Submitted by Trent House, Trent M House Government Relations
Since the start of session on January 13, 1,717 new bills have been introduced in the Washington State Legislature, making for a grand total of 4,198 bills this biennium. With six weeks left, February 7 is the last opportunity for a bill to exit policy committees in its house of origin, unless the bill has a fiscal component.
The Senate surprised lobbyists and constituent visitors to Olympia by remaining on the floor Wednesday and Thursday afternoons through scheduled committees to debate 6492 (Pedersen, D-Seattle), revisions to a policy passed in the final days of the 2019 session. Last April, the Washington State Legislature passed 2158 (Hansen, D-Bainbridge), which applied a 20% B&O surcharge on income from approximately 80,000 service businesses such as lobbyists, engineers, accountants, doctors, and lawyers; a 33.33% B&O surcharge on income from some advanced computing businesses; and a 66.66% B&O surcharge on advanced computing businesses like Microsoft with revenue of more than $100 billion. 2158 (Hansen, D-Bainbridge) was supposed to raise $970 million to provide tuition-free public college and apprenticeships for families earning less than $50,000 per year, and partial scholarships for families earning up to the state’s median income. However, the Department of Revenue estimated after adoption that the measure would raise only $750 million and with a revenue structure too complicated to implement. This bill and the amendments proposed on the floor seek to simplify the concept and provide clarity to who is impacted. It also taxes approximately 4,000 new businesses that 2158 did not but exempts around 14,000 other small businesses earning less than $1 million. In total, 6492 raises approximately $1 billion. A solution will need to be agreed upon soon and signed into law by February 10 to give the Department of Revenue time to implement before the tax is collected April 1.
After two long and acrimonious floor debate sessions, The House of Representatives passed 1110 (Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle), the Low Carbon Fuel Standard bill on Wednesday. The bill advanced on a final vote of 52-44, with Representatives Springer, Sullivan, and Blake joining Republicans in opposition. The policy would reduce the carbon intensity of fuels in Washington State by 10% below 2017 goals by 2028, and by 20% by 2035. Fuel producers unable to meet these targets would be required to buy credits from companies that can. Transportation is the primary source of climate pollution in the Puget Sound region, creating over 40% of the Puget Sound region’s greenhouse gas pollution. The intention is to drive consumers toward electric vehicles and away from gas-powered ones, and influence producers of fuel to change their operations to favor low-carbon products such as biofuels. BP, which operates a refinery in Northwest Washington, changed its position and support of a carbon cap, just two years after the company spent $13 million to oppose Initiative 1631, a carbon pricing ballot measure. The initiative was rejected by voters 56% to 43%, a point not overlooked by opponents of 1110. Opponents also site a 2019 study commissioned by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, suggesting the policy could add $0.22-0.57 per gallon of gasoline, and from $0.24-0.63 per gallon of diesel by 2030, which they say deals a major blow to farmers, trades workers, and residents of rural Washington who are both high users of fuel for agriculture and commuters to jobs that pay significantly less than those found in Western Washington. Governor Inslee and legislative Democrats reject these claims and praise the policy as a critical piece in staving off disasters like the Australian wildfires.
After the United States Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on sports betting in 2018, 13 states have legalized it, and most others, including Washington are now considering legalization. In this state, the Legislature is considering proposals that amend tribal gambling compacts with the state to allow Las-Vegas-style sports betting at the 29 tribal casinos. Tribal leaders say their casinos are already trusted entities in Washington, and employee 30,000 people in what used to be the poorest areas of the State of Washington, pay $722 million in taxes, and are a $5.7 billion part of the state economy. Maverick Gaming, a Nevada-based operation that has steadily built a footprint in Washington purchasing 19 card rooms employing 2,200 people is also hoping to break into brick and mortar sports betting, as well as electronic betting using cellphones and computers. The tribes and the