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Legislative Highlights March 22-26, 2021

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Legislative Highlights March 22-26, 2021

Monday, March 22
The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee convened for a public hearing on House Bill 1213–also known as the ‘Fair Start for Kids Act’ –which expands access to affordable childcare and early childhood development programs. The bill proposes to decrease co-payments that low income families must pay for child care, via the Working Connections child care program.

The House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee also held a public hearing on House Bill 1552–an act that aims to prohibit the sale of personal data by state agencies to third parties. If passed, the bill would require these agencies to privately notify individuals about details regarding the collection of their personal data, where it might end up, and to what extent and purpose it could be used.

Tuesday, March 23
The House Public Safety Committee discussed Senate Bill 5361–an act relating to the resentencing of individuals convicted of drug offenses. The bill aims to modify the qualifications for resentencing a drug offender if the crime was committed before July 1st, 2004, when specialized drug sentencing laws were enacted. If the bill passes, courts must resentence the qualifying person based on the current sentencing guidelines provided in the bill.

Legislation prohibiting the sale of cats and dogs was also discussed March 23rd at a public hearing led by the Senate Business, Financial Services and Trade Committee. If passed, House Bill 1424 will no longer allow pet stores to sell cats or dogs unless they’ve already been in the business prior to when the bill takes effect. This means no more dogs or cats will be up for sale in any new and upcoming pet stores.

The House Finance Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1303–an act that imposes a tax on the sale of personal data such as sales of database and application services. Under the bill, a 1.8 % B&O or ‘business and occupation tax’ will be applied to the sale of personal data beginning next year. It would also require those who make profit from the sale to register with the state department of revenue starting September of next year.

Both the House and Senate Transportation committees released their transportation budget proposals for the 2021-2023 fiscal biennium. The House proposed a budget of $10.93B to include CoVid-19 relief, Governor Jay Inslee’s legislative priorities, and several ongoing capital highway improvement and preservation projects. That’s $7.2B for the Department of Transportation; $2.2B for debt service, $569M for the Washington State Patrol, and $364M for the Department of Licensing.

Wednesday, March 24
On March 24th, the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee held a public hearing on house bill 1152–an act that aims to support the creation of comprehensive public health districts. Regional comprehensive public health district centers are facilities that provide coordinated public health services across the state while supporting local health jurisdictions. Supporters of the bill say regionalizing public health provides and expands equitable access to health services. If passed, the bill would establish four regional centers between Eastern and Western Washington, each having a regional coordinator employed by the Department of Health, and an advisory board.

State senators also convened for a floor debate involving a number of bills. Among these, was House Bill 1078–an act relating to voting rights for convicted felons. The bill aims to automatically restore voting rights of felons who are not serving a total confinement sentence under the department of corrections. it does not involve confinement due to a community custody violation. The bill was the subject of over two hours of lengthy debate involving ten amendments that were eventually voted down. It passed out of the Senate with 27 votes in favor and 22 opposed. Having won approval in both chambers, the bill is now headed to the Governor’s office for signing. If enacted into law, voting rights for thousands of convicted felons in the state will automatically be restored upon their release from jail.

Thursday, March 25
Majority Senate Democrats brought the first of the two major budget unveilings of the session, as they rolled out their proposed state operating budget for the 2021-2023 biennium. The operating budget pays for a myriad of state services, from public schools and colleges to social services and health care, from prisons, to managing our state’s natural resources. Senate Democrats touted their plan as focusing on equity, pandemic recovery, and helping working families. Their spending plan totals $59 billion state dollars, plus $7B in federal CoVid-19 relief money.

The House Consumer Protection & Business Committee met for an executive session on Senate Bill 5188, which aims to create public granting a public financial cooperative adequate lending power to local and tribal governmental entities, as a membership organization. The bill passed out of the House Floor on a 56 to 41 vote on March 8th. Because it has a fiscal impact, it would have to be then reviewed next by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Friday, March 26
Majority Democrats in the state senate unveiled their proposed 2021-23 state operating budget at a news conference, the budget went before the Senate Ways & Means Committee for a public hearing.

Meanwhile in the House of Representatives, majority Democrats in that body rolled out their version of the state operating budget at a 3pm news conference.

Like the Senate budget, the House plan targets new state spending in such areas as pandemic relief, education, health care, social services, police and corrections, unemployment insurance and natural resources. And, like the Senate, the House assumes legislative approval of new capital gains tax to be paid by wealthy Washingtonians. But there are also a list of differences in the spending plans, which budget writers in the House and Senate will work to reconcile before the legislature’s scheduled adjournment of Sunday April 25.

Lawmakers this year are required to approve a balanced two-year state operating budget, as well as a capital or construction budget, and a transportation budget.

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