Week of April 12-16

This has been a relatively quiet week in the virtual session, with concurrence negotiations happening behind virtual closed doors. As negotiations are resolved, bills are signed in open session in both the Senate and House. Once the House Speaker and Senate President sign the bill, it is delivered to the Governor’s office. This process can take several days following the passage of a bill by the Legislature. Bills that are delivered to the Governor more than five calendar days before the Legislature adjourns have five calendar days to be acted on. Bills that are delivered fewer than five calendar days before the Legislature adjourns have 20 calendar days to be acted on by the governor. Sundays are not counted as calendar days, but Saturdays and state holidays are counted. At that point, the governor may decide to sign it, veto part of it, or veto all of it. If the governor vetoes part or all of it, the Legislature may vote to override the veto with a two-thirds vote of both houses, which rarely happens. If the governor does not act on a bill after the allotted number of days, it is as if it was signed.

On Thursday, April 15, 14 Democrats joined 14 Republican votes to approve SB 5276 (Dhingra, D-Redmond) addressing the Blake decision.  Minority Republicans prepared 43 amendments to the bill, one of which, an approved amendment authored by Senator John Braun profoundly changed the bill. In its original form, Dhingra’s bill would have allowed that persons found to be in possession of small amounts of controlled substances consistent with “personal use” be referred to a forensic navigator for treatment. The bill as amended and passed reinstates criminal penalties for knowingly possessing drugs, but instead of a felony, the penalty would now be a gross misdemeanor with a mandate that jurisdictions provide treatment options. The first two times a person is arrested for possession of a controlled substance, the bill requires that the person be diverted to a treatment program. On subsequent arrests, diversion would be encouraged but not required. The bill was approved by the most moderate members of both parties and now heads to the House for consideration. Senator Dhingra voted against the bill as amended.

House Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton) introduced HB 1578 on Wednesday, April 14. The bill is another response to the Washington State Supreme Court’s Blake decision. The bill increases spending for diversion and treatment programs, creates a task force within the Health Care Authority to examine the behavioral health system, and recommends changes to create infrastructure and remove barriers to treatment. Goodman is leading a workgroup on the issue appointed by Speaker Laurie Jinkins. Several proposals have been introduced by members of both parties in the House and Senate.

Proponents of HB 1091 (Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle), the low carbon fuel standard, received bad news this week in a letter from five senators. In the letter, Senators Mullet, Cleveland, Van De Wege, Conway, and Hasegawa pledged to block the bill unless the House accepts major changes they made to the bill when it passed on the Senate floor:

  1. Ensure that this policy does not dramatically increase the cost of fuel, which is a burden that will likely fall on consumers and disproportionately impact those who can least afford it.
  2. Ensure that Washington State benefits from the jobs created by the additional money that will be spent by consumers on low carbon fuels. This includes new biofuel facilities in Washington and an assurance that some of the crops used to make those fuels come from our state.
  3. The bill must maintain a link to the transportation package.
  4. Maintain the legislative review beyond the 10% threshold so that elected officials can weigh the efficiency of the policy after implementation.

Proponents say these changes make the bill unworkable. The bill passed 27-20, with 2 Republicans excused, so Majority Democrats cannot afford to lose 5 votes on concurrence.

The House concurred on Senate amendments to HB 1323 (Tharinger, D-Sequim) this week, sending the bill to Governor Inslee. The bill makes changes to the state’s new Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program, which was established in 2019 and will be funded through payroll deductions paid by working Washingtonians. The program is the nation’s first public state-operated long term care insurance program. Beginning January 2022, employees will pay $0.58 per $100 of their wages into the program, with no cap. Three years later, the program will begin providing a $100/day benefit to eligible beneficiaries, with a lifetime benefit of $36,500. Benefits could pay for professional care at home or nursing facilities, care by family members, home-delivered meals, dementia support, and adaptive equipment. HB 1323 would require employees who choose not to participate in the LTSS Trust Program to affirm they have a long-term care insurance plan before November 1, 2021; requires self-employed persons who wish to participate to do so by January, 2025 or within three years of becoming self-employed for the first time; directs DSHS and the ESD to conduct outreach to provide employers with educational materials to ensure employees are aware of the LTSS Trust program and the deductions that will begin on January 1, 2022; allows individuals who were disabled before the age of 18 to be eligible for the LTSS Trust Program; authorizes federally recognized tribes to elect for its employees to participate in the program; directs the LTSS Trust Commission to work with insurers to develop long-term care insurance products that supplement the LTSS Trust Program’s benefit.

In a move to further the state’s efforts to properly manage forest health and reduce wildfires, the Legislature passed a bill that will invest hundreds of millions of dollars into new programs. HB 1168 (Springer, D–Kirkland), passed the House and Senate unanimously and now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature. The bill establishes legislative intent to provide $500 million over the next four biennia to fund forest health and wildfire response activities. Proposed state budgets include $125 million for this biennium. The state will deposit the funds into the Wildfire Response, Forest Restoration, and Community Resilience Account to support certain wildfire preparedness, prevention, and protection activities. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be required to report every two years on how the account funds are used. Additionally, the bill directs DNR to implement several initiatives relating to forest health and wildfire response including additional mapping, forest health, workforce development, small forest landowner forest health, and wildland fire aviation support.

On Friday, April 16, the House Finance committee voted out a striker to the capital gains bill, SB 5096 (Robinson, D-Everett) on a party-line vote of 11-6. Among other changes, the striker directs the proceeds from the tax to be deposited into the Education Legacy Trust Account to fund early learning and childcare programs, rather than funding the working families tax credit. While the striker did not reinstate the emergency clause, it adds a section saying the tax is “necessary for the support of state government and its existing institutions.”

With a little over one week remaining in the 2021 session, the House and Senate will largely remain behind closed virtual doors as bill and budget negotiations continue, emerging to vote on concurrence.  The 2021 Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Sunday, April 25.

Brynn Brady

Ceiba Consulting | Martin Flynn Public Affairs, Inc.