Monday, Feb. 21st
At a press conference, Senate Democrats unveiled their proposed supplemental operating budget.
- The budget adds $5.8 billion in new investments for the next 2 years, with $2 billion being transferred into the transportation budget that will fund ferries, bridges, and highways without increasing gas taxes.
- The proposed budget also allots over $700 million in state and federal money to address housing and homelessness; $600 million for public schools, and $400 million for seismic retrofitting to better equip older schools for tsunamis and earthquakes.
- The budget also prioritizes childcare, behavioral health, environmental preservation, salmon habitat, and wildfire suppression.
- Senate Majority lead budget writer Christine Rolfes shared her remarks, saying this budget proposes an optimistic vision for our state.
- Senate Budget writers said most of the federal COVID-aid money saved up from last year will go to other priorities such as public health and rapid housing.
- In respone to a question of whether or not there will be adjustments made to help Washingtonians cope with inflation, Senator June Robinson said there might be any more tax relief available than what the current budget proposes.
- Senator Rolfes said that remain optimistic about the size and scope of the proposed budget.
In the House, Democrats also shared their proposed version of the supplemental operating budget.
- The budget plans to allocate over $800 million for K-12 education, $282 million in child care, $364 million in housing and homelessness, $148 million in human services, and $333 million to fund programs that address mental health, substance abuse, among other priorities.
- Over $700 million will be allocated for COVID-19 response and vaccination, children’s oral health, and public health information systems.
- The budget would also allot over $160 million for public safety, and $478 million for natural resources—which includes salmon habitat restoration, recreational land maintenance, and wildfire suppression.
- $200 million will be allocated for hospitality businesses, and over $100 million will support the economic recovery of small businesses hit by COVID-19.
- The budget also includes a state-funded insurance program for undocumented workers, which have been reported as low-income immigrants who are not eligible for Medicaid.
- House Finance Committee Chair Noel Frame says this will provide targeted support for communities, specifically for minorities.
- House Appropriations Committee Chair Tim Ormsby called the proposed budget “a historic investment,” and a “family-first budget,” saying that it’s focused on building equity in communities. He also said the budget proposes to raise certain wages to account for inflation, while adding that saving the remaining $1 billion in federal aid money versus spending it now, allows for a flexible spending strategy for the next 3 years.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1815, which aims to stymie the growing occurrence of catalytic converter theft.
- As prices from precious metals have increased, the rate of catalytic converter theft in the state has skyrocketed by over 3,000% between 2019 and 2020, according to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
- Because of their precious metal and stainless steel content, catalytic converters have been sold to scrap metal dealers from anywhere between $50 and $500 dollars or more.
- According to reports, converter theft can occur in as little as 60 seconds.
- House Bill 1815 aims to create a catalytic converter theft workgroup under the Joint Transportation Committee, and requires the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to establish a funded grant and training program to target metal theft.
- The bill would require businesses to receive proof from private sellers that the converter being sold to them is one they’ve replaced on a vehicle registered in their name.
- Representative Cindy Ryu sponsored the bill, which passed in the House earlier this month with a 68-30 vote.
- The Independent Business Association testified in favor of the bill, saying the workgroup is essential to discover exactly how catalytic converters are being trafficked.
- The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs also supported the bill in it’s entirety.
Tuesday, Feb. 22nd
The House Environment and Energy Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5910, which aims to accelerate the availability and use of renewable hydrogen in the state.
- Currently, most hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels. In an effort to move towards decarbonization and clean energy use, supporters say renewable hydrogen can be mass produced through a process called electrolysis.
- The U.S. Department of Energy says that through this process, renewable resources can produce carbon-free energy, which can then result in zero greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the burden on electric grids.
- Renewable hydrogen offers an alternative operating option for large companies, like oil and gas firms, that are burdened by calls to dial down their use of fossil fuels.
- Senate Bill 5910 aims to create a statewide office of renewable fuels and its own independent accelerator account.
