Week of February 22-26

Monday, February 22 was the last day for bills to be voted out of the fiscal committees. The House passed 84 bills in the Appropriations Committee, 25 in Finance, 25 in Transportation, and 9 in Capital Budget. In the Senate, Ways & Means passed 95 and Transportation passed 18. Now legislative attention turns to the next hurdle, the March 9 deadline for bills to pass the floor in their houses of origin. Majority Democrats have remained focused on their directive to members to prioritize advancing bills only if they address COVID-19 challenges, improve racial equity, promote police accountability, advance economic recovery, address climate change, and increase revenue or create savings.

One exception to the majority’s stated narrow focus this session is gun violence prevention, for which they are demonstrating robust support. The Senate passed SB 5038 (Kuderer, D-Bellevue) by a 28-20 vote on Thursday, February 25. The bill prohibits the open carry of a firearm or other weapons at or within 250 feet of permitted public demonstrations. Notably, the bill also bans open carry on the state capitol grounds, its buildings, and other legislative locations. Several states, including California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Wyoming have prohibitions on concealed carry, open carry, or both at state legislative and other government-owned buildings.

Majority Democrats took further steps this week in advancing their police reform campaign. SB 5066 (Dhingra, D-Redmon) received a 28-21 floor vote on Tuesday, February 23. The bill requires a law enforcement officer to intervene and report wrongdoing when the officer witnesses a fellow officer engaging in the use of excessive force. SB 5051 (Pedersen, D-Seattle) passed the Senate late Thursday night. Among other elements, the bill expands the background investigation requirements for persons applying for officer positions; expands the conduct for which the certification of an officer may be revoked; requires employing agencies to report all separation and disciplinary actions and requires information be maintained on a publicly searchable database. Minority Republicans offered 37 floor amendments over the course of the debate. HB 1054 (Johnson, D-Federal Way), the police tactics bill was passed off the House floor on Saturday night with a 54-43 vote. The legislation includes a ban on chokeholds, officers intentionally concealing identifying information on their badges and the use of “no-knock” warrants.

SB 5371 (Robinson, D-Everett), a bill proposing a statewide .0175% tax per fluid ounce of sugar-sweetened beverages was heard Monday, February 22 in the Senate Health & Long Term Care committee. The tax is levied on the distributor but is expected to be passed along to the consumer. The proposal is championed by health officials who argue soda is one of the leading causes of obesity and diabetes, but critics call it regressive and most likely to fall disproportionately on low-income communities. The bill is estimated to generate $359.3 million, split between the existing Foundational Public Health Services account and a new Health Equity Account. The City of Seattle enacted a similar tax in January 2018.

Long a priority for the members of the 27th Legislative District in Tacoma, the House passed HB 1090 (Fey, D-Tacoma) by a 76-21 vote on Tuesday, February 23. If it passes the Senate and is signed into law, the bill will force the closure of the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma by 2025 and will prevent other private detention facilities – whether criminal or civil – from opening. Advocates for the legislation say NWIPC detainees suffer from inadequate medical care, poor nutrition, and unsanitary living conditions. Critics of the bill contend government-run facilities are no better and a ban would result in inmates at NWIPC being transferred out of state, making family visits more difficult.

The House passed HB 1078 (Simmons, D-Bremerton) 57-41 on Wednesday, February 24 after a lengthy, emotional floor debate. The bill replaces the two-step approach of provisional and permanent restoration of a person’s voting rights after a felony conviction with a process where voting rights are automatically restored for a person convicted of a felony once out of total confinement under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections. This would include people on probation and people who owe legal debts to the government. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, Washington will become the 21st state along with Washington D.C., to adopt similar legislation. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tarra Simmons, is believed to be the first formerly incarcerated state legislator in the country.

On Wednesday, February 24, the Senate voted 43-5 on SB 5196 (Billig, D-Spokane), the bill to provide a path for the legislature to call itself into special session. Though granted the right by the Washington State Constitution, the legislature has never called itself into special session in the history of the State of Washington because the procedures to do so do not formally exist argued the proponents. This bill puts those procedures into statute.

On Thursday, February 25, HB 1016 (Morgan, D-Tacoma) passed the House on an 89-9 vote. The bill designates June 19, commonly known as Juneteenth, as a State Legal Holiday. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 when, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, enslaved people in Texas learned the Civil War was over and they had been freed. Forty-six states recognize Juneteenth as either a holiday or day of Observance and momentum is growing to recognize the day as a National Holiday. Governor Inslee has identified the bill as a priority piece of legislation for his office this session and has fully funded it in his proposed budget.

Access to broadband in the covid era continued to play a role in both chambers this week. HB 1336 (Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island) passed the House floor on Tuesday, February 23 in a 60-37 vote. The bill would allow public entities such as public utility districts, ports, and cities to provide retail internet service directly to consumers. Proponents of the bill say this could help provide internet, a critical service during the covid pandemic, to underserved rural Washington, while opponents claim this provides an unfair advantage to public entities.  Senator Wellman’s (D-Mercer Island) bill promoting rural broadband SB 5383 also passed the Senate this week in a 43-3 vote.

After a full Saturday of debate, the House passed HB 1091 (Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle), the low carbon fuel standard in a 52-46 vote. Minority Republicans offered 25 floor amendments over the course of the long debate. The governor-request bill requires fuel companies reduce the carbon in their product by 10% by 2028, and by 20% by 2035 and creates a marketplace that incentivizes the production of alternative fuels through a credit system whereby carbon producers can buy credits from those clean fuel producers. California passed a clean fuels bill in 2007, British Columbia in 2008, and Oregon passed one in 2015.  Representatives Sullivan, Walen, Shewmake, Rule, and Springer joined Minority Republicans in voting against the measure.

Floor action will continue to dominate days, nights, and weekends for the next week and a half as we approach the March 9 cutoff for bills to pass their house of origin.

Tuesday, March 9 – House of Origin Cutoff

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

Brynn Brady, Ceiba Consulting | Martin Flynn Public Affairs, Inc.