Washington Legislature: What passed, what stalled
Washington lawmakers adjourned their 60-day session after passing what they hope is the final piece of a long-running education funding mandate, along with a one-time property tax cut for homeowners.
In addition, in a last minute compromise between lawmakers, police groups and advocates of an initiative that was initially headed to the November ballot, they also voted to make it easier to prosecute police who commit negligent or reckless shootings, updating a law that made it uniquely difficult to hold officers criminally liable.
Thursday night’s adjournment was the first year lawmakers haven’t had to go into special session since 2014.
After a win in a key Senate seat in November, Democrats were in charge of both legislative chambers for the first time in five years, holding narrow majorities in both the Senate and House, which means the new majority in the Senate was able to get some, but not all, of their priorities out of both chambers this year.
A bipartisan effort to exempt lawmakers from the state’s Public Records Act in response to a court ruling in favor of a media coalition who sued last year resulted in a media and public backlash that led Gov. Jay Inslee, who initially said he wouldn’t veto the measure because a supermajority of the Legislature had approved it, to change course. Here’s a look at some of what passed, and stalled during the fast-paced session:
SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET: The plan spends more than $776 million to expedite the timeline on fully funding teacher salaries, which lawmakers believe is the last step needed to satisfy a 2012 ruling that found that K-12 school funding was not adequate. While the main focus is on education funding, the budget also allocates additional money for mental health, heath care and higher education, among other areas. The overall plan also provides a 30-cent cut to statewide property taxes in 2019, with the rate dropping from $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value to $2.40. The budget includes no new taxes and leaves $2.4 billion in total reserves at the end of the current two-year cycle.
POLICE DEADLY FORCE: The new law ends years of wrestling over the existing law, which forces prosecutors to prove the officers acted with malice – a hurdle no other state has. It deletes the “malice” requirement and defines “good faith” as whether a reasonable officer would have used deadly force in the same circumstances. It also orders new de-escalation and mental health training for officers, along with new requirements to provide first aid for injured people. Activists outraged over questionable police shootings in Washington and across the country had gathered enough signatures to force a vote on the measure on the November ballot, but instead, they worked with police organizations on the compromise version lawmakers approved as the legislative session drew to a close Thursday. Lawmakers passed the original initiative as well as the compromise that amended it.
NET NEUTRALITY: Washington has become the first state to enact its own net-neutrality requirements after U.S. regulators repealed Obama-era rules designed to keep the internet an even playing field. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the new law that bans internet providers from blocking content or interfering with online traffic.
BUMP STOCK BAN: Gov. Jay Inslee signed the measure to prohibit the devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more rapidly. The measure came in response to last October’s mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and left hundreds more injured. The new law makes it illegal for anyone in Washington to manufacture or sell bump stocks beginning July 1. In July 2019, it will be illegal to own or possess a bump stock in Washington.
ATLANTIC SALMON FARMING BAN: The Washington Legislature voted to phase out marine Atlantic salmon aquaculture, an industry that has operated for decades in the state but came under heavy criticism after tens of thousands of nonnative fish escaped into waterways last summer. The measure, which awaits a signature from Inslee, would end state leases and permits for operations that grow nonnative finfish in state waters when current leases expire in 2022.
ABORTION INSURANCE COVERAGE: A measure that would require Washington insurers offering maternity care to also cover elective abortions and contraception also awaits Inslee’s signature. In addition to linking abortion coverage with maternity care, the bill would require health plans issued or renewed after Jan. 1, 2019, to provide copayment- and deductible-free coverage for all contraceptive drugs and devices, as well as voluntary sterilization and any consultations or other necessary procedures.
EQUAL PAY: Lawmakers passed a bill that seeks to reduce the wage gap between men and women and provide equal growth opportunities and fair treatment in the workplace. The bill measure modifies the state’s Equal Pay Act by making it unacceptable for employers to retaliate against employees for asking about their wages or the salary of other employees. It also prohibits discrimination in providing career advancement opportunities based on gender.
CARBON TAX: A measure to impose a straight tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels like gasoline and electricity made it out of policy and fiscal committees in the Senate but never came up for a vote before the full Senate due to lack of support in the Democratic-controlled chamber. A coalition of environmental, community and labor groups have since filed a proposed citizens’ initiative that would put a price on carbon emissions.
DEATH PENALTY: An effort to abolish the death penalty in Washington state passed the Senate and a House committee but was never brought up for a vote in the full House. The measure would have removed capital punishment as a sentencing option for aggravated murder and mandate instead a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. There has been a moratorium on the death penalty since 2014, put in place by Gov. Jay Inslee.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX: A measure to create a 7 percent capital gains tax on earnings from the sale of stocks, bonds and other assets above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for those who file jointly passed a fiscal committee in the House but was never brought up for a vote before the full House.
SMOKING AGE: An effort to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 passed the House late Wednesday but was never brought up for a vote in the Senate.
SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLES: A measure that would have raised the age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 passed a Senate fiscal committee but was never brought up for a vote of the full Senate. The measure also would have created a program to allow students and others to report concerns about unsafe, dangerous or illegal activities via a specialized mobile app and would have created another program for schools to expedite emergency response in the event of a threat.
CAR TABS: Both the House and Senate advanced bills attempted to address the issue of higher car tab-fee that were a result of how a car’s value was estimated, but the efforts never received a final vote. Drivers in a three-county taxing district – King, Pierce and Snohomish – saw their rates shoot up as a result of the Sound Transit 3 construction package.