- The bill also authorizes the Department of Commerce to secure federal funding to develop a regional clean hydrogen hub, and directs the Utilities and Transportation Commission to report specific issues in advancing the production of non-fossil feedstock hydrogen in the state.
- Municipal utilities and public utility districts would also be authorized to produce, sell, and distribute renewable hydrogen.
- The Senate unanimously passed the bill earlier this month.
- The Northwest Gas Association testified to support the bill, hoping to accelerate the use of hydrogen as a decarbonization tool for the gas pipeline system.
- Electrical Workers Labor Union IBEW Local 77 also testified to support the bill, saying accelerating the generation and distribution of green hydrogen will take the stress off the electric grid—which they say, is critical.
The House Environment, and Energy Committee discussed Senate Bill 5703, which would prohibit the making and sale of cosmetic products that contain certain types of chemicals.
- The bill would prohibit intentional additions of toxic substances such as certain types of phthalates, formaldehyde, mercury, triclosan, and other compounds to cosmetic products.
- The bill would also require the Department of Ecology and the Department of Health to come up with a cosmetics community engagement plan by the end of the year to test these products, do public outreach with vulnerable populations, and determine what products need to be regulated under the “Safer Products for Washington” program.
- If enacted, restricted cosmetic products may not be made, sold, or distributed in the market by 2025, but retailers may still sell their existing stock through January of 2026.
- Violators may face civil penalties of up to $5,000 for a first offense, and $10,000 for every repeat offense.
- The bill passed in the Senate last week with a 26-21 vote.
- Supporters say it would ban polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the same chemical compound found in teflon, cleaning products, and firefighting foams known to cause health hazards.
- Advocacy group Toxic-Free Future testified in support of the bill, saying there is no reason for companies to keep using toxic products.
- The Association of Washington Business shared the concerns about the bill, hoping for ease of marketing distribution.
- The Consumer Health Products Association also offered their recommendations to the bill, saying that in its current language, it exempts prescription drugs but not over-the-counter drugs, which they say includes drugs permitted by the FDA.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee also met to discuss House Bill 1169, which aims to eliminate sentencing enhancements.
- The bill passed the House earlier this month at 53-45 votes.
- Sentencing enhancements increase the possible penalty a judge may impose upon a conviction.
- The bill aims to eliminate sentencing enhancements for drug violations committed in protected areas or drug-free zones by minors involved in a criminal street gang felony.
- The bill would also allow resentencing for individuals currently serving sentences involving multiple consecutive firearm enhancements, and lifts restrictions on partial confinement and earned release.
- If enacted, the bill would apply retroactively to all incarcerated individuals.
- Democratic Representative Roger Goodman, the bill’s prime sponsor, spoke towards his bill, saying that sentencing enhancements to drug offenses committed in drug-free zones is a dated practice, and that it disproportionately impacts offenders and causes racial disparities.
- The Washington Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys spoke in favor of the bill, saying that Washington sentencing has gone up 2-3 times since the 1980’s, and claims that longer sentencing does not add any extra element to public safety.
- The state Supreme Court’s Gender and Justice Commission also supported the bill, saying minorities are convicted and sentenced 2-8 times higher than their white female counterparts.
- The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs opposed the bill, claiming this legislation “waters down” drug sentencing for drug crimes happening around schools or parks, and that criminals will take advantage of this leniency, which could lead to more children getting involved in criminal behavior.
- Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza also testified to oppose the bill, saying it ignores the voices of victims, and that hardened criminals should serve a sentencing commensurate to their crimes.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1590, which aims to address state funding related to school districts, in account of enrollment declines since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- According to Senator Christine Rolfes, enrollment rates have declined by 5% across the state. This affects enrollment-based state funding for school districts.
- A lack of funding affects school staffing and resources, which would cause a learning loss for students.
- In the 2020-2021 school year, legislation revised the enrichment levy formulas to offset COVID enrollment loss, which required that the 2019-2020 enrollment rate be used in place of the 2020-2021 school year if the enrollment rates were higher pre-COVID, and the district allowed in-person learning. Last year, these formulas were extended to cover the 2021-2022 school year.
