The 2019 session of the Washington Legislature is in full swing, with lawmakers considering thousands of bills. February 22nd was a key deadline for bills to pass out of their policy committee; any which did not get committee approval are considered dead (except the ones that aren’t, there are still ways to revive them). From there, bills with a financial implication are routed through a fiscal committee (Senate Ways and Means; House Appropriations) before going to the floor of their house of origin. Bills must clear their house of origin by March 13 before moving to be considered by the other house. This year’s session is set to end April 28.
Here is a roundup of bills moving through the Legislature that may be of interest to Capitol Hill with a focus on efforts from our state elected including Sen. Jamie Pedersen and Rep. Nicole Macri.
Anyone interested in discussing these, or any other bills, with Capitol Hill’s legislators can attend a town hall with the District 43 lawmakers at 1:30 PM March 16 at First Seattle Baptist Church:
- Statewide secure scheduling: Rep. Macri is the prime sponsor of legislation that would “ensure that people who work for large fast food, coffee, restaurant, and retail chains in Washington get schedules that are more predictable and balanced.” Macri says, “I’m working closely with business and labor representatives to find the best way forward to support workers and ease impacts on businesses.” The bill would is modeled after Seattle’s law and would help eliminate things like “clopenings” — when a worker works a late-night closing shift and is also directed to work a early-morning opening shift with only a few hours in between.
- Baby steps toward universal health care: A Senate bill that would create a work group to study ways to provide universal health care for Washington residents has passed out of committee and is heading to Ways and Means. SB 5822 would convene the group and ask it to report back to the Legislature with its findings by Nov. 15, 2020. Its companion bill in the house has also passed out of committee.
A bigger Voice in Presidential elections: In 2016, Washington’s presidential primaries were both confusing and irrelevant, in 2020, they might be only confusing. SB 5273 would move the date of Washington’s primary up from the fourth Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March, a week after the so-called Super Tuesday. This could mean that Washington voters get a chance to weigh in on presidential nominees when it still matters. In 2016, Republicans allotted their delegates to the national convention based on the results of the May primary, but by then the GOP had already decided on Trump. Democrats held a May primary (which Hillary Clinton won), but sent delegates based on the results of a caucus (which Bernie Sanders had won two months earlier). Moving the date up could at least help Washington Republicans have a say in their party’s nominee. The bill cannot, however, force a party to use the results of the primary, meaning Democrats could continue to caucus to decide how to award their delegates. Either way, the bill is on track. It’s already passed out of the full Senate (Capitol Hill’s Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D) voted in favor), and has made it out of committee in the house. A full house vote has not yet been scheduled.
- Clearing some records: A bill that could allow some people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession to have their records cleaned is making its way through the house. HB 1500 would allow people who had been convicted of possession of marijuana, but otherwise have a clean criminal record, to have the conviction vacated. The Washington State patrol has estimated that more than a quarter million people could qualify to have their records cleaned as a result of the bill. The bill has passed out of committee and is making its way to the full house.
- Death penalty: It has been nearly a decade since the last person was put to death by the State of Washington. Legislation passed the Senate in February to repeal the death penalty in the state. Now it must pass the House. “I believe that the time has come for our state to put an end to capital punishment, which is expensive, morally problematic, and inconsistently applied,” Pedersen says.
- Ghost of McCleary: Last year, the state made major revisions to the way it funded education in order to comply with the court’s McCleary decision. This year, it’s looking to revise the revisions. The changes implemented last year dramatically increased state property taxes to pay for education. At the same time, it capped local school taxes, which are supposed to go only toward “extras.” In Seattle those “extras” include things like janitors and school nurses, which the state doesn’t sufficiently fund. SB 5313 would punch a hole in the local property tax cap, meaning higher taxes here in Seattle. The bill has revived many of the issues surrounding McCleary. Supporters say if localities are willing to pay more for education of their children, they should be able to. Opponents note that one of the points of McCleary was that children living in poorer, or tax-averse areas, were not getting as good an education. This bill, they say, could restore that situation. Seattle Schools anticipated a bill like this in the levy vote that happened earlier this month. The amount approved by voters was actually higher than the district could legally collect. With this change in the law, the district will be able to collect, if not the full amount, at least one closer to what voters approved. The bill passed out of committee in the Senate, Pedersen voted for it, and is on its way to Ways and Means.
