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Legislative Highlights April 5-8, 2021

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Monday April 5

On Monday, April 5th, the Senate Ways and Means Committee convened for a public hearing on Senate Bill 5476–an act, that if passed, could potentially change how the state penalizes drug possession.

Under current state law, any individual who unknowingly carries a controlled substance but is found guilty would receive the same legal penalties charged on someone who is also found guilty but is aware that they are in possession of said substances. Earlier in February, however, in a court ruling over State v. Blake, the Washington Supreme Court found this to be unconstitutional and a violation of an individual’s due process.

The bill aims to reinforce this by proposing certain “personal use amounts” of controlled substances, while prohibiting anyone over 21 years of age to knowingly possess an amount that exceeds this, and making it illegal for anyone under 21 to possess any amount of controlled substances. If the bill passes, violators will face a class C felony if they are over 21–and a gross misdemeanor if they are under 21.

Senate Bill 5476 also makes it a civil infraction to open a package or use a controlled substance in public, and imposes a fine of no more than $125 for offenders. The bill also aims to authorize law enforcement to refer those found to carry a personal amount of controlled substance to seek professional treatment and evaluation.

If the bill becomes law, fines collected from its implementation would be deposited into what will be called a “state v. blake account”–where money goes back into state and local government expenditures to reimburse costs resulting from the Supreme Court’s decision.

The committee took no further action on senate bill 5476 on april 5th. it was sponsored–mostly–by Senate democrats.

State representatives also convened Monday, April 5th, to discuss Senate Bill 5284–concerning the elimination of subminimum wage certificates for persons with disabilities. Subminimum wage certificates are issued by the Wage and Hour Division to employers who hire workers with disabilities that are paid below minimum wage. The bill aims to put an end to that, effective July 31, 2023.

Senate Bill 5284 passed out of the Senate floor in February with a 42-7 vote. It won House approval, and therefore, passing out of both chambers on April 5th, it is slated for signing in the Governor’s Office.

State senators also held a floor session Monday April 5th to debate the passage of House Bill 1372, which aims to replace the statue of Marcus Whitman in the National Statuary Hall Collection in D.C. with a statue of Native American treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr. Billy Frank Jr. was an environmental activist from the Nisqually tribe, who advocated for tribal and fishing rights. He passed away seven years ago at the age of 83.

Marcus Whitman was a missionary physician to Native Americans who helped open the Pacific Northwest to settlement in the 1800’s.

Senators took a floor vote on the bill’s passage. It won approval on a 44-5 vote. With that, House Bill 1372 officially passed both chambers and moved forward to the Governor’s Office for signing.

Tuesday, April 6

The Senate Transportation Committee convened Tuesday April 6th for a public hearing on a transportation funding proposal called “Forward Washington”

Introduced by committee chair Senator Steve Hobbs, “Forward Washington” is a comprehensive transportation and environmental plan concerning investments in green technology infrastructure and projects across Washington state.

Among other sources, the proposal will be funded in part by cap and trade revenues, fuel taxes, the sales and use tax of vehicle parts, rental vehicles, transportation company fees, as well as those of construction projects related to Forward Washington.

Two elements added to the updated proposal are fees charged on for-hire vehicles and on-demand food delivery services. The plan also includes electrification projects, and will impose a carbon pollution tax amounting to $15 per ton carbon on the sale or use of fossil fuels.

State representatives also convened April 6th for a floor debate on Senate Bill 5180–an act relating to vacating convictions by an individual if their offense was committed as a result of being a victim of sex trafficking, prostitution, domestic violence, sexual assault, or the commercial sexual abuse of a minor. The bill also authorizes family members of a homicide victim to apply to vacate the victim’s conviction for a misdemeanor prostitution offense on their behalf.

The bill won approval from both chambers, and now returns to the House for consideration of one senate amendment from a previous committee hearing.

House Bill 1097, which concerns worker protections, was also one of the bills also debated April 6th. Requested by Governor Jay Inslee, House Bill 1097 aims to increase worker protections from retaliation, allows them more time to file a complaint, and also creates a grant program to assist small businesses in equipment procurement and capital costs during an emergency.

The bill passed out of both chambers, and with one Senate amendment for review, it is headed back to the House for further consideration.

In the evening of April 6th, state senators convened for a floor debate on House Bill 1054–an act concerning police accountability, tactics and equipment used during arrests. HB 1054 is a highly-contentious bill that passed out of the House in late February, and has been amended in both chambers as of April 6th.

In its original form, the bill proposed to end police use of chokeholds and neck restraints, off-leash dogs, shooting during hot pursuits, military equipment, tear gas, and no-knock warrants.

The current bill, as amended, maintains its prohibition of neck restraints and chokeholds, the acquisition of certain military equipment; and courts from issuing a search/arrest warrant that exempts officers from providing notice. But instead of prohibiting the use of off-leash dogs, the bill now aims to require the Criminal Justice Training Commission to create a model policy and work group for training, to include the use of canine teams. it also establishes guidelines for when the use of tear gas is authorized; and–sets limits to when an officer may engage in hot pursuit or fire at a moving vehicle while doing so. it also requires that officers display their identification clearly.