- House Bill 1519 authorizes another extension to cover both the 2023 and 2024 calendar years, and maintains proportionate funding to what districts were previously receiving in 2019.
- The House passed the bill earlier this month with a 77-18 vote.
- Yelm Community Schools spoke in support of the bill, saying enrollment stabilization protects districts against an uncertain future regarding COVID-19.
- OSPI also spoke in favor of the bill, emphasizing the integral role that schools provide and the essential work that they give which requires this funding.
- The bill received opposition from concerned parents who claim the bill will only fund empty seats–as they believe that more and more parents are taking their kids out of public schools.
Wednesday, Feb. 23rd
The Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1837, which concerns workers’ protections on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from injuries sustained in the workplace.
- The bill aims to restore the state’s ability to address work-related MSDs by replacing the Department of Labor and Industries’ (L&I) current restrictions on these injuries.
- MSDs affect muscles, nerves, joints, and spinal discs, among others. They can be caused by heavy lifting, repetitive motion, or slips, trips, and falls.
- According to the CDC, MSDs come at a high cost to employers, and can cause an increase in healthcare, disability, and worker’s compensation.
- In 2000, L&I required employers to adopt ergonomic regulations to reduce workplace hazards that may cause MSDs. 3 years later, voters passed Initiative-841 (I-841), which repealed these regulations, and prohibited L&I from adopting new regulations unless required by a uniform federal standard.
- Under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, L&I remains to be the general authority for enforcing ergonomic-related workplace regulations.
- Supporters of the bill say workers need more protections against MSDs, and claim the bill will lower employee related costs for businesses in the long run.
- Critics of the bill say it goes against I-841, and would be costly for small businesses.
- The bill passed along party lines in the House last week.
- Representative Dan Bronoske, who sponsored the bill, shared his remarks, saying it will have a positive benefit for workers across the state, and would allow them to work more safely.
- Nickeia Hunter, a carpenter from Vancouver, testified in favor of the bill, citing her workplace-sustained injuries. She claimed that a lack of clear L&I regulations affected her career performance, and that if the standards on her job site would have been better, she would have had suffered less injuries and would not need surgery. She said without the bill, she is unable to afford to take time off of work to undergo necessary procedures to address her injuries.
- Labor Union SEIU spoke in support of the bill, saying it will help address opioid overdoses from chronic pain treatments.
- Non-profit Organization Identity Clark County opposed the bill, claiming it is going to be a long legal process to pass, and it will only cause job losses.
- The Association of Washington Business also spoke in opposition, saying it is an unnecessary policy.
State senators held a floor debate on Senate Bill 5651, concerning the Senate-proposed supplemental capital budget.
- The bipartisan proposal would invest almost $1 billion in state infrastructure, which would include a landmark investment of $115 million in seismic safety. This prioritizes the seismic retrofitting of school buildings in preparation for earthquakes and tsunamis.
- Another $472 million would be invested in affordable housing. Of that, $376 million would go to rapid housing and crisis stabilization services.
- According to Seattle Senator David Frockt, Committee Vice-Chair, the proposed budget invests in the most pressing issues of the state, such as behavioral health, preservation of natural resources, homelessness, local community projects, and expanding broadband access, which the budget allots $120 million to.
- The proposed budget also allocates $327 million to address environmental health issues, such as water quality, recreation, and conservation.
- Republican Senator Mark Schoesler emphasized it’s priority on seismic safety and emergency repair funding for schools.
- The Senate took a floor vote on the bill, and with bipartisan support, itl passed and is up for further consideration in the House of Representatives.
State Representatives gathered for a floor debate on House Bill 2076, concerning transportation network companies (or TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft.
- Currently, drivers for TNCs are required to carry their own insurance, and there are no existing regulations on their salary or benefits.
