Washington State Legislative Update – Week of Feb. 25, 2024

Stage set for budget negotiations, initiative hearings, and more policy debates with less than two weeks left

The two chambers have now passed their supplemental budget proposals, giving negotiators starting positions as they work to reconcile fairly small differences. This week will see two days of hearings on three of the six citizen initiatives to the Legislature, following a public rally on the steps of the Legislative Building Friday in support of them. Several major policy issues are headed for potential floor action as lawmakers take to the floor following Monday’s cutoff for fiscal committee bills and in advance of the March 1st cutoff for bills moving in their opposite house. As a reminder, the last day of session is Thursday, March 7th, and there are no indications lawmakers will need to extend into a special session. Here’s a summary of the top action this past week, and a look ahead to next week:
 
Elections

Earlier this week, a few legislators announced future plans. Rep. Jacqueline Maycumber, R-Republic, announced she would seek election in Washington’s 5th Congressional District, a seat vacated by the retirement of longtime Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, announced he would retire this year after 24 years in the Legislature, prompting Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, to announce a run for the vacated Senate seat. More retirement announcements may come in the final days of session.

Initiatives

Public hearings are now set on February 27th and 28th for I-2111, banning state and local income taxes, I-2113, rolling back restrictions on police pursuits, and I-2081, increasing parental rights in public education. Each hearing already has thousands of individuals signed in with a position on the initiatives. Rumors suggest majority Democrats may act to pass one or more of these initiatives as a way of taking some of the political momentum out of the package of initiatives that will appear on the fall ballot. Democratic leaders had already announced they will not act on the three initiatives with immediate budget impact – the Climate Commitment Act repeal, capital gains tax repeal, and long-term care insurance opt-out initiatives.

Taxes & Budget

One of the session’s few tax increase proposals advanced on Friday, as the House Finance Committee voted to advance HB 2276 (Berg, D-Tacoma) on a 7-6 vote with bipartisan opposition. The bill creates a new tax 1 percent transfer tax on the sale of real estate over $3 million, with an estimated $130 million per year in new revenue slated for affordable housing. For the operating budgets, the Senate passed their proposal off the floor on a 45-4 bipartisan vote on Friday, while House took to the floor Saturday afternoon to pass their version on a more partisan 55-38 vote. The roughly equivalent proposals both continue the underlying budget’s focus on human services, education spending, homelessness and housing, with the Senate proposing to add $1.8 billion to the biennial spending plan and the House proposing to add $2.2 billion to address inflation and expanding caseloads. The most partisan flare-up in the budget debate has been the Democratic proposal to rebate low and moderate income persons with a $200 power bill credit, taking into account rising costs occasioned by the Climate Commitment Act (CCA). The House budget proposes to split the credit between periods before and after the November election, with the second payment cancelled if the initiative repealing the CCA passes, causing Republicans to cry foul.

 Artificial Intelligence

It remains to be seen how, and whether, the Legislature will set up an AI task force this session. SB 5838 (Nguyen, D-West Seattle), the remaining task force bill in play, passed the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee on Wednesday, but not before picking up a few amendments that made the task force composition more similar to the earlier and more business-friendly House version. The bill was heard in the House Appropriations Committee on Friday, and is scheduled for a vote on Monday’s cutoff day. Showing that differences between the House and Senate positions are widening rather than narrowing, the bill has attracted some further proposed amendments in Appropriations, including a new proposal to require the task force study algorithmic discrimination issues and other possible harms from the use of AI.  

Transportation and Construction

On Saturday, the House passed its version of the supplemental transportation budget with broad bipartisan support, while the Senate moved its plan out of the Transportation Committee on Friday. The two budgets are about $300 million apart, with the House proposing a $14.3 billion project list and the Senate proposing a $14.6 billion blueprint. Negotiations are set to occur against a backdrop of over $1 billion in cost overruns on projects currently underway. SB 6040 (Valdez, D-Seattle), the public works “prompt pay” bill for state-certified small, women, or minority owned subcontractors, was heard Friday in the House Capital Budget Committee and is scheduled for a vote on Monday, where it needs to pass in order to remain in play. SB 6277 (Liias, D-Mukilteo), setting up a statutory framework for public-private partnerships to help address cost issues in transportation projects, had a House Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday and is set for a vote on Monday. SB 6316 (Pedersen, D-Seattle), extending tolls on the SR 520 corridor and allowing sales and use tax deferrals on scheduled improvement projects, was heard in the Senate Ways & Means Committee Friday, with a vote coming on Monday. House and Senate capital budget negotiators will be working on an agreed-to spending plan; the largest difference between the two chambers is funding for K-12 education projects, with the House budget allocating $144 million less than the Senate for school construction.

