Week of February 7-13, 2022

The legislative session has reached the halfway point.  Both the Senate and House now allow twice as many members on the Floor with just a few voting remotely. Lawmakers are now spending long days and nights in caucus and voting on the floor to meet the Tuesday, February 15, deadline for bills to be voted out of their house of origin.

COVID Restrictions

This week Governor Inslee held a press conference to announce the end of the outdoor mask mandate on February 18. He also foreshadowed a press conference where he is expected to announce a date to lift the indoor mask mandate. Hours later, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal announced he plans to recommend to Inslee and the Department of Health that the mask mandate for K-12 students be dropped and the decision for the option returned to local public health officials. The Washington Education Association however urged a cautious approach, citing staffing shortages resulting from current exposures. The Randall (D-26) Emergency Powers Bill, SB 5909, has not yet been heard on the Senate floor.

Transportation Package Announced

On Tuesday, February 8, Senate and House Democrats unveiled their $16 billion, 16-year “Move Ahead Washington” transportation revenue package. The package proposes to spend:

  • $3.1 billion on transit programs
  • $3 billion on highway preservation and maintenance
  • $2.6 billion to fulfill the state’s court-ordered obligation to replace fish passage culverts
  • $1.3 billion on building four new hybrid electric ferries and electrifying two existing ships
  • $1.2 billion to promote walking, biking, and using public transportation to get to school

Where previous packages included gas tax increases, this plan does not increase gas taxes and receives a large portion of its funding – $5.4 billion – from a cap-and-trade system signed into law in 2021. Other revenue sources include:

  • $3.4 billion from the Federal Infrastructure Investment & Jobs
  • $2 billion from the state operating budget
  • $2 billion from a new 6-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel exported to states with a lower gas tax rate than Washington

Because Majority Democrats did not propose using bonds to pay for the package, a supermajority of the Legislature will not be required for passage. Minority Republicans have expressed frustration that they haven’t had input on what in the past has been a bipartisan process. Majority Democrats contend that in a short session year, they needed to have agreement among themselves to ensure a package could move this year. Since Republicans do not support the cap-and-trade program, Democrats contend meaningful bipartisan support could not happen. The revenue bill, SB 5974, was heard this week and is scheduled for executive action on Monday, February 14.

Use of Force Legislation

The Senate worked late into the night on Wednesday, passing several high-profile bills. Attorney General request legislation SB 5078 (Liias, D-21) prohibits, except in certain situations, the manufacture, distribution, importation, or sale of large capacity magazines. Republican Senators proposed 19 amendments, only one of which was adopted. The bill faces a steep climb in the House where in 2020, a similar bill failed to advance after Republicans proposed 123 amendments which could have taken days to debate. SB 5078 is scheduled for public hearing on Wednesday, February 16 and executive session on Friday, February 18.

SB 5919 (Van De Wege, D-24), also voted on late Wednesday night, adds definitions related to the police use of physical force, amends when a peace officer may use physical force, and amends the standard for reasonable care. A Wagoner amendment was adopted that allows a vehicular pursuit when failing to apprehend or identify the person is considered to be a greater safety risk than the pursuit. The bill as passed on the floor also includes an emergency clause, meaning the bill will take effect upon Governor Inslee signing it into law (barring a veto action) and precludes a referendum vote of the people. The entire Senate Republican caucus supported the bill and 18 Democrats voted against it.

The House of Representatives took up their police physical force bill on Saturday, February 12. HB 2037 (Goodman, D-45) modifies the standard for use of physical force by police officers by defining “physical force” and authorizing police officers to use physical force in additional specific circumstances. It passed 87-11 with 9 Democrats voting against it. HB 2037, like SB 5919, is generally supported by leadership and the law enforcement community but is strongly opposed by the families of people who have died during police interactions. Like SB 5919, the bill contains an emergency clause.

School Meals

Legislation to expand the number of schools that offer free meals to all students passed the House on Thursday nearly unanimously. HB 1878 (Riccelli, D-3) requires and provides funding for schools to participate in the USDA’s Community Eligibility Program (CEP) if eligible under USDA rules. CEP allows schools with a certain percent of students whose households receive assistance to apply for community eligibility which provides funding to serve free meals to all the students at that school. This bill would expand the program to an additional 626 schools and over 92,000 students and requires the state to cover excess costs of implementing the program.

Washington Voting Rights Act

On a party line vote, the Senate passed SB 5597 on Thursday, a bill which updates the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA), which became law in 2018. It requires jurisdictions making changes to voting practices to get preclearance to ensure the changes are compliant with state law, including redistricting, adding at-large seats to a governing body, or changes to the plan of government. The bill makes it easier to bring a WVRA claim by ensuring the claimants can recover costs of up to $50,000 when a jurisdiction voluntarily acts in response to a letter even if no lawsuit ensues. The bill also establishes a database at the University of Washington to help jurisdictions, researchers, and members of the public understand which jurisdictions should contemplate changing their form of elections. Additionally, it allows all counties to expand county commissions from three to five members to remedy potential WVRA violations.

Workforce Bills

This week the Senate passed several bills that supporters hope will help improve career pathways. SB 5892 (Brown, R-8) establishes pilot projects to address the nursing workforce shortage and promote nursing careers in rural hospitals by using high school student certified nursing assistant (CNA) programs. The bill received unanimous support and has been scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday, February 16. SB 5764 (Randall, D-26), and SB 5600 (Keiser, D-33) the apprenticeship bills, also passed off the Senate floor this week and now head to the House.

Ghost Guns

At 12:26am on Friday morning the House passed HB 1705 (Berry, D-36) which 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.

State Energy Code

Shortly before 2am Sunday morning, the House passed Governor-request HB 1770 (Duerr, D-1). The bill updates the minimum State Energy Code requirements for residential and nonresidential construction and requires that new buildings be net-zero ready. Republicans and moderate Democrats are critical of the policy which they say will price homebuyers out of the market. Supportive Democrats contend the bill will save homeowners money over time. The bill passed 51-47 with five Democrats voting nay.

Healthcare Worker Minimum Staffing Standards

HB 1868 (Riccelli, D-3) passed during a rare Sunday afternoon floor session. The striker, an ongoing negotiation between the labor community and the Washington State Hospital Association, creates minimum staffing standards for nurses and healthcare workers in hospital settings. The striker was amended to remove the private course of action. The bill passed 55-43 with three Democrats voting against it. Directly after that vote, the House passed HB 2007 (Slatter, D-48) nearly unanimously, establishing the Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program under the umbrella of the Washington Health Corps.

Looking Ahead

Closely watched bills that may run Monday or Tuesday before the House of Origin floor cutoff include those related to ergonomics, middle housing, transportation network companies, organized retail crime, and firearms. After the Tuesday cutoff, both chambers will return to committee work in advance of the next deadline, February 24.

Important Dates

  • 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