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Legislative Highlights March 29-Arpil 2, 2021

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Monday, March 29

On March 28th, Sunday afternoon, state representatives debated the passage of senate bill 5038, which aims to ban the open carry of weapons that can cause injury or death at public demonstrations and state capitol grounds.The bill exempts law enforcement working at the scene, and anyone who owns or is leasing a private property within the vicinity. If enacted into law, violators may face gross misdemeanor charges and jail time for up to 364 days and a fine of up to $5,000. The bill won house approval on a largely party line vote.

On Monday March 29, the Senate convened to discuss the 2021-2023 transportation budget. It includes $5.5M in federal funds for research relating to road usage charge–$100,000 for the Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce to develop vehicle miles traveled (or VMT) targets– $1M additional funding for a grant program to recruit underrepresented communities in construction–and $726.4M in fish passage barrier removal.

The proposed budget will also allocate funding for the Joint Transportation Committee to fund research in expanding broadband services–and fee payment options for new vehicles that will include taxes and payment plans and reduce impacts to low income households, communities of color, and vulnerable populations. that’s $220,000 and $250,000 respectively.

The transportation budget pulls a portion of its funding from federal aid such as the American Rescue Plan, which is approximately $1B– of that, $600M will be allocated to recover lost revenue from COVID-19 and $400M of that to water infrastructure.

Another federal funding source for the transportation budget comes from the coronavirus response and relief supplemental appropriations act, which could potentially fund $142.9M dollars to remove fish culverts and allot $124M to cover the Puget Sound Ferry’s funding shortfall.

Having bipartisan support, it passed on a unanimous vote.

Tuesday, March 30

The 2021-2023 state operating budgets which were unveiled during the week of March 22-26 by majority democrats in the House and Senate continued their journey through the legislative process on Monday evening, when both budgets passed out of their fiscal committees following debates on long lists of proposed amendments.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, final passage of the House version of the budget came after 10 pm in the House Appropriations Committee.

The next step for both budget proposals is consideration on the House and Senate floors.

Also on Tuesday March 30 the state Senate held a floor debate on the Senate’s proposed capital or “construction budget”, which totals up to $6.2B for the 2021-2023 biennium. The capital budget pays for the construction and maintenance of public buildings, like K-12 public schools, colleges, correctional facilities, state agency buildings, fish hatcheries, state hospitals and much more. The budget also acquires lands for the state, and funds infrastructure like broadband. Much of the money for the capital budget comes from the sale of state bonds.

High up on the capital budget’s priorities in the next biennium is a significantly large investment in broadband, totaling up to nearly half a billion dollars. The budget also aims to invest over $40 million in early learning, $100 billion in higher education, $100 million for natural resources, and over $300 million in housing, of which $90 million will be alloted to a program that will help Washingtonians in need of immediate housing or emergency shelter. It also includes funding for wildfire reduction and other projects that help mitigate the effects of climate change.

The House would then need to pass their own version of the capital budget plan. After that, negotiations will take place to reconcile both proposals, before coming to an agreement on a final version that will allow passage from both chambers.

Another bill debated on the Senate floor March 30th was House Bill 1090–an act that if passed, will prohibit private detention facilities. Supporters say detention facilities should be run by the government, in order to provide the best treatment and resources for those incarcerated, and that the bill would raise the standards of accountability and best practices for private detention facilities.

House Bill 1090 won Senate approval on a strictly party line vote. It is slated for signing at the Governor’s office.If enacted into law, the bill would prevent the private operation of detention centers in the state–and force the shutdown of the ice detention facility in Tacoma, one of the largest immigration prisons in the country.

The House Appropriations Committee convened in the afternoon of March 30th for a public hearing on Senate Bill 5172–an act that aims to modify overtime standards for farm workers.

Unlike most employees, agricultural employees are not paid time and a half if they work over 40 hours in a workweek. The bill aims to address this with a twofold strategy–first, it aims to eliminate the overtime exemption for farm workers by 2024, and it aims to establish a phase-in approach to provide them overtime pay.

Senate Bill 5172 passed out of the Senate earlier this month with 37 in favor and 12 opposed. It has Republican sponsorship.

Wednesday, March 31

On Wednesday March 31st, the House Finance Committee held an executive session on House Bill 1406, which, if passed, would establish a 1% wealth tax on intangible financial assets of more than $1B effective January of next year.

It won a majority vote, passed out of committee and is headed to the House floor. If it becomes law, it would affect a total of one hundred taxpayers in Washington state.

Thursday, April 1

April marks the last month of session, with April 1st being the 81st day out of a hundred and five left. On this day, state Senators debated the passage of their proposed state operating budget for fiscal biennium 2021-2023, which totals $59.2 billion dollars–and includes $7 billion dollars from the federally-funded American Rescue Plan Act.

Much of the state’s operating budget contains what is called “carry-forward” spending on areas the state always pays for, for example, public schools and health care.

At the same time, budget proposals typically include targeted spending priorities for specific needs. senate democrats’ proposed operating budget includes significant new spending for the following:

K-12 public schools post-COVID recovery

Child care and early learning

Wildfire prevention/forest health

Public health

Police reform


Behavioral health/disabilities

Economic recovery

Broadband expansion

UI tax relief

Business license fee exemptions

After lengthy debate that ran for hours and included 14 amendments–six of which were adopted, the proposed budget passed out of the Senate with 27 in favor and 22 opposed.

On April 1st the House Transportation Committee convened for a public hearing on House Bill 1564, which proposes a 2-year spending plan that allots $893 million in additional funding to transportation in the 2021-2023 fiscal biennium.

The budget provides appropriations to state and local project improvements, as well as major transportation agencies including: The Washington State Department of Transportation, The Washington State Patrol, the Department of Licensing, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, the Transportation Improvement Board, the County Road Administration Board, and the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board. The budget also provides appropriations out of transportation funds to many smaller agencies with transportation functions.

Friday, April 2

On Friday, April 2, the Senate Ways and Means Committee convened for an executive session to vote on several bills–among them, was House Bill 1016, which aims to make June 19, also known as Juneteenth–a state legal holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned that the civil war ended and the emancipation proclamation was signed–despite it happening two years earlier in 1863.

We first brought you coverage of its public hearing by the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee on January 13th. It has since passed out of the appropriate committees, before winning house approval on March 3rd with 89 in favor and 9 opposed.

On this day, the Senate Ways and Means Committee took a vote to pass it on to the Rules Committee for further consideration. If approved by the Rules Committee, it will then move on to the House floor for state Democrats and Republicans to debate.

Also voted on by the Senate Ways and Means committee was House Bill 1267–concerning independent investigations on police use of force. The bill aims to establish a new state office under the Governor, to look into incidents that involve peace officers’ use of deadly force.

It passed out of the house floor on march 3rd, with 57 yes votes and 39 opposed.

After passing out of the house, it has since been discussed by the Senate Committee on Law and Justice and referred to the Ways and Means Committee, who voted on passing it forward to the Rules Committee.

And like the previous bill, if House Bill 1267 gets approval from the Rules Committee, it also moves forward to the House floor for debate.

On Friday afternoon, as most people’s work weeks were winding down … the legislature’s week was still in full swing. Between Friday evening and Saturday, the House was planning to debate its transportation, capital and operating budgets on the House floor.

The Senate was also planning to meet for floor debate on Saturday, and the House has a possible floor session scheduled for Sunday as well.

The deadline for the House and Senate to hold floor debates on bills from the opposite chamber is Sunday, April 11th–meaning next week will see long days of floor debate in both House and Senate, as the legislature moves toward a final adjournment on April 25th.

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