Business Regulation

HB 2114 (Alvarado, D-West Seattle), the House’s rent control bill capping residential rent and fee increases at 7 percent per year, received a public hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Thursday and is scheduled for a committee vote on Monday. HB 1889 (Walen, D-Bellevue), providing a path to professional licensure in many occupations for individuals regardless of immigration status, was pulled from the Senate Rules Committee on Friday. SB 6179 (MacEwan, R-Shelton), authorizing biometric age verification systems for alcohol purchases, passed the Senate unanimously on Monday but failed to emerge from the House Regulated Substances & Gaming Committee by Wednesday’s cutoff.

Labor & Employment

HB 1905 (Mena, D-Tacoma), expanding the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunity Act by adding protected classes and opening a pathway to sue for violations, is on the Senate floor, having been pulled from the Rules Committee on Tuesday. SB 5793 (Saldana, D-Seattle), expanding reasons for covered leave under the state’s paid sick leave law, including for transportation network company (TNC) drivers, is in the House Rules Committee awaiting a pull to the floor. SB 5778 (Keiser, D-Des Moines) banning workplace “captive audience” meetings about union organizing activities, cleared the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee on Tuesday and is in the House Rules Committee awaiting a pull to the floor. SB 5935 (Stanford, D-Bothell) restricting an employer’s use of non-compete or non-solicitation agreements and loosening the standing requirements for individuals to challenge non-competes in court, passed the House on a partisan 55-38 vote on Thursday. It heads to the Governor for signature.

Social Insurance

HB 1893 (Doglio, D-Olympia), providing four weeks of unemployment insurance benefits to striking workers, was pulled from the Senate Rules Committee on Friday, and continues to be the focus of an all-hands-on-deck lobbying effort for and against by labor and business. In Long Term Care, SB 6072 (Keiser, D-Des Moines), creating a regulatory structure for supplemental long term care products, was heard in the House Health Care & Wellness Committee on Tuesday and Appropriations Committee on Friday, with an Appropriations vote set for this Monday. SB 6069 (Mullet, D-Issaquah), creating an auto-IRA proposal for covered employers and employees, was voted out of the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee on Wednesday, with amendments adopted to allow use of a private chamber of commerce or trade association pooled employer retirement plan and involve private financial advisors in the creation of the program. It was heard in the Appropriations Committee Friday, with a vote scheduled for Monday. In workers’ compensation, HB 2382 (Berry, D-Seattle), expanding death benefits for transportation network company (TNC) drivers, continues to move, having been pulled from the Senate Rules Committee on Friday. TNC drivers are also included in the aforementioned expansion of paid sick leave in SB 5793.

Insurance

SB 5798 (Kuderer, D-Bellevue), extending notice requirements for insurance cancellation, was voted out of the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee on Wednesday, after being amended to remove auto policies. It now extends the current 45-day notice requirements on policies, including homeowners, to 60 days. SB 5806, also by Sen. Kuderer, providing confidentiality for data provided by insurers to the Commissioner, is in the House Rules Committee awaiting a pull to the floor. HB 2330 (Reeves, D-Federal Way), ordering an interim task force study on wildfire risk mitigation, grants, and underwriting transparency, is in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a pull to the floor. HB 2329 (Macri, D-Seattle) requiring the Commissioner perform a market study for property and liability insurance cost and availability for low-income housing providers, was both heard and voted out of the Senate Business & Financial Services Committee this past Tuesday. Finally, SB 5652, allowing registered tow truck operators access to insurance payment for clearing roadway hazards, was heard Thursday in the House Transportation Committee and is set for a vote on Monday.

Financial Services

Although apparently not set to move by last Wednesday’s cutoff deadline, HB 1915 (Rude, R-Walla Walla), promoting financial literacy education by requiring public schools to include one half credit of financial literacy in high school graduation requirements, was pulled up in the Senate K-12 and Early Learning Committee’s executive session on Tuesday and passed to the Senate Rules Committee. It needs to advance to the Senate floor for a vote by the March 1st opposite house cutoff. Another financial literacy proposal, HB 1714 (Stonier, D-Vancouver), also passed the Senate K-12 Committee on Tuesday, but appears stalled in the Senate Ways & Means Committee, unless considered necessary to implement the budget. It loosens restrictions on grants available to local school districts for use in financial literacy education curriculum.

Civil Justice & Liability

HB 1618 (Farivar, D-Seattle), prospectively removing the statute of limitations on tort claims for childhood sexual abuse, continues to move in the Senate, having been heard in the Senate Ways & Means Committee this past Monday and is scheduled for a committee vote this coming Monday. HB 2088 (Orwall, D-Des Moines), creates immunity from civil lawsuits for responders dispatched from mobile rapid-response crisis teams and community-based crisis teams, and is on the Senate floor consent calendar, awaiting a vote.

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