Legislature convened January 10, floor action to be hybrid

The second year of the 67th biennium of the Washington State Legislature began Monday, January 10, under a familiar slate of COVID-19 protocols. Both the House and Senate began the session remotely with no public access to offices and both chambers are reassessing operations every two weeks in coordination with public health guidance. In both chambers, committee hearings will occur exclusively over Zoom and be broadcast on TVW, Washington’s public affairs channel. Floor action will be conducted in a hybrid format with most members participating remotely. Credentialed members of the press will be allowed in the galleries provided they have a negative test in the Senate and proof of vaccination in the House.

Opposition to COVID protocols

The shadow cast by the December COVID-19 death of Senator Doug Ericksen (R-42) has not deterred those opposed to the COVID-19 measures being taken in the Legislature. In November, four members of the House Republican Caucus sued the House chief clerk and 4 members of House Democratic Leadership over the rule requiring members to show vaccination cards to appear on the floor. Last month, a Thurston County judge declined to grant a preliminary injunction against the policy but allowed a suit to go forward.  In the suit, the four members of the House Republican Caucus contend the policy violates their First Amendment rights and other state and federal constitutional provisions.

House Democrats asked members to limit new bills

The immense technical hurdles involved in processing policy and budgets virtually in a 60-day session remain. Thus, majority House Democrats have again asked members to introduce no more than 7 new bills and chairs to limit the number of bills passed out of committee. Leadership has said that bills are more likely to be advanced if they “Serve Washingtonians Better, Strengthen Economic Well-Being, Advance Racial Equality and Justice, Address the Climate Crisis,” and have a clear path in the Senate and the Governor’s office. The Senate Democrats did not issue guidelines as they did last year.

Dems maintain control

In addition to the Governor’s mansion, Democrats will again control both the House and Senate. The House returns with 57 Democrats and 41 Republicans, and the Senate resumes with 29 Democrats and 20 Republicans. Both chambers will experience a shuffle of new members and positions:

  • Senator Jeanne Darneille (D-27) retired to take a job with the Department of Corrections and has been replaced by the Attorney General’s Legislative Director, Yasmin Trudeau.
  • Moderate Senator Steve Hobbs (D-44) was appointed by Governor Inslee to serve as Secretary of State, replacing Secretary Kim Wyman (R) who took a job with the Biden Administration.
  • Representative John Lovick (D-44) has been appointed to serve as Senator and community organizer and Navy Veteran Brandy Donaghy will replace Lovick in the House.

Diversity increases

The senator and representatives from the 44th made history as the first all-Black delegation. 2022 also sees the largest ever members-of-color caucus. A replacement for the late Senator Doug Ericksen was appointed Tuesday after the legislative session had already begun. The new Senator from the 42nd will be 22-year-old Simon Sefzik (R), the son of Jennifer Sefzik (R) who lost an expensive house race to Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-42) in 2020. Shewmake, who declared her Senate intentions in December, would face the younger Sefzik if he survives into the general election in 2022.

New chairs of committees

Senator Hobbs’ move to the Secretary of State’s office also means a new Senate Transportation Committee chair in environmentalist Senator Marko Liias (D-21). Liias will leave behind his role as floor leader. Jamie Pedersen will become floor leader, leaving behind his chairmanship of Senate Law & Justice committee. Senator Manka Dhingra (D-45) will be the new chair of Senate Law & Justice, and Senator David Frockt, who announced he will finish this term but not run in 2022, will become chair of the Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee. Senator Claire Wilson (D-31) will take retired Senator Darneille’s place as chair of Senate Human Services, Reentry & Rehabilitation Committee.

Redistricting impacts some legislators

The shuffling of members will continue this year with the conclusion of the work of the Redistricting Commission. Senator Ann Rivers (R-18), Senator Bob Hasegawa (D-11), Rep. Shelley Kloba (D-1), and Jeremie Dufault (R-15) have all been redistricted out of their current districts and after session will need to either move or run against incumbents in their new districts to remain in the Legislature. Rep. Vicki Kraft was also redistricted but she recently announced she will run for Congress in the 3rd.

Projected revenue increases

The Legislature returns to optimistic budget news. The November numbers presented by the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council showed that projected revenue collections for the 2021-23 budget cycle were $898 million above what had been originally forecast in September. Projections for the next budget cycle increased by more than $965 million. Compared to the March 2021 forecast, overall revenues increased $3.6 billion for the current biennium and $4.1 billion for the next.

Governor prioritizes homelessness, climate, salmon recovery

Governor Inslee’s budget proposal would spend $815 million in state and federal funds on homelessness efforts, $626 million on his climate proposals, and $187 on his salmon recovery plan. He also proposes a reinvestment of $900 million in K-12 savings seen due to declining enrollments during the pandemic to increase the number of school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists. Legislative budget writers will take these proposals into consideration in the coming months.

