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Legislative Session Update: January 8-12, 2024

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

GSI works year-round on local, state, and federal advocacy issues that impact our community. The Spokane community delegation will be in Olympia this week to advocate for a variety of projects on the unified State Agenda. With the legislative session beginning, Jim Hedrick, GSI’s Spokane Advocate and State Lobbyist, is providing weekly updates that help share the week-to-week legislative landscape. This is week one.

It Starts with Initiative.
The 2024 Washington State legislative session has officially begun. This is the second year of the biennium, thus the legislature will need to condense a tremendous amount of policy, politics, and supplemental budgets into a short 60-days. Legislative leaders have said they will focus on housing, transportation, behavioral health, public safety, climate change, and education.

Democrats continue to hold majorities and the legislative power in the House, Senate, and Governor’s office. But this year, the progressive agenda in Washington state may be thwarted by Brian Heywood’s Let’s Go Washington. Pending signature verification, Let’s Go Washington has qualified all six of their initiatives to the legislature, potentially undoing some of the policies democrats are most proud to have passed in recent years. Upon verification and receipt of these initiatives, the legislature must choose one of the following three actions:

      • Adopt the initiative as proposed, allowing it to become law without a vote of the people.

      • Not act on the initiative, allowing a vote of the people in the 2024 General Election.

      • Propose an alternative ballot measure dealing with the same subject, sending it and the original for a vote of the people in the 2024 General Election.

    Conservative Republican Representative and new Washington State GOP Chair Jim Walsh (R-19) is the sponsor of all of the initiatives. They are as follows:

    Initiative No. 2113 concerns vehicular pursuits by peace officers
    This measure would remove certain restrictions on when peace officers may engage in vehicular pursuits. Such pursuits would be allowed when the officer has a reasonable suspicion a person has violated the law, pursuit is necessary to identify or apprehend the person, the person poses a threat to the safety of others, those safety risks are greater than those of the pursuit, and a supervisor authorizes the pursuit.

    Initiative No. 2117 concerns carbon tax credit trading
    This measure would prohibit state agencies from imposing any type of carbon tax credit trading, including “cap and trade” or “cap and tax” programs, regardless of whether the resulting increased costs are imposed on fuel recipients or fuel suppliers. It would repeal sections of the 2021 Washington Climate Commitment Act as amended, including repealing the creation and modification of a “cap and invest” program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by specific entities.

    Initiative No. 2124 concerns state long term care insurance
    This measure would amend state law establishing a state long term care insurance program to provide that employees and self-employed people must elect to keep coverage under RCW 50B.04, allow employees to opt-out of coverage under RCW 50B.04 at any time, and repeal a current law governing exemptions for employees who had purchased long term care insurance before November 1, 2021.

    Initiative No. 2109 concerns taxes
    This measure would repeal an excise tax imposed on the sale or exchange of certain long-term capital assets by individuals who have annual capital gains of over $250,000.

    Initiative No. 2111 concerns taxes
    This measure would prohibit the state, counties, cities, and other local jurisdictions from imposing or collecting income taxes, defined as having the same meaning as “gross income” in the Internal Revenue Code.

    Initiative No. 2081 concerns parental rights relating to their children’s public school education
    This measure would allow parents and guardians of public-school children to review instructional materials and inspect student records, including health and disciplinary records, upon request. It would require public schools to provide parents and guardians with certain notifications, including about medical services given and when students are taken off campus; access to calendars and certain policies; and written notice and opportunities to opt students out of comprehensive sexual-health education and answering certain surveys or assignments.

    Moving On?
    While these six initiatives will consume a substantial amount of legislative and stakeholder time and energy this session, it is also a major election year in Washington state, with the entire House, half the Senate, the Governor, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, Lands Commissioner, and 6th Congressional seat up for election. Six senators are hoping to leave the chamber, with Saldaña (D-37) and Van De Wege (D-24) running for Lands Commissioner, Dhingra (D-45) seeking the Attorney General position, MacEwen (R-35) and Randall (D-26) hoping to win the 6th Congressional seat, and Mullet (D-5) campaigning for Governor. On the House side, Chambers (R-25) is running for Pierce County Executive, and both Chapman (D-24) and Ramos (D-5) are looking to move across the rotunda to the Senate. Cue the messaging bills!

    There’s plenty of money
    Revenue is up $1.2 billion since the budget was adopted in April, with projected collections for the budget (which runs through June 30, 2025) approaching $66.9 billion. Not included is money raised from the auction of carbon allowances under the state’s cap-and-trade program, which has generated $1.8 billion thus far. Still, budget writers are proceeding with caution on the supplementals, with initiatives challenging the cap-and-trade program and a new tax on capital gains. The capital gains tax, which in its first year raised $900 million, is also facing a challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Employers
    On Tuesday, the Senate and House labor committees heard SB 5777 (Keiser, D-33) and companion HB 1893 (Doglio, D-22) respectively. This legislation allows striking workers to qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits on the Sunday following the first day of a strike if employers lock them out. This is a priority for the labor community who argue the legislation would reduce the burden of a strike on workers, and is strongly opposed by the business community, which turned out in force at the hearing. Currently, striking workers in New York and New Jersey qualify for unemployment.

    AI
    The Senate Environment, Energy & Technology committee heard SB 5838 (Nguyen, D-34) on Wednesday. This Attorney General-request bill creates an Artificial Intelligence Task Force to assess uses, develop guiding principles, and make recommendations for the regulation of generative artificial intelligence in 2025. Artificial Intelligence is definitely on the minds of legislators in Washington this year, with bills being introduced by members of both parties addressing the use in court filings, intimate images, and more.

    Affordable Housing
    On Thursday, the House Housing committee heard HB 2114 (Alvarado, D-34), one of many bills this session aimed at housing affordability. Among other provisions of the bill, a landlord is prohibited from increasing the rent and fees for a tenant in an amount greater than 5 percent during any 12- month period, or by any amount during the first 12 months after the tenancy begins. This is a hot button, high-profile issue on both sides, with 129 people signed in to testify, and 2,530 people signed in not wishing to testify.

    Cutoff Dates
    As they do every session the House and Senate jointly adopted a series of dates or “cutoffs” whereby legislation should advance to remain pending in this session. Most people find it counter-intuitive that the legislative process is actually designed to “kill” bills. By January 31st all bills must be approved by the Policy Committee and by February 5 bills must have advanced out of the fiscal committees. February 13th is a critical process milestone as bills must be passed by the chamber in which it originated or the House of Origin Cutoff. The second half of session has “opposite house cutoffs” which will be February 21st the — opposite House Policy Committee Cutoff, February 26th — opposite House Fiscal Committee Cutoff, March 1st the opposite Floor Cutoff and Thursday, March 7th is the last day of 2024 Regular Session. I will continue to list cutoff dates at the bottom of every Hedrick Weekly for reference.

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