- The bill aims to establish minimum time and distance rates for TNC drivers. Under the bill, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) must increase drivers’ per mile and per minute rates commensurate to the increase of the state’s minimum wage.
- The bill also proposes that TNC drivers receive certain employee benefits such as paid sick leave, worker’s compensation, and paid family medical leave. It also pushes for a uniform statewide regulation of TNCs and a funded driver resource center to support drivers in addressing disputes and other concerns.
- Democratic Representative Liz Berry sponsored the bill, saying it will secure wages for drivers.
- Republican Representative Michelle Caldier opposed the bill, saying it will disproportionately affect people with disabilities who rely on TNCs for transportation, because the bill will unilaterally raise the cost of each trip.
- The House voted on the bill’s passage and now awaits further consideration in the Senate.
Thursday, Feb. 24th
Members of the House Public Safety Committee convened for an executive session.
- The committee voted on Senate Bill 5919, which sets out rules for when police can engage in vehicular pursuits.
- Committee Chair Roger Goodman urged that the bill be passed out of committee so it can be deliberated further.
- Committee Ranking Member Gina Mosbrucker commented on the bill, saying it doesn’t allow vehicular pursuits in the event of a property theft, such as those that involve a stolen vehicle.
- Representative Dan Griffey also shared his remarks, claiming there will be ‘a lot of pain’ in not having a proactive police force, which will allow more vigilante activity.
- The bill received a 7-5 vote. It passed out of committee and awaits further action in the House.
The Senate, Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee met for an executive session on House Bill 1868, concerning healthcare staffing.
- The bill aims to address healthcare staffing needs, as well as overtime and rest breaks for healthcare workers.
- The bill would also require the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to regulate and enforce minimum staffing standards and hospital staffing committees that will be required to come up with staffing plans under a format provided by L&I.
- Failure to do so will be met with a civil penalty of $25,000.
- The bill would also allow healthcare staff to combine meal and rest breaks if they’re entitled to one or more meal or rest breaks.
- Ranking Member Curtis King spoke against the bill, claiming it’s too restrictive, and that it will threaten the business operations of rural hospitals.
- Senator June Robinson expressed her support for the bill, claiming that hospitals are already rationing care and experiencing staffing issues, and that this bill will help address that.
- Senator John Braun also offered his remarks, saying the bill will not address staffing issues, but will only raise costs and reduce access to healthcare.
- The committee voted on the bill’s passage with 5 in favor and 4 opposed. It will be further deliberated in the Senate.
Friday, Feb. 25th
The House Capital Budget Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 5933, which establishes a school seismic safety grant program for school districts and state-tribal compact schools that have buildings located in high seismic hazard areas.
- This would apply to buildings that were built before 1998, and are currently not seismically retrofitted to 2005 seismic standards.
- The Senate proposed capital budget aims to fund the grant program with $115 million, and adds an additional $8 million to complete the state’s 2019-2021 retrofit program.
- The bill was sponsored by Seattle Senator David Frockt, and passed in the Senate unanimously in early February.
- OSPI testified to support the bill, saying it will address the critical need for schools to be up to seismic standards.
- The bill also received support from public policy research group “Northwest Progressive Institute,” who claimed that it is the state’s responsibility to address retrofitting of schools according to safety standards.
- DNR Chief Hazards Geologist Corina Allen also testified on behalf of the agency, saying there’s a 10-25% chance for a large Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) earthquake to happen in the next 50 years. She said seismic and tsunami mitigation is critical to saving lives when the next tsunami and earthquake event happens.
- If enacted, the bill would require OSPI to submit a list of prioritized school seismic safety grants to the Governor by September 1st of each year, beginning 2022.
State Senators also convened on the floor to discuss Resolution 8658, which resolves to combad antisemitism in all it’s forms, and to protect Washington’s Jewish community.
- Senator David Frockt, who offered the resolution, shared his remarks.
- The Resolution gained bipartisan support from the Senate, with Senators from across th aisle speaking in favor of the resolution.
- The Senate adopted the resolution.
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