- Get those shots: A bill that would remove the personal exemption from the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is moving ahead so far. In the wake of a measles outbreak in Clark County, the Legislature is looking to remove the options for a “personal or philosophical” objection to giving their child the MMR vaccine. HB 1638 would still leave the personal objection in place for the case of other vaccinations. It would also allow children to skip any shot, including MMR, if their parents have a religious objection, or they have a note from a doctor saying the child should not have the vaccine. The bill has passed out of committee (Capitol Hill’s Del. Nicole Macri (D) voted in favor) and is continuing on through the house.
- LGBTQ Commission: A bill to create a statewide LGBTQ commission, designate June as LGBTQ month, and set aside the fourth week in June (aka Pride) for celebrating LGBTQ contributions to the state is moving through the Senate. SB 5336 has cleared its first committee vote and is on its way to Ways and Means. Pedersen was a co-sponsor (Macri co-sponsored a companion bill in the house).
- Crosswalk traffic cameras: A bill that would expand the ways localities can use traffic cameras may yet get out of committee. HB 1793 would allow localities to use traffic cameras to ensure motorists stop when traffic is obstructed or at a crosswalk, that drivers don’t use bus only lanes, and that people don’t stop in areas marked for designated emergency vehicles or transit stops. Macri was a co-sponsor of the bill. Although the deadline has passed, the bill is scheduled to be discussed in committee Feb. 27.
- Who’s your second choice?: A bill that could allow ranked choice voting in local elections (including mayor, city council, school board and county council) has passed out of committee. HB 1722, co-sponsored by Macri (one of 27 co-sponsors (that’s a lot)), would allow – but not require – a jurisdictions to adopt a ranked-choice voting system. In such a system, voters look down the list of candidates and place them in order of preference. If no one reaches the threshold to be declared a winner, the person with the lowest vote total is dropped off, and then voters who selected that person as their first choice have their votes redistributed to their second choice. The process continues until someone wins. If approved, localities could choose to start using this method as soon as 2022.
- Condos could be coming: During the recent housing boom, some have noted that while apartment buildings have sprouted like dandelions, Condos have been left by the wayside. Some point to a state law which they say puts too much burden on developers when building condos. SB 5334, sponsored by Pedersen, loosens those regulations in an effort to spur more condo construction. Past rules had stated that developers were on the hook for any violation of laws in the buildings they constructed. The new standards say developers will still have to fix things, but that the problem is only considered a breach of warranty under some conditions. In a recent email to constituents, Pedersen characterized the bill as striking a better balance between builders and buyers. The bill passed unanimously out of committee and is awaiting a vote in the full Senate.
- Open Government: One bill, sponsored by Pedersen, that doesn’t look to move forward would have made changes to the state’s open records laws. In the early 70’s Washington voters decided to remind governments around that state that they work for the people, and the people might want to check in on what their employees are up to from time to time. They passed laws mandating that most government records be open to inspection. The Legislature had long claimed that, somehow, those laws don’t apply to them. A group of newspapers challenged that idea, and in late 2017, the courts agreed, forcing open things like emails and calendars. That decision is under appeal. During the last Legislative session, both the House and Senate passed a bill formally exempting themselves from most open records laws. The idea managed to overcome partisan rancor and a normally glacial legislative process, passing out of both houses in a mere 48 hours. After an avalanche of negative reactions, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the bill. This year, Pedersen sponsored SB 5784, a bill he characterized as a compromise, which would open many records, but not everything under the court decision. That bill also faced harsh criticism from the media and open government advocates, and Democrats are now saying it looks likely to die. Indeed, though it had a public hearing, it has not had, nor is it scheduled for, a committee vote.
- Alternatives to burial and cremation: Legislation that could expand options for the disposal of human remains passed the Senate earlier this month and was referred to appropriations in the House Friday. CHS reported on Capitol Hill-based Recompose, a startup poised to offer human composting.
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