Washington Cares program

A top priority for majority Democrats and minority Republicans is taking a critical look at Washington’s Long-Term Care Trust Act and The WA Cares program, which was to be funded by a mandatory 0.58% work payroll deduction starting start Jan. 1 of this year. After great public outcry, Governor Jay Inslee and legislative leaders announced in mid-December an agreement to push back the payroll tax start date to allow lawmakers to address concerns about the new program. Key issues include: the limited opt-out option and the requirement of purchasing alternative, private long-term care insurance program; the 10-year “vesting” period, which meant that benefits would not be available to those nearing retirement; the residency requirement; the lifetime cap of $36,500, and the class-action lawsuit filed in federal court challenging the law on constitutional grounds. On Tuesday, January 11, the two bills that will seemingly serve as the House Democrats fix vehicles were heard in the House Appropriations Committee. HB 1732 (Sullivan, D-47) delays implementation until July 2023. HB1733 (Paul, D-10) establishes exemptions for certain veterans, spouses and registered domestic partners of military service members, nonimmigrant temporary workers, and employees who work in Washington and maintain a primary residence outside of Washington. Both bills were voted out of the committee on Thursday, January 13.

Modifications to police reforms

Another high priority for the returning legislature is making modifications to the package of police reforms passed in the 2021 session.  The two most controversial measures were E2SHB 1310 (Johnson, D-30), Concerning Permissible Uses of Force by Law Enforcement and Correctional Officers, and ESHB 1054 (Johnson, D-30), Establishing Requirements for Tactics and Equipment Used by Peace Officers. This session House majority members have sponsored several bills making changes to the 2021laws to provide clarity and guidance to law enforcement and the public. Three of these were heard by the House Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday, January 11. HB 1735 (Johnson, D-30) was relatively well-received by testifiers on both sides of the issue, clarifying that force can be used to provide assistance in circumstances involving involuntary treatment or evaluation under civil or forensic commitment laws. HB 1726 (Goodman, D-45) was not as well received. This bill modifies rules for using force to detain people as part of a criminal investigation or to protect against criminal conduct. It was opposed by law enforcement as well as police reform advocates.  Minority Republicans have sponsored other bills addressing vehicular pursuit (HB 1588, HB 1788), use of force (HB 1589, SB 5675), and assault of law enforcement officers (SB 5522).

State legal holidays also school holidays

On Monday, January 10, the State Government and Tribal Relations Committee heard HB 1617 (Morgan, D-29), a bill that requires state legal holidays also be school holidays, days on which school may not be taught. The bill builds on a 2021 Morgan bill that made Juneteenth a state legal holiday. Additionally, the committee heard HB 1485 (Caldier, R-26), legislation that would designate March 22 as a state legal holiday, recognized as Women’s Suffrage Day. State legal holidays are paid holidays for employees of the state and its political subdivisions.

Weapon-related legislation aimed at preventing violence

House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee heard an agenda of bills aimed at preventing violence from guns and other dangerous weapons on Wednesday, January 12. HB 1618 (Berg, D-44) prohibits weapons at election-related offices and facilities, and 1630 (Senn, D-41) prohibits weapons at school board meetings. HB 1705 (Berry, D-36) restricts the manufacture, assembly, sale, transfer, purchase, transport, receipt, or possession of untraceable homemade firearms or “ghost guns.” Current Washington law prohibits the manufacture, sale, or possession of undetectable firearms but doesn’t address untraceable homemade guns that allow people to circumvent background checks by purchasing components and assembling firearms at home.

Vaping-related legislation

On Thursday, January 13, the House Finance Committee heard HB 1676 (Harris, R-17) which replaces the variable milliliter tax on vapor products distributors with a vapor product excise tax of 33% of the selling price. Currently, vapor products are taxed differently based on whether the container is a refillable open tank ($.09/ml) or a closed cartridge ($.27/ml). Tax receipts fund additional tobacco and vapor use prevention and cessation programs and services. The bill is projected to increase state revenue by $3.6 million in 2023 and $21.6 million in the second biennium. The bill is opposed by the Washington Retail Association and the Association of Washington Business and is supported by public health advocates. Over 700 people signed in on this bill, 332 pro and 410 con.

Important Dates:

  • February 3 – House of Origin Policy Cutoff
  • February 7 – House of Origin Fiscal Cutoff
  • February 15 – House of Origin Floor Cutoff
  • February 24 – Opposite House Policy Cutoff
  • February 28 – Opposite House Fiscal Cutoff
  • March 4 – Opposite House Floor Cutoff
  • March 10 – Sine Die

Brynn Brady, Ceiba Consulting