Source: The Seattle Times
OLYMPIA — The Washington Legislature approved a new $52.4 billion two-year state operating budget funded by a revenue package of more than $830 million in new or higher taxes. And it passed a slew of policy bills on topics ranging from affirmative action to vaccines and clean energy to human composting.
Despite holding a majority in the state House and Senate, Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee couldn’t find the consensus to pass one of their biggest priorities, a new tax on capital gains.
In their final hour, lawmakers struck a deal to pass Senate Bill 5313, which raises the cap on how much school districts can raise from local tax levies. The compromise came at least in part in exchange for privacy guarantees sought by Republicans in Senate Bill 6025 for people participating in Washington’s bump-stock buyback program.
Here’s a look at what happened to some proposals of note during the 105-day session:
Long-term care: Lawmakers approved House Bill 1087, which creates the nation’s first employee-paid program for an insurance benefit to help offset the costs of long-term care. The bill creates a benefit for those who pay into the program, with a lifetime maximum of $36,500 per person, indexed to inflation, paid for by an employee payroll premium. Premiums will start being collected from employees in 2022 and benefits could start in 2025.
Human compost: Senate Bill 5001, allowing a burial alternative known as “natural organic reduction” has passed the Legislature and awaits Inslee’s signature. The process is accelerated decomposition that turns bodies into soil within weeks. If signed by Inslee, the new law would take effect May 1, 2020. Washington will become the first in the nation to offer such an option.
Vaccine exemptions: House Bill 1638 to remove the philosophical exemption for the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine awaits Inslee’s signature. The bill was introduced amid a measles outbreak in the state that sickened 74 people.
Clean energy: A measure that seeks to eliminate fossil fuels such natural gas and coal from the state’s electricity supply by 2045, Senate Bill 5116, awaits Inslee’s signature. The bill is a key piece of the governor’s climate agenda. The measure would require utilities to eliminate coal as an energy source by the end of 2025 as the first step toward a goal of providing carbon-free electricity by 2045.
Sexual harassment: After a year in which four state lawmakers either lost an election or resigned amid sexual-misconduct allegations, the Washington Legislature passed House Bill 2018, which makes harassment a violation of the state’s Ethics in Public Service Act. Lawmakers also approved Senate Bill 5861, which requires that lobbyists be trained on the Legislature’s code of conduct.
Daylight-saving time: With House Bill 1196, Washington will make daylight saving time permanent in the state if federal law changes to allow it. While federal law allows states to opt into standard time permanently — which Hawaii and Arizona have done — the reverse is banned and requires congressional action. More than 30 states this year considered legislation related to the practice of changing clocks twice a year.
Presidential primary: Inslee, a Democratic candidate for president, has signed Senate Bill 5273, which moves the state’s presidential primary from May to March. Next year’s primary will now be held on the second Tuesday in March.
Smoking age: Washington became the ninth state to raise its smoking age. Along with restricting traditional cigarettes, House Bill 1074 raises the legal age in January 2020 for buying e-cigarettes and other vaping products whether or not they include nicotine, and sets a penalty for selling to underage buyers. Inslee signed the measure last month.
Health-care public option: Senate Bill 5526 creating a public health insurance option in Washington cleared the Legislature and awaits Inslee’s signature. Dubbed Cascade Care, the proposal would start a state-contracted individual insurance option for purchase on the state’s insurance exchange by 2021. Backers say rate caps for doctors will make the plans cheaper than insurance from private companies.
Statute of limitation for prosecution: A measure significantly extending time limits for prosecuting sexual assault and modifying the definition of sexual consent was signed by Inslee last month. It removes the statute of limitations for the most serious sex crimes against children, and extends limits for older victims to as much as 20 years.
Senate Bill 5649 alters consent rules by removing active resistance from the definition of third-degree rape: Instead the definition is modified to mean sex without consent — given by words or action — from the victim.
Tenant protections: Lawmakers approved a package of tenant protections that extends eviction notices from three days to 14, bans eviction for nonpayment of fees, and requires that payments go to rent before fees. Senate Bill 5600 also gives new power to judges, allowing them to temporarily block evictions based on factors including a tenant’s good-faith effort to pay. It waits for Inslee’s signature.
Affirmative action: Lawmakers approved Initiative 1000, a plan to allow state agencies and schools to consider factors like race in hiring, and engage in targeted recruitment. As an initiative to the Legislature, lawmakers approved it themselves without sending it to a vote. Opponents are gathering signatures to override the approval and force a popular vote.
Seattle teaching hospital: Lawmakers approved plans for a new behavioral health teaching hospital run by the University of Washington in Seattle, with capacity for 150 patients. A prominent part of Inslee’s plans to address the state’s mental-health crisis, the goal of the facility is to boost the state’s workforce of trained behavioral health professionals.
Mental-health network: A plan from Inslee and lawmakers in both parties to create a network of community behavioral health facilities around the state cleared the Legislature, with the goal of eventually allowing patients discharged or diverted from larger facilities to be treated closer to their homes. The proposal would shift how mental and behavioral health care are delivered by shifting capacity away from Eastern and Western State, the two main state-run psychiatric hospitals.
Criminal justice: Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 5288, which removes the crime of second-degree robbery from the state’s three-strikes conviction statute. Under that law, people convicted three times of certain crimes get life in prison without the possibility of release.
Legislators also passed House Bill 1041, which includes several components intended to make it easier for people who have served their sentence to rebuild their lives in the community. Among other things, the bill expands the types of felonies that can in some scenarios be vacated, or wiped from a criminal record, to include second-degree robbery and second- and third-degree assault.
Data privacy: Senate Bill 5376 to allow consumers to learn about data stored about them, correct errors or request deletion died in the House after meeting resistance from both industry groups and privacy advocates who said it didn’t go far enough. The measure also proposed rules for facial recognition technology.
Death penalty: Twin proposals to formally end Washington’s death penalty stalled in the state House. The state’s Supreme Court earlier unanimously struck down capital punishment as arbitrary and racially biased, but the proposals sought to make the ruling permanent by removing capital punishment from state law and substituting life sentences instead. Execution was already extremely rare in Washington, and a governor-imposed moratorium has blocked its use since 2014.
Low-carbon fuels: House Bill 1110, which would have required fuel producers and importers to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions associated with gasoline and other transportation fuels died in the state Senate. The idea had been a key part of Inslee’s legislative agenda, but met opposition from Republicans and fuel businesses.
Mandatory sex education: A proposal for universal, all-grade sex education stalled in the House after contentious debate. Senate Bill 5395 would have required schools to include teaching about issues including affirmative consent and how to recognize abusive relationships, according to state learning standards for each grade. Inflammatory remarks marked the debate, centering around accusations that it would foist inappropriate material on young children, although in fact restricted topics such as reproduction, STDs, or puberty, to older students.
Sexual harassment: An internal work group in the state House in December recommended legislation to create an independent office to accept and review workplace complaints at the Legislature. The group — which included legislative staffers, lobbyists House lawmakers — recommended for that office to be established by July 2019.
Plastic bags, straws: Proposals to restrict the use of carry-out plastic bags at retail stores, and to prohibit single-use straws at restaurants except by customer request, stalled in each chamber. The measures were intended to cut down on waste and reduce water pollution.