal, and that legislative employees, being in a unique working environment, would not benefit from a union standard.
  • A point, which Democratic Senator Steve Conway disagreed with, saying that the bill merely enables legislative workers to have a voice in their workplace, and to exercise their basic democratic right.
  • Republican Phil Fortunato countered his stance, believing that it is not necessary to pass a law to address workers’ issues. He said there are other systems that could be put in place to address instead of what is offered in this bill, and that legislative members, as their employers, should be responsible for addressing their employees issues, without having to pass legislation that does that.
  • The Senate passed the bill on a 28-20 vote; It also passed the same day in the House, with 57 votes in favor, and 41 opposed. 
  • The Governor will need to sign it to be enacted.

The Senate held a floor debate on or, House Bill 1814, which proposes a “Community Solar Expansion Program

– The bill aims to extend renewable energy benefits to low-income communities by

installing community solar projects throughout the state.

  • In 2017, Washington State University’s energy program ran a rooftop solar incentive program that provided a $110-million-dollar incentive to commercial and residential buildings that use solar energy.
  • The bill’s proposed “Community Solar Expansion Program” would be run by the same WSU program, but will focus on “preferred sites”, such as industrial areas, landfills, irrigation canals, collection ponds, agricultural solar projects, etc.
  • The program would provide incentives for community solar projects that directly benefit low-income, tribal, and public agency subscribers.
  • If enacted, owners or a community solar project will be able to apply to WSU’s energy program to be able to receive a one-time incentive from a participating electric utility company.
  • Incentive payments going out to community solar projects would be capped at $20 million; of that, $2 million would go to non-profit organizations and another $2 million would go to tribal governments.
  • The bill, which was amended in the Senate, also creates a new public utility tax credit to match the incentive payments paid by participating electric utility companies under the community solar expansion program.
  • During the debate, Democratic Senator Reuven Carlyle urged support for the bill, saying it will benefit low-income individuals and enable nonprofits and businesses to make low-cost solar systems available.
  • Republican Senator Lynda Wilson opposed it, saying it will be costly, and won’t reduce statewide carbon dioxide emissions. She suggested instead to support clean hydrogen bill, which she claimed would be more cost-effective.
  • The Senate passed the bill along party lines; while the House concurred in the Senate amendments on the same day with a 57; nays, 41, passing the bill out of both chambers. It awaits the final approval of Governor Inslee.

As state lawmakers faced a midnight deadline to pass priority bills before cut off, they also debated the supplemental operating and transportation budgets, which cleared both chambers—but not without differing opinions across the aisle.

  • The supplemental operating budget puts an additional $5 billion into last year’s $59 billion biennium package, bringing the total state budget up $64.1 billion to cover the 2021-2023 biennium.
  • The budget adds $5.8 billion in new investments for the next 2 years, which includes a one-time transfer of $2 billion to the transportation budget which will fund ferries, bridges, and highways without increasing gas taxes.
  • It also allots over $700 million in state and federal money to address housing and homelessness; $600 million for public schools, and $400 million for seismic retrofitting to better equip older schools for tsunamis and earthquakes.
  • The budget, which leaves approximately $3 billion in reserves, also funds childcare, behavioral health, COVID-19 response, long-term care, salmon preservation, higher education, and wildfire suppression.
  • In response to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the state allocated over $13 million to fund Ukrainian refugee relief efforts in the state.
  • Republicans criticized the budget for its lack of broad tax relief for middle-income Washingtonians, despite having a $15 billion budget surplus, and $1 billion left from COVID federal aid money.
  • Democrats argued that the budget has no tax increases, will increase the total state reserves over time, and will make meaningful investments in expenditures that will benefit every corner of the state; they also said it includes tax relief for families and small businesses hit by the pandemic.
  • The budget cleared the House with a 57-41 vote ahead of the midnight cutoff; The Senate also passed it on a 29-19 vote.
  • Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign off on the budget.

State Representatives also debated Senate Bill 5689, concerning the state’s supplemental transportation budget.

  • The package, called “Move Ahead Washington”, invests nearly $17 billion to cover major state projects in a span of 16 years.
  • Among those, a $1.3 billion investment for active transportation which includes school-based bike programs; $836 million for electric ferries; $1 billion to fund the state’s portion of the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River; $150 million for high-speed rail; $5.4 billion for carbon emissions reduction; 2.4 billion for culvert removals; and $3 billion for maintenance and preservation.
  • The package also allocates $50 million to build pedestrian infrastructure in underserved communities; $3 billion for public transportation. It provides a historic free fare policy for riders of public transportation aged 18 and under.
  • The original version of the package was heavily scrutinized by neighboring states for proposing to pull revenue sources from a 6-cent per gallon export fuel tax—which was projected to generate about $2 billion over 16 years.
  • After it was rescinded by the House, the final package instead transfers $57 million a year from the Public Works Assistance Account”, and another $57 million a year from the operating budget to make up for the shortfall, rounding the total transfer to $1.7 billion over 16 years.
  • During the House floor debate, Democratic Representative Sharon Wylie and Republican Representative Andrew Barkis both shared remarks in support of the bill.
  • The House passed the supplemental transportation budget with a 93-5 vote.
  • In the Senate, Democratic Senator Marko Liias said the package prioritizes equity and environmental justice, among other pressing issues in the state.
  • Earlier in session, Move Ahead Washington received Republican criticism for lacking Republican input during its budget-writing process. During the debate, Senator Curtis King cited the same sentiment, and questioned budget’s provision to take out money from the Public Works Trust Fund.
  • The Senate passed the budget on a party line vote, and awaits the Governor’s final approval.

Legislative Review airs nightly at 8 and 11 during the legislative session. Legislative Year in Review provides highlights from the year’s legislative action and airs a week after the session adjourns. To stream the full coverage of the state’s legislative action, log on to www.tvw.org.

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