Week of March 15-19
The biggest news of the week is something Olympia-watchers look forward to all session, the March Economic and Revenue Forecast Council forecast, which helps inform budget writers in both chambers. Long session budgets are usually released by the majority party soon after the report is issued. Senate Democrats are expected to roll out their budget on March 2 and a hearing on the operating budget on the 26th, with the House following close behind. The forecast this week showed Washington state’s tax collections have rebounded strongly, with an additional $1.3 billion this biennium and an additional $1.9 billion increase forecast for the 2021-23 budget cycle. The increase in projected revenues leaves the state with a net surplus of nearly $3 billion – including reserves – at the end of the biennium. This puts Washington state nearly back on track with pre-pandemic economic growth, though the job market struggles in sectors hit hard by covid closures.
This was the first full week of hearings in both chambers. At this stage in session, it becomes clear which bills are likely to pass. With few exceptions, majority Democrats are sticking to their stated priorities of addressing COVID-19 challenges, improving racial equity, advancing economic recovery, addressing climate change, and increasing revenue or creating savings.
SB 5096 (Robinson, D-Everett), the Capital Gains tax, achieved another milestone this week as it was heard in the House Finance committee on Monday, March 15. Of the 4,002 people who signed in on the bill, about 2,380 (60%) were in favor of the legislation. Congressman Dan Newhouse also appeared before the committee to oppose the bill, saying the IRS told him in 2018 that “capital gains are treated as income under the tax code, and taxed as such.” Perhaps a sign of referendum signature gathering to come, opponents of the bill presented a petition against 5096 with 13,688 signatures. The petition was circulated by a conservative think tank, Washington Policy Center. The bill has not yet been scheduled for executive action
Also on Monday, March 15, the Senate Health & Long Term Care committee heard HB 1225 (Stonier, D-Vancouver) which establishes the school-based health center program office within the Department of Health. There are more than 50 school-based health centers in operation around Washington State. The objective of the program office is to expand and sustain the availability of school-based health center services to K-12 public school students with a focus on historically underserved populations. While proponents say the bill will help promote good health outcomes, concerned parents questioned the program’s transparency with regard to parental involvement. The bill passed the House 60-36 and the Senate committee passed it along party lines on Friday, March 19.
The House of Representatives passed HB 1477 (Orwall, D-Des Moines) by a vote of 78 to 18 on Wednesday, March 17. The bill implements the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act which designated 988 as the new national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline number. The legislation was amended in the Appropriations Committee to establish the 988 Implementation Team (Team) and the Crisis Response Improvement Strategy Committee (Committee). The Team consists of nine members from state agencies, crisis call centers, those with expertise in behavioral health crisis responses and lived experience with behavioral health conditions, and from the behavioral health crisis delivery system. The Team must provide guidance in implementing the 988-crisis hotline and the resources required for staffing, training, and technology for call centers to achieve an instate call response of at least 90 percent. The Team must report to the Governor and the Legislature by January 1, 2022. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
On Wednesday, March 17, the Senate Health & Long Term Care committee heard HB 1141 (Rude, R-Walla Walla), an act relating to the Washington Death With Dignity Law. The Death With Dignity Law, or Initiative 1000, was passed over a decade ago and allows a physician to provide a terminally ill adult with less than six months to live the lethal medication they need to end their life if they choose to do so. These medications are self-administered by the patient and health care entities are not obligated to participate and may even prohibit participation on their premises. The law requires a fifteen-day waiting period. The bill expands Initiative 1000 by allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe the medication. The bill also reduces the waiting period to seventy-two hours and may be further shortened if the patient is not expected to survive for three days. The bill passed the House last month 60-37.
The House College & Workforce Development committee heard SB 5321 (Nobles, D-Fircrest) on Wednesday, March 17. The bill aims to expand access to the College Bound Scholarship, a program that provides four-year tuition to students from low-income families. A current requirement of the program is for seventh or eighth grade applicants to sign a pledge with the expectation that they must fulfill the pledge requirements which include graduating with at least a C average and having no felony convictions. The bill eliminates the pledge and proposes the Washington Student Achievement Council should instead enroll all financially eligible students in the C.B.S. program automatically. The bill passed the Senate 31-18 and may receive executive action as early as Monday, March 22.
On Thursday, March 18 the House Finance committee heard HB 1362 (Duerr, D-Bothell), an act that proposes changing the annual property tax growth limit from a 1% increase to a formula that ties increases to population changes and inflation, capping annual increases at 3%. With some exceptions, local governments are limited to 1% annual property tax increases though additional property taxes above that limit can be offered to voters for approval. Local government supporters of the bill claim they are suffering structural deficits due to the cap, while opponents call the bill a regressive tax on housing that hurts both homeowners and renters.
On Friday, March 19 the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a work session on the American Rescue Plan Act. OFM gave a presentation outlining the key funding provisions, dates and outstanding questions. “Eligible uses” for the state’s $4.4 allocation remain unknown while states wait for updates guidance and instructions from the federal government. The presentation is attached.
Both chambers will continue to hear bills next week as we lead up to the Friday, March 26 deadline for bills to pass out of policy committees in the opposite House.
Friday, March 26 – Policy Committee Cutoff (opposite House)
Friday, April 2 – Fiscal Committee Cutoff (opposite House)
Sunday, April 11 – Opposite House Cutoff
Sunday, April 25 – Sine Die
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