Week seven is now complete and we are approximately one-third of the way through the 2021 legislative session. Following the fiscal committee cutoff on Monday, February 22 both chambers spent the rest of the week on the floor voting on bills. The House and the Senate debated legislation related to police reform, climate change, graduation requirements, consumer protection, election security, labor standards, and open carry laws. The House passed a bill on Thursday, February 25 sponsored by Rep. Melanie Morgan (D-29) that would make Juneteenth a legal holiday. The legislature will continue floor action this week until the House of Origin cutoff on March 9. Following that cutoff, all bills that made it out of the House will be sent to the Senate for further consideration, and all bills voted out of the Senate will be sent to the House.
On Monday, Senate and House Democratic leadership held another press conference where they discussed the virtual session and answered questions from the media. The media asked questions related to the various revenue proposals moving through the legislature and the need for new revenue. While the elected officials did not indicate which revenue proposal is their priority at this point they did express their desire for a more equitable tax system overall and the need to fund public health and childcare. Washington’s next revenue forecast is expected to come out in mid-March and many expect that it will be a positive forecast showing higher revenue than was previously predicted.
Economic Recovery and COVID Relief
Washington equitable access to credit act, HB 1015, was voted out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, February 22 with strong bipartisan support. 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 has been referred to the Rules Committee where it can be pulled and placed on the floor calendar at any time. The Chamber is supportive of this legislation.
On Monday, February 22, there was a hearing in the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee for SB 5371 which would create a tax on sugar sweetened beverages to fund public health. In 2010, a similar tax on soda, bottled water, candy, and some processed foods was overturned by Washington voters via Initiative 1107. The bill has yet to move out of committee however it is not subject to cutoffs because it is a tax bill.
Legislation supported by the Chamber and sponsored by Rep. Ryu (D-32), HB 1070, which would modify allowed uses of local tax revenue for affordable housing and related services to include the acquisition and construction of affordable housing and facilities passed the House on Thursday 56-42. The bill would make changes to support King County’s Health through Housing program.
Legislation sponsored by Senator Mona Das, SB 5287, concerning the multi-family tax exemption (MFTE), was pulled from the Rules Committee on Friday, February 26 and placed on the floor calendar. The bill can now be pulled to the floor at any time for a vote.
Legislation addressing landlord-tenant relations by providing certain tenant protections during and after public health emergencies, providing for legal representation in eviction cases, and authorizing landlord access to state rental assistance programs, SSB 5160, was also pulled from Rules on Friday, February 26 and placed on the Senate floor calendar. The bill can now be pulled to the floor at any time for a vote.
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 House version of the bill was placed on second reading in the House on Tuesday, February 23. The Senate version passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee and was placed on second reading earlier last month, meaning the bill could be brought to the Senate floor at any time for a vote.
Employment and Workplace Legislation
Legislation concerning qualifications for unemployment insurance when an individual voluntarily leaves work, HB 1486, is still in Rules. This legislation would increase the voluntary quit section of the statute. A similar piece of legislation is moving through the Senate, SSB 5064, which continues to sit on the Senate floor calendar but has not yet been brought up for a vote.
Legislation expanding coverage of Washington’s Paid Family Leave program, SSB 5097, is currently on the Senate floor calendar but has not yet seen floor action. The substitute bill amends the definition of family member to include individuals regularly residing in the employee's home or where a relationship creates an expectation and actual dependence on care. Similar legislation in the House, HB 1073, saw executive action on Monday, February 22 where it passed on party lines. The bill has been referred to Rules.
Legislation establishing health emergency labor standards, SB 5115, was voted out of the Senate on Tuesday, February 23 with a 48-1 vote. This bill will now move to the House Labor & Workforce Development committee for further consideration.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Chopp that targets business that use 1099 contractors, SHB 1474 , giving the Employment Security Department (ESD) the authority to impose stiff penalties on businesses, is still in the House Rules Committee.
Legislation concerning unemployment insurance claim adjudicators, SB 5193, passed the Senate on Thursday 48-0. The Senate adopted a striker offered by Senator King. The priority of the legislation is to expand the number of adjudicators trained to answer eligibility questions and resolve disputed unemployment claims.
Low Carbon Fuel Standards
On Saturday, February 27, the House debated HB 1091, Rep. Fitzgibbon’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The floor debate on the bill lasted for over six hours eventually passing the house 52-46. Five Democrats joined the Republicans in voting against the bill, Representatives Sullivan, Springer, Walen, Rule and Shewmake.
On Saturday, February 27 the House passed Rep. Jesse Johnson’s HB 1054, establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers. The bill prohibits chokeholds and neck restraints, use of dogs during arrest, and tear gas and certain types of military equipment. The bill passed the House passed the bill 54-43. Three Democratic members, Representatives Rule, Shewmake, and Chapman, joined the Republicans in voting against the bill.
On Thursday, February 25, the Senate voted on SB 5051 sponsored by Senator Jamie Pedersen. This legislation modifies the priorities and composition of the Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) and expands the background investigation requirements for persons applying for peace officer, reserve officer, and corrections officer positions. Republicans offered over 30 amendments to the bill, two of which were adopted. The bill passed the Senate on party lines, 26-19.
The Senate also brought legislation concerning an officer's duty to intervene, SB 5066, to the floor for a vote last week. This legislation requires a peace officer to intervene when the officer witnesses a fellow peace officer engaging in the use of excessive force. Republicans offered nine amendments to the bill, none of which were adopted. The legislation passed the Senate on party lines, 28-21 and will now move to the House for further consideration.
HB 1088/SB 5067 concerning potential impeachment disclosures continues to move. The House version of the bill has passed the House and is now before the Senate for further consideration. A public hearing in the Senate Law & Justice Committee took place on Thursday, February 25, with executive action scheduled for Thursday, March 4. HB 1088 would require the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to update its policy addressing impeachment disclosures and develop online training consistent with that policy. It also would require law enforcement agencies to report an officer’s misconduct to prosecuting authorities and require law enforcement agencies to inquire about an officer’s previous impeachment disclosures before they are hired.
HB 1089/SB 5069 concerning compliance audits of requirements relating to peace officers and law enforcement agencies passed through the House with bipartisan support. A public hearing is scheduled in the Senate Law & Justice committee on Thursday, March 4.
HB 1092/SB 5259 concerning law enforcement data collection continues to move through the process in both chambers. The bill requires recommendations for implementation of a program for statewide data collection, reporting, and publication of use of force data. The House version of the bill is still in Rules. The Senate version was pulled from Rules on Thursday, February 25 and placed on the Senate floor calendar.