By Jim Hedrick, GSI WA State Lobbyist and Spokane Regional Advocate
With approximately one month left in the legislative session, committees were back in swing this week hearing bills from the opposite chamber. Bills must now move forward in the opposite chamber, progressing through policy and fiscal committees on their way to the floor. Majority Democrats were hard at work this week advancing priorities that may not earn the media attention that guns or abortion do but will still impact many across the state of Washington and beyond.
One of these other priorities for majority Democrats is creating greater access to childcare through the Working Connections Child Care program (WCCC). WCCC is an income-dependent federally and state-funded program that provides childcare subsidies to families, and is administered by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. On Monday, the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee heard bipartisan HB 1525 (Fosse, D-38) which expands Working Connections Child Care eligibility to include the first 12 months of an applicant’s enrollment in a state-registered apprenticeship program. Supporters say those pursuing apprenticeships should have the same access to childcare that students in vocational programs have. Apprenticeships have been a major area of interest for both parties in recent years as the legislature focuses on filling the worker shortage across sectors. The bill passed the House unanimously. And on Friday, the House Committee on Human Services, Youth, & Early Learning heard SB 5225 (Wilson C, D-30) which among other provisions, expands WCCC eligibility to include childcare employees and prohibits DCYF from considering the immigration status of a WCCC applicant. This bill passed the Senate 36-13, with seven Republicans joining Democrats in support.
The House Education Committee considered a few Senate bills this week that would implement new curricula in the state’s public K-12 schools. On Monday, the committee heard two bills sponsored by Senator Marko Liias. SB 5626 (Liias, D-21) would expand the capability of school districts to integrate media literacy and digital citizenship into various subject areas. Supporters say that as technology becomes more prevalent, students must learn how to safely, ethically, and responsibly, use technology. The bill passed the Senate 44-4 with plenty of Republicans supporting. On Thursday, the committee heard SB 5355 (Wilson C, D-30) which requires school districts to provide instruction on sex trafficking prevention at least once between grades 7 and 12.
Washington state is the sixth-largest area for sex trafficking in the country, and over 45% of victims are minors in K-12 schools. This bill passed the Senate unanimously.
Governor Inslee and majority Democrats say climate resiliency is a matter of great importance to them this session and consequently, legislators heard several bills related to it this week. On Monday, the House Committee on Environment & Energy heard governor request SB 5165 (Nguyen, D-34) which changes Washington’s electric transmission planning timelines and requires planners to consider renewable energy projects. The bill passed the Senate floor 36-13. HB 1181 (Duerr, D-1) was heard in the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Among other elements, this governor-request bill will require climate change planning under the Growth Management Act. This bill received a lengthy debate and 14 proposed amendments over on the House floor with one Democrat joining Republicans in opposition, passing 57-41. SB 5447 (Billig, D-3), which promotes the alternative jet fuel industry in Washington, also received a hearing in the House Committee on Environment & Energy. SB 5447 received near-unanimous passage on the Senate floor.
Health insurance plans in Washington may cover additional items if two bills heard this week in the Senate Committee on Health & Long-Term Care week pass. On Tuesday, the committee heard HB 1222 (Orwall, D-33) which requires non-grandfathered large group health plans to provide coverage for hearing instruments, modifies requirements for hearing instrument coverage for plans offered to public employees, and requires the insurance commissioner to include hearing instruments in any updated essential health benefits benchmark plan, upon authorization from the Legislature to update the plan. This bill was a bit of an anomaly in House Appropriations where the committee heard testimony from impacted children, went to caucus immediately and gave it a bipartisan vote the same day, which is exceedingly rare. On the House floor, the bill received broad bipartisan support, passing 89-8. And on Thursday, the committee heard HB 1151 (Stonier, D-49) which would require large group health plans, including health plans offered to public employees, to cover the diagnosis of infertility, treatment for infertility, and standard fertility preservation services. This bill passed the House 65-30, with Republican lawmakers expressing concern about the rising cost of premiums.
Majority Democrats are also looking at ways to reduce chemical exposure to people and the environment through regulation of consumer products. On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology heard HB 1047 (Mena, D-29) which restricts the manufacture, sale, and distribution of cosmetic products containing nine chemicals or classes of chemicals. HB 1047 passed the House 55-41, with a few Democrats joining Republicans in opposition. Also on Tuesday, the House Committee on Environment & Energy heard SB 5144 (Stanford, D-1) which establishes a producer stewardship program requirements for batteries and prohibits retailers from selling batteries produced by companies that do not participate in an approved stewardship plan. This bill received support from Republicans as well as Democrats, passing 42-6.
On Wednesday, legislators participated in a joint session honoring their colleagues who have died since 2019, including former Speaker Pro Tem, Representative Jim Moeller (D-49) who passed away last week after a battle with Parkinson’s at the age of 67. Legislators may choose to help commemorate another important Washingtonian if HB 1639 (Lekanoff, D-40) passes. The bill, which was heard this week in the Senate Committee on State Government & Elections, would permit the use of the State General Fund to supplement the Billy Frank Jr. National Statuary Hall Collection Fund to pay for the creation of installation of the statue. Billy Frank Jr. was a Native American environmental leader and treaty rights activist. A statue of him will replace that of missionary Marcus Whitman in the National Statuary Hall.
It’s the Senate’s turn to kick off the budget process biennium. Next week will be the release of the Senate’s proposed operating, capital, and transportation budgets.
Public Policy developments change fast. Note this is a wrap-up of the week of March 13-17. You can find prior week wrap-ups here: March 6-10, February 6-10, January 30-February 3, January 23-27, January 16-20, and January 9-13. Check out GSI’s 2023’s State Agenda. 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.