Week of February 14-18, 2022
With the clock ticking down to cutoffs, the majority Democratic leadership makes difficult decisions about which bills will be prioritized to pass and which will fail not just for lack of votes, but for the simple scarcity of time. After all, the only strategy minority Republicans can employ to kill bills is to run down the clock, speaking on as many amendments as they can write. There are always more bills than hours to debate them, and even bills with no significant problems frequently die in a process that is designed to fail bills. When leadership advances a policy they know will take hours of Floor time the day before cutoff, it must be one of great importance to the caucus. Such was the case with HB 1630 (Senn, D-41) on Monday, February 14. The bill prohibits open carry of firearms and other weapons at city and county council meetings, and both open and concealed carry at school board meetings and ballot counting centers and makes violations a gross misdemeanor. After 4 hours of daylight debate, the bill passed on a party-line vote and now heads to the Senate.
But HB 1630 was a mere endurance warm-up for the night ahead. After the dinner break on Valentine’s Day, the House settled in to debate HB 1837 (Bronoske, D-28), the bill that repeals restrictions on the regulation of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomics under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act. Fifteen amendments and 9 hours later, the bill passed 50-48 at 6:24am, with 7 swing Democrats voting against it. This bill is a top priority for the labor community and is strongly opposed by the Building Industry Association of Washington, the Washington Food Industry Association, the Association of Washington Business, and other business organizations. The bill’s sponsor picked up a Republican challenger last week in Susanna Keilman.
Legislation that did not Advance
House members introduced 602 new bills this session and passed 215 off the House floor by 5pm on Tuesday. Senators introduced 546 new bills, 222 of which were approved before cutoff. And while no concept is truly dead until Sine Die, several notable policies did not die due to time constraints, but because they failed to garner enough votes to move past the 5pm cutoff on Tuesday. Some of these dead bills include 5843 (Governor Inslee’s bill to prevent officials from making false statements about the legitimacy of an election), 1782 (middle housing), and 1810 (right to repair). The bill that could have granted legislative staff the right to collectively bargain also failed to advance. In response, more than 100 House and Senate Democratic staff members called in sick on Wednesday.
On Monday, February 14, the Senate passed Governor-request SB 5662 (Kuderer, D-48), a bill that creates the Office of Intergovernmental Coordination on Public Right-of-Way Homeless Encampments within the Department of Social and Health Services, with the goal of reducing the number of encamped persons on certain public rights-of-way through transition to a permanent housing solution. The public right of way includes encampments along sidewalks, below overpasses and bridges, alongside I-5 and state highways, and any other right-of-way under the control of the Washington State Department of Transportation. The bill also requires the Department of Commerce to collaborate with the office to develop and implement a statewide effort to reduce the number of persons encamped on certain public rights-of-way, and to provide grants to local governments or nonprofit organizations to meet the individual needs of encamped persons and facilitate their transition to permanent housing. The state estimates there are more than 1,750 unsanctioned homeless camps on public rights-of-way managed by state agencies. While supporters applaud the $815 million attached to the bill, some detractors have argued that the funding is insufficient to address the problem. The legislation passed with bipartisan support, 36-12, and now heads to the House.
Gubernatorial Emergency Powers
On the afternoon of Tuesday, February 15, hours before the house of origin floor cutoff, the Senate debated SB 5909 (Randall, D-26), the emergency powers bill. Over the course of several hours, Republicans, who find the underlying bill underwhelming, offered several amendments that would have made it easier for the legislature to curb the governor’s emergency powers, but all were rejected. The bill passed 29-20 with Republican Senators Hawkins and Sefzik voting in favor.
Government Revenue Forecasts
The bicameral Economic and Revenue Forecast Council said this week that tax collections have risen by an additional $5 billion. Overall tax revenue stands at $61.7 billion. On Monday, Senate Democrats will release their proposed supplemental budget at 8 a.m. with House Democrats releasing theirs at noon. Public hearings will also take place Monday.
Hiring Disclosure Requirements
Also on Wednesday, February 16, the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee heard 5761 (Randall, D-26) which requires employers with 15 or more employees to disclose salary information and a description of expected benefits in job postings. Current law requires the disclosure to happen when the job is offered. The bill is opposed by the Washington Retail Association and the Association of Washington Business. Both organizations contend the law could be cumbersome and could result in disclosure of propriety info. Supporters of the bill call it an equity issue and argue many candidates spend hours going through rounds of interviews only to find out the offered pay is too low.
High-Capacity Magazine Bill
In what is likely a record, 17,251 people signed in on Wednesday morning to register their opinions on SB 5078 (Liias, D-21), the high-capacity magazine bill. The ease with which the public can now participate in the legislative process cannot be overstated. Washington has likely seen the last of hundreds being a significant number of sign-ins on a contentious bill.
Coronavirus Restrictions to Ease
Governor Inslee held a much-anticipated press conference on Thursday, February 17 to announce the end of the indoor mask mandate in Washington. While he will not be lifting the emergency orders, which allow the state to access federal funds, vaccine verification or proof of a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be required for attendance at large events as of March 1.
And as of March 21, masks will no longer be required in:
- Schools, childcare facilities, libraries
- Restaurants and bars
- Houses of worship
- Grocery stores, businesses, and retail establishments
Masks will continue to be required in:
- Healthcare facilities including hospitals, outpatient, dental facilities, and pharmacies
- Long-term care settings
- Public transit, taxis, rideshare vehicles and school buses (federal requirement)
- Correctional facilities
- Private businesses and local governments that want to require masks for their employees, customers, or residents
State Department of Health officials will release updated guidance for K-12 schools during the week of March 6 to help schools prepare for the transition.
February 24 – Opposite House Policy Cutoff
February 28 – Opposite House Fiscal Cutoff
March 4 – Opposite House Floor Cutoff
March 10 – Sine Die