E-Newsletter: Time is getting short…

March 5, 2022

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

The end of the 2022 legislative session is less than a week away, and yesterday brought the last of the major deadlines for acting on bills. With the exception of budget-related legislation, the Senate is officially done voting on House bills for the year, and vice versa for the House when it comes to Senate bills.

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I emphasize “officially” because something could always pop up, but our focus from now through March 10 will be on seeing if agreement can be reached on bills that were passed by one chamber but then changed by the other.

This stage is called “concurrence,” and it can go in a few different directions. If the first chamber decides to go along (“concur”) with changes made by the other chamber, the bill goes on to the governor for consideration. If the first chamber doesn’t concur, one of two things generally happens. Either the second chamber lets go of its changes and agrees to pass the bill as approved by the first, or the two chambers fail to reach any final agreement, in which case the bill is “dead.”

There’s one other path available in the case of disputes between the two chambers, which is to appoint legislators from each chamber to a “conference committee,” which then works to reach an agreement. The conference process isn’t as transparent, and unfortunately I suspect we’ll see the majority use it more this year than is warranted.

I am beyond grateful to report that my Senate Bill 5612 will be on its way to the governor’s desk soon. It received a unanimous “yes” from the House yesterday afternoon, to go with the unanimous vote from the Senate on January 28. The law created by this legislation will allow victims of domestic violence and the survivors of DV victims to speak or deliver a message in court at the time of sentencing – which will be an important part of the healing process for victims and their families. There is a direct line from the passage of the Tiffany Hill Act in 2020 to the successful outcome for this legislation today, and I sense some real momentum across the Legislature for more progress on DV issues. There is certainly more work to be done, and I’m determined to keep going!

Democrats derail their own emergency-powers bill
It appears Gov. Jay Inslee’s ability to control the lives of Washington residents will continue unchanged, now that the Democrat-controlled House has allowed Senate Bill 5909 to die at yesterday’s 5 p.m. deadline. The bill was brought to the House floor at around 1 a.m. Friday, but following 20 minutes of debate the measure was set aside… and never returned.

After the Senate’s majority Democrats ignored the real reforms in my SB 5039 and SB 5943, their SB 5909 was the only bill under consideration that could change Washington’s emergency-powers law, but Republicans have made the case that the Democrats’ bill would have no practical benefit for the people. It’s one of those times when nothing is better than something, because the “something” would be so weak. By ending the House debate on the bill, the majority kept Republicans from hammering that point again and again.

Last evening a House Democrat made the ridiculous claim that the bill died because of a “Republican filibuster” — as though the debate lasted all night long instead of only 20 minutes. Beware of more political “spin” like that as the majority tries to justify its complete lack of action.

Supplemental budgets still need to be resolved
Other than concurrence votes, budgets are usually the only major things still undecided during the final week of a session. The Senate and House majorities have already adopted their own supplements to the operating, capital and transportation budgets adopted in 2021. The two chambers have already gone to conference on the transportation budget, and I’m confident the same will happen with the other two.

The question is whether the majority will involve the Republican budget leaders in the conferences or not. I should be at the table on the supplemental operating budget, being the Republican budget leader, but, judging from last year’s experience, I won’t expect to be invited until the day AFTER everything has already been negotiated. 

As for the content of the operating budget, there is no reason to think any final version negotiated by the Senate and House in conference will be noticeably friendlier to taxpayers than what was passed by the Senate a week ago.

The real tax relief in the Senate budget was limited to a business-tax exemption that takes in more mom-and-pop businesses, and a tax exemption for diapers. The diaper-tax exemption IS significant, as it applies to both baby and adult diapers and would save families around $35 million annually – but is that all the people of Washington get from a $15 BILLION surplus?

Democrats’ new transportation proposal is still on the move
The majority party still seems determined to pass a $16 billion package of transportation projects that would be paid for with a list of higher fees, on unavoidable purchases like driver’s licenses and license plates, and proceeds from the “cap-and-tax” climate legislation passed in 2021. The export gas tax that angered Oregon and other states was reportedly going to be taken out of Senate Bill 5974 (the funding bill), but the version passed by the House didn’t exactly do that. This bill has been pushed to a conference committee to settle the differences.

The project list (found in Senate Bill 5975) has nothing for Clark County except a billion dollars promised for the replacement of the I-5 bridge between Washington and Oregon. That’s a big project and a lot of money, but I’ve seen other transportation-spending commitments fall short. Can we really count on those dollars when the time comes?

Majority sets up court battle over Second Amendment rights
It seems like every day brings another report of a shooting-related death or injury from western Washington’s largest cities. Instead of focusing on the factors behind that violence, the majority has chosen to pass legislation that would offer a false sense of security. I’m referring to SB 5078, which would essentially ban firearm magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It was passed by 55 Democrats in the House late last night, after a debate that lasted more than six hours.

