The fourth week of the 2021 Legislative Session is now complete. Just one week remains until the first cutoff of February 15, when all bills that are not necessary to implement the budget must be out of their respective policy committee in order to stay alive this session.
COVID-19 Response and Recovery
Today, Gov. Inslee signed SB 5061, providing unemployment insurance (UI) rate relief to businesses and increasing UI benefits for recipients, into law.
The Democrat's COVID-19 relief package, HB 1368, continues to move quickly through the process. Last week, the bill was heard and passed out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and advanced to Rules where it can be pulled to the floor at any time for a vote. The bill appropriates $2.2 billion in federal funding from a combination of the federal Consolidated Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and Medicaid for K-12 public schools, public health, healthcare, assistance to individuals and families, housing assistance, and business assistance.
Another priority bill moving through the legislative process is HB 1095, sponsored by Rep. Amy Walen which would exempt qualifying grants related to related to COVID-19 relief from the B&O tax, public utilities tax, and retail sales tax. The bill passed out of Senate Ways and Means last week and is now on second reading where it can be pulled to the Senate floor at any time for a vote. The Chamber sent a letter to members of the Senate urging them to pass the bill.
Washington equitable access to credit act, HB 1015, was heard in the House Finance committee on Monday. The bill would direct the Department of Commerce to create a program to award grants to qualified lending institutions to provide access to credit for historically underserved communities. The grants are funded by taxpayers who may receive a B&O tax credit for contributions to the program. The bill had no opposition but has not yet been scheduled for executive action.
This week in the House Finance Committee there was a hearing on HB 1406, brought forward by Rep. Frame. The bill establishes a 1 percent wealth tax on intangible financial assets of more than $1 billion. The proposal was heard right after HB 1297, the working families tax credit which was originally passed in 2008 but has never been funded by the state. Frame’s proposed new wealth tax is intended to fund, among other things, Washington’s tax-rebate program for low-income working people.
There were several new revenue proposals introduced last week. Representative Gregerson introduced HB 1450, a tax on wireless devices that connect to the internet to support and fund the procurement of learning devices for public schools. Rep Gregerson also introduced, HB 1460, an excise tax on telecommunication services to fund the expansion of the universal service programs in Washington. Also last week, the House introduced their own capital gains tax, HB 1496, sponsored by Rep. Senn. This is the highly anticipated bill that creates a funding mechanism for Senn’s proposal, HB 1213, that expands access to childcare and early childhood education.
Legislation reducing barriers to condominium construction SB 5024 has passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee. This bill concerns condominium construction, specifically exemptions for projects with ten or fewer units.
Legislation sponsored by Senator Mona Das, SB 5287, concerning the multi-family tax exemption (MFTE) has been scheduled for executive action on Wednesday, February 10. The bill is supported by tenant advocates while the Seattle Metro Chamber, local municipalities, and developers have concerns that the program, as proposed, will not increase affordable housing.
On Wednesday, February 3, the Senate Housing & Local Government committee held an executive session on SB 5160 from Senator Kuderer. This bill would provide additional tenant protections during and after a public health crisis. Committee members voted (5-4) this bill out of committee with a do pass recommendation, and we will now watch for it to appear on the Senate Ways & Means Committee schedule.
We are also monitoring HB 1228 which concerns rental housing during and after a public health crisis as well. This legislation was brought forth by Representative Barkis and Representative Walen and has the support of housing providers. Under the bill, landlords would be required to work with tenants with unpaid rent. The bill would also create the Emergency Rental Assistance Grant Program to assist tenants and landlords with past due rental payments. The bill is scheduled for executive action this week.
Another controversial piece of rental housing legislation, HB 1236, which is commonly referred to as “just cause” is moving through the process. This bill specifies exclusive causes for eviction, refusal to renew, and termination of tenancy under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) and makes other changes to rights and remedies. Last Friday, the House Housing, Human Services & Veterans voted to move the bill out of committee with a do pass recommendation. That hearing can be viewed here.
Tax Increment Financing
Legislation authorizing local governments to designate tax increment financing areas and to use increased local property tax collections to fund public improvements, HB 1189/SB 5211, has some momentum this year. The Senate version has passed out of the Senate Business and Financial Services Committee and is now scheduled for a public hearing this week in the Ways and Means Committee. The Chamber will sign in to support the bill.
Legislation regarding unemployment insurance after voluntary leaving work, SB 5064, passed the Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs committee on a party line vote. The bill went straight to the Senate Rules Committee where it can be pulled to the floor at any time for a vote. The legislation expands a good cause quit for unemployment insurance purposes after January 2, 2022 to include: a separation from work because a child or a vulnerable adult in the claimant's care is inaccessible; alteration of the claimant's usual work shifts so as to make care for a child or vulnerable adult in the claimant's care inaccessible; or separation from work to relocate near a minor child.
Legislation allowing whistle blowers to bring actions on behalf of the state for violations of workplace protections, commonly known as “qui tam,” HB 1076, was passed out of committee on Friday, February 5. This bill continues to cause major concerns for employers.
Legislation expanding coverage of the paid family and medical leave program HB 1073 was voted out of committee on Friday, February 5. Among other things the bill expands the definition of "family member" to include anyone related by blood or affinity whose close association is the equivalent of a family member.
At this point there continue to be several bills related to police reform moving and it is still too early to tell which proposals will gain the most traction in the legislature and make it through the process. Below is a summary of some of the bills that are moving in the House and Senate related to police reform.
HB 1054, establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers, is still in the House Rules Committee and can be pulled to the house floor at any time for a vote. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Jesse Johnson.
HB 1089/SB 5069 concerning compliance audits of requirements relating to peace officers and law enforcement agencies. The house version of the bill was heard and passed out of the House Appropriations Committee last week. The bill will now head to Rules where it can be pulled to the House floor at any time for a vote.
HB 1092/SB 5259 Concerning law enforcement data collection. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill continue to move through the process. The bill requires the Attorney General's Office establish an advisory group to make recommendations for implementation of a program for statewide data collection, reporting, and publication of use of force data.