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Legislative Session Update: January 22-26, 2024

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

Jim Hedrick 2024

This Legislature Could Use a Cutoff
The 2024 Washington State Legislative Session is more than a quarter of the way finished. The House of Origin policy cutoff is looming and committees are beginning to shift their focus to marking up bills, drafting amendments, committee votes and advancing legislation. Bills must be voted out of the policy committee in the House of Origin by Wednesday, January 31. Policies with a financial implication for the state will then need to make a quick stop in one of the fiscal committees, with a deadline of February 5 to be voted out of those. The legislative process is a series of hurdles designed to fail ideas more than pass them and many bills will die in the coming weeks either because they are problematic or for sheer lack of time.


Substance Abuse

In this election year, substance abuse and homelessness are front and center for voters. Even in liberal Seattle moderate Democrats swept the November 2023 election, promising to address the public safety and homelessness issues that have plagued Seattle in recent years. At the beginning of January, in a Crosscut/Elway poll, respondents listed their top three priorities as the economy, public safety, and homelessness. 84% of those polled would like the state government to put surplus funds into mental health and drug programs, and 66% want to spend more on housing programs. Tribal leaders have asked Governor Inslee to declare a state of emergency on the fentanyl crisis. But on Monday, his office pointed to the Legislature as the right branch of government to pass necessary funding and policy actions to combat fentanyl.

Legislative committees in fact heard several bills addressing substance use disorders this week. Senate Health & Long Term Care heard SB 6228 by Senator Manka Dhingra, (D-45) which increases access to substance use disorder treatment by, among other provisions, requiring health plans to cover inpatient treatment and ground ambulance transportation. This is a far more moderate approach than Senator Dhingra had taken before. Last session Senator Dhingra, who is also a candidate for state Attorney General, sponsored a substance abuse bill. SB 5624 in part would have decriminalized drugs. That bill, while still alive in the second year of the biennium, does not appear to have the support to move. Representative Lauren Davis (D-32), a passionate advocate for substance use disorder treatment, also had a bill up in House Health Care & Wellness this week. HB 2319 impacts discharge policies, counseling options, health plan coverage, and continuation of medication. HB 2112, sponsored by newly appointed Representative Greg Nance (D-23) received a vote out of the House Postsecondary Education & Workforce committee this week as well. HB 2112 requires public and private institutions of higher education to provide opioid and fentanyl prevention education, naloxone and fentanyl strips, and education to provide those tools in residence halls.

Housing
The immense volume of housing-related bills this biennium is a testament to bipartisan interest in addressing the housing and homelessness issue. Of the 3,400 total bills this biennium, over 700 focus on housing, and nearly 30% of all bills mention housing. On Tuesday, the House Housing committee heard popular HB 2270 by Representative Melanie Morgan, (D-29). The bill Directs the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to contract for a study to help facilitate the transition of state housing programs to a new state agency, a Department of Housing, and identify gaps in current state housing programs. This bill is uniquely supported by the entities usually at war with each other over housing, including the Association of Washington Business (AWB), residential property managers, and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

Decarbonization on the Fast Track?
House Bill 1589 by Representative Beth Doglio, (D-22) was passed by the House on a narrow 52- 45 vote with 6 Democrats joining all 40 Republicans (one absent) against the measure. A major legislative priority for Governor Inslee this session, the bill prohibits any natural gas utility company that serves more than 500,000 retail natural gas customers from providing natural gas service to any commercial or residential location as of June 30, 2023. The bill only applies to Puget Sound Energy (PSE). The large dual gas and electric utility company developed the bill to get ahead of the curve of the decarbonization movement put in place from the state’s Clean Energy Transformation Act and the Climate Commitment Act. HB 1589 allows PSE to accelerate their portfolio transformation from natural gas to all electric in exchange for the ability to merge rate bases and cross-subsidize pricing among its customers. The bill also grants regulatory assurances of a rate of return to PSE for its qualifying non-carbon power purchase agreements. Opponents of the bill argue the bill gives PSE a profit center on each contract it enters into with no benefit to customers and undermines the premise of competition.

HB 1589 is being fast-tracked in the Senate and already scheduled for a public committee hearing next Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology. Last year HB 1589 died after a hard fought amendment process and near-partisan vote before dying in the Senate Rules Committee. The bill will continue to be controversial as Republicans and moderate-Democrats continue to oppose the bill supported by progressive Democrats.

The Initiatives
Turning to the Initiatives to the Legislature hanging over the head of majority Democrats, the anti-capital gains Initiative to the Legislature, Initiative-2109 was certified by Secretary of State Steve Hobbs on Tuesday. And in related news, HB 2459 by Representative Mia Gregerson (D- 33) was heard later in the House State Government and Tribal Relations committee. Under the bill, a ballot alternative would receive a public investment impact disclosure to describe the investments that would be maintained if the alternative is adopted instead of the initiative to the legislature.

Cutoff Dates:

January 31 – Policy Committee Cutoff February 5 – Fiscal Committee Cutoff
February 13 – House of Origin Cutoff
February 21 – Opposite House Policy Committee Cutoff
February 26 – Opposite House Fiscal Committee Cutoff March 1 – Floor Cutoff
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 January 15-19. You can find the prior week wrap-up here: January 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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