As I reported after the Senate Democrats approved the bill in February, there would be exceptions, like “grandfathering” for those who own such magazines before the effective date of in the law. Still, it’s amazing how my Democratic colleagues – cheered on by our state’s attorney general – can’t seem to understand how little this limit will mean to people with criminal intent. It’s also another example of how the majority is looking to legislate through the courts, passing bills that clearly seem to be unconstitutional and hoping the judicial branch will rule a certain way.

House bills on schools, firearms, elections signal majority’s priorities
The vast majority of bills passed during a legislative session – probably 4 of every 5, if I was to count – are approved with a vote that is very bipartisan, and often unanimous. It’s proof that Republicans and Democrats agree on many issues that come before us. By definition, then, the remaining 20% of bills are what really show the differences of opinion between the two sides.

The Senate’s voting on House bills this week showed examples of both. Like House Bill 1784, which is now headed to the governor after receiving a unanimous “yes” vote yesterday. It basically says you won’t get a traffic citation if your rear license plate can’t be seen due to a wheelchair lift or wheelchair carrier; a trailer being towed; a bicycle rack, ski rack, or luggage rack; and so on. We see many bills like this every year – simple, sensible changes in the law.

Thursday night’s voting on the Senate floor lasted until just in Friday morning, and the “support funding” bill was among the last bills on the list. Those of us on the budget committee are also working today (Saturday), as the final day of the session is March 10 and there is still plenty to do.

Another example is HB 1664, a bill with a huge cost (more than $500 million for two years) that also does something simple: increase the minimum allocations for nurses, social workers, psychologists, and counselors in public schools. We passed that very late Thursday night, with a near-unanimous vote. I supported the bill, even though it doesn’t get at the pandemic-related learning loss the way I had hoped to see. Unfortunately the Democrats would not allow votes on SB 5922 and SB 5979, which would have put more resources into tutoring, and more resources into special needs and other specific aspects of K-12, all while lowering local property taxes.

Here are a few examples of controversial House bills that moved forward without bipartisan support:

“Ghost” students: HB 1590’s title is “enrollment stabilization,” which is code for funding schools at an artificial level, counting empty desks as though students are still seated in them.

Money is allocated to school districts on a caseload basis, so when enrollments go up or down, so does the per-pupil funding from Olympia. If state education policies or local district decisions have driven parents and their children away, well… the majority Democrats apparently don’t think there should be funding consequences. Let’s just pretend those students didn’t leave and allocate money as though they’re still enrolled! That will do nothing to rebuild the trust that has been broken between the people and government. After a very long debate Thursday night this passed 28-21 – a caucus-line vote.

Going after the firearm, not the criminal: I believe stolen firearms are far more cause for concern than “untraceable” firearms, the subject of HB 1705, but the majority seems really troubled by the idea that someone would assemble a firearm from separate pieces – as though the only people who do that have criminal intent.

Now guess what happened when Republicans, who want to reestablish public safety across our state, offered an amendment that would mean an extra year of confinement to a person convicted of committing a crime with an untraceable firearm. The majority said no!

Is this bill just about hassling people who like to build things themselves? It squeaked through on a 26-23 vote Tuesday night, meaning a couple of majority members wouldn’t even bring themselves to support the measure.

An insult to voters: Our Democratic colleagues clearly don’t trust the people to figure out for themselves how to vote on ballot initiatives. Why else would they insist on passing HB 1876, which would add a “public investment impact disclosure” to the ballot? This so-called explanation would be written by the state attorney general’s office, in consultation with the governor’s budget office. Does that sound non-partisan to you?

During our debate on this bill Wednesday night, the majority claimed it’s about transparency. If so, why reject our amendment to also let voters know the attorney general’s party affiliation? Or our amendment to waive the disclosure when the “public investment” is required by the constitution, the way funding for basic education is? With this bill the majority is creating opportunities to mislead voters intentionally, and doing nothing to rebuild trust. It passed 26-22, meaning there was no Republican support.

“Environmental resiliency,” whatever THAT is: Since 1990, land use in our state has been heavily regulated by the Growth Management Act. All these years later, it’s obvious that the GMA has had much to do with the lack of affordable housing in our state, yet the majority party has treated the law like it’s untouchable… unless, that is, there’s a reason that interests the majority, like climate policy.

As passed by the House, HB 1099 is a very complex bill that was essentially about tying land-use planning to the state’s goals about air quality and “vehicle miles traveled,” using language like “environmental resiliency” and “appropriate development standards for residential development.” Does that sound to you like a path toward housing that is more affordable, especially new construction? I was glad to see the Senate adopt a Republican amendment that dials back the extreme parts of the bill, but it’s still cause for concern, as indicated by the final 31-16 vote Wednesday night. Let’s see if the House goes along with the changes we made.

Yours in service,

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