Legislative Session Update: February 5-9, 2024

By Jim Hedrick, GSI WA State Lobbyist and Spokane Regional Advocate

Jim Hedrick 2024

About half-way
Entering its fifth week, the legislature is working towards the procedural mid-point of the session, the house of origin fiscal cutoff. Surviving bills have advanced to the Rules committees, joining bills that have no fiscal impact to the state and did not pass through a fiscal committee. The Rules committees are made up of members of both parties who are allowed to “pull” or select a few bills at each meeting to advance towards the floor. Less controversial bills may be placed on the suspension calendar in the House and the consent calendar in the Senate and heard early during this period before rules limiting debate are applied. Bills that will require debate are placed on the regular calendar. On second reading, the chambers debate bills and offer amendments. If a bill has been amended in committee or on the floor in the house of origin, it is engrossed, meaning the amendments are incorporated into the body of the bill. On third reading, the chambers vote to pass a bill. This repeating process of Rules, caucus, and floor time will continue until the February 13 deadline for bills to pass their chamber of origin.

Minority party bills usually die quiet deaths at the hands of the majority. But on Tuesday, the House passed HB 1800 (Barkis, R-2), an anti-graffiti bill, unanimously. Members across the aisle reported their districts are also struggling with graffiti, which has been in the news of late. Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a court ruling that stopped the city of Seattle’s ability to enforce its graffiti ordinance. The bill provides that a court may order a person convicted of Malicious Mischief in the third degree or Criminal Street Gang Tagging and Graffiti to complete at least 24 hours of community restitution, pay restitution, or clean up the damage with prior permission of the legal owner or the agency managing the property. The bill will now advance to the Senate.

Four years ago, Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man from Tacoma, died in police custody after spending the final moments of his life hog-tied. On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed SB 6009 (Trudeau, D-27), which prohibits the practice of hog-tying by law enforcement. This bill aligns Washington with other states that have taken decisive steps to prevent deaths related to the practice. The Department of Justice has recommended eliminating the practice since 1995, and the Attorney General’s Office’s use-of-force model policy advises against it. The bill will now start its process in the House.

I can’t hear you
On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 5778 (Keiser, D-33), a priority for the labor community. The bill prohibits an employer from disciplining or discharging, threatening to discipline or discharge, penalizing, or taking any adverse employment action against an employee for refusal to attend an employer-sponsored meeting, listen to speech, or view communications, when the primary purpose of which is to communicate the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters. Under the bill, employers would also not be able to require workers to attend meetings where they are told that attempts to unionize will lead to layoffs or loss of benefits. In her floor testimony, Sen. Keiser added that this is not a gag on the employer, but the employee does not have to listen. Oregon, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maine, and New York have passed similar laws. The bill passed on near-partisan lines and now moves to the House.

The worst bill of the session?
The Senate was expected to bring SB 5770 (Pedersen, D-46) to a floor vote Wednesday but deferred further action. 5770 would change the state and local property tax growth limit from the current one percent to one percent plus inflation (CPI) and any banked inflation balance up to three percent. Senate Republicans held a media availability on Thursday morning panning the tax increase bill and touting it as “the worst bill of the 2024 legislative session.” Among rumors of Senate Democrats becoming disenchanted with taking the tax vote, by Friday morning Sen. Jamie Pedersen announced, “It’s not going to advance this year.” Pedersen continued, “Supporters need to work on better explaining the needs of cities and counties in providing services like public safety, and helping the public better understand the mechanics of property taxes.” The death of 5770 is a major setback for cities who made passage of 5770 a top priority this session and is a major victory for the minority Senate Republicans.

Hospital mergers
Senate Democrats on Thursday pushed through a new system for approving mergers of hospitals into larger chains. SB 5241 (Randall, D-26), stems from the 2013 acquisition of Bremerton’s Harrison Medical Center by CHI Franciscan, which is now Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, in one of a long series of such acquisitions by Catholic hospital chains. The hospital is now known as St. Michael Medical Center. The bill is controversial and adamantly opposed by the powerful Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA).

Politically progressive lawmakers have a healthy distrust of such mergers because of concerns that Catholic healthcare organizations will refuse to provide abortion, gender-affirming care, and end-of-life services. Other lawmakers voice concerns over health care consolidation about the effects upon consumer protection. The hospital industry will argue mergers have saved community hospitals from having to shut down service lines, financial failure and outright closure, especially in rural areas. SB 5241 goes to the House where it is expected to have a tough fight to advance. Both House leadership and health care committee members have major hospital systems in their district.

Wednesday was a significant day for human trafficking bills. In a show of bipartisanship, SB 6006 (Dhingra, D-45) and SB 6056 (Torres, D-15) both passed unanimously and will move to the House. SB 6006 expands the definition of abuse or neglect of a child that must be reported by mandatory reporters to include trafficking, modifies agency procedures related to assessing, providing services, and reporting abuse or neglect, and expands sexual assault protection orders to include commercial sexual exploitation. SB 6056 mandates training for hotel employees to identify victims of human trafficking. In her floor remarks, Sen. Torres said that Washington state is ranked poorly in regard to identifying victims of human trafficking and these bills will help alleviate that. Sen. Keiser noted that this is particularly important with large sporting events coming to Washington state next year.

Police Recruitment Tool
Another bill that passed with unanimous support was SB 6157 (Lovick, D-44). This allows Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status recipients to apply for civil service positions as city firefighters, city police, fish and wildlife officers, and peace and corrections officers. Sen. Lovick, a career law enforcement officer, noted that he believes this would bring more diversity to police departments. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Cutoff Dates
Tuesday, February 13 – House of Origin Cutoff
Wednesday, February 21 – Opposite House Policy Committee Cutoff
Monday, February 26 – Opposite House Fiscal Committee Cutoff
Friday, March 1 – Floor Cutoff
Thursday, March 7 – Last day of Regular Session

For More Information
Public Policy developments change fast. Note this is a wrap-up of the week of February 5-9. You can find the prior week wrap-up here: January 9-February 3January 22-26January 15-19, and January 8-12, 2024. For more details about any of the bills in this article, visit the Washington State Legislature page to search by bill number. For more information contact Jake Mayson, Director of Public Policy.

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