After a lengthy debate that went for over two hours and covered 15 amendments, senators took a floor vote on the bill’s passage. The bill passed on an almost party line vote, and heads back to the House where the adopted amendments will be further reviewed.

Wednesday, April 7

State representatives gathered April 7th for a floor debate on Senate Bill 5164–an act relating to resentencing persistent offenders convicted of robbery in the second degree.

The bill aims to exempt second degree robbery from state Initiative 593, also known as the “Three Strikes Law”, which passed in 1994 and requires life sentences without parole after three felony convictions of a most serious offense or what is called a “strike offense”.

This means that if the bill is enacted, those convicted of 2nd degree robbery and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole under the “Three Strikes Law” will be entitled to a resentencing hearing, in which a prosecuting attorney must make a motion to resentence them, as if robbery in the second degree was not considered a “strike offense’ at the time of their sentence.

Senate Bill 5164 passed out the House on April 7th. As of February of this year, there are at least over 60 individuals currently serving life without parole in Washington state due to a second-degree robbery conviction.

Meanwhile, in the governor’s office, Governor Jay Inslee Signed House Bill 1078 into law on April 7th. The bill will automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons who are out from behind bars but may still be serving their sentence in the community, and regardless of whether or not they have paid their legal financial obligations.

At the forefront of this legislative push is Democratic Representative Tara Simmons, the first formerly-incarcerated legislator to serve in the state House of Representatives.

The law takes effect in January of next year.

Also debated in the House was Senate Bill 5066–an act that aims to require law enforcement officers to intervene when another officer uses excessive force –and for them to report any wrongdoing by a fellow officer to their supervisor.

The bill passed out of the Senate on a party line vote late February. The bill passed out of the House and officially in both chambers, after over 2 hours that covered 8 amendments. The bill is headed back to the Senate for further consideration.

Also debated on the House floor in the evening of April 7th was Senate Bill 5051– an act that aims to increase police accountability.

The bill expands the background check requirements for police and corrections officer applications, modifies the officer certification and decertification processes, and alters the composition of the criminal justice training commission to accommodate community input.

Senate Bill 5051 passed out of both chambers and heads back to the Senate where amendments will be reviewed.

Meanwhile on the Senate Floor, another contentious bill was debated by state senators–this time, concerning residential evictions.

House Bill 1236, also known as the “just cause eviction” bill, has sparked lengthy, intense debates in both chambers it passed out of the House in early March on a mostly party line vote.

With Covid-19 exacerbating housing and homelessness concerns, the bill aims to reform the residential eviction process by requiring landlords to provide a valid or “just cause” reason for ending their tenants’ lease.

Current state law allows month-to-month leases to be terminated by the landlord with or without reason as long as they notify tenants 20 days in advance. After that, an eviction may be in order.

For the same reason, the just cause eviction bill also aims to limit the reasons for eviction with consideration to those whose financial ability to pay rent has been affected by the covid pandemic.

After hours of lengthy debate which included voting down 22 amendments out of the 23 proposed, the Senate took a floor vote on the bill’s passage. the bill passed along party lines, and is headed back to the House for further review.

Thursday, April 8

In the evening of April 8th, state senators debated the passage of senate bill 5126, also known as the Climate Commitment Act.

Requested by Governor Jay Inslee, the Climate Commitment Act aims to build a clean-energy economy and create accountability for limiting emissions across washington state by establishing a cap and trade program.

A cap-and-trade program is a system designed to curb carbon emissions and pollution, where a cap or limit is set on the allowable emissions produced by a business or organization, but, when that limit is reached, it also allows that organization to buy additional capacity from other businesses that have not fully used or reached their limit.

The proposed cap and trade program will be implemented by the Department Of Ecology and overseen by an Environmental Justice & Equity panel for greenhouse gas emissions.

The Climate Commitment Act also aims to prioritize environmental equity by requiring an Environmental Justice review to ensure that the cap and trade program reduces air pollutants in highly-impacted communities.

The bill passed with 25 in favor and 24 opposed. It heads to the House for further consideration.

Another major environmental bill passed by the Senate on the same evening was Senate Bill 1091, relating to the Clean Fuels Program.

Also requested by Governor Jay Inslee, the program limits the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels by establishing a low-carbon fuel requirement in the state–with the goal of lowering these emissions to 20% below the state’s 2017 levels by 2035.

After passing on an almost party line vote, the bill, as amended, heads back to the House for further consideration.

Meanwhile, the House also went late into the night Thursday and debated Senate Bill 5237, which proposes a major expansion of state support of child care.

The bill creates a new account for child care and early learning, decreases co-payments in the Working Connections Child Care Program, provides support and services for child care and early learning providers, and increases Prenatal-to-three Program support for providers and families.

After debating 9 amendments, 4 of which were adopted, the House took a floor vote on the bill’s passage.

The bill passed out o f the House and is headed back to the Senate for further consideration.

Both the House and Senate have major bills addressing the expansion of child care, which are moving through the legislature. Besides child care, the House also approved on Thursday, following contentious debates, Senate Bill 5160 to regulate landlord-tenant relations during Covid–and Senate bill 5163, regarding the placement and treatment of violent sex offenders, among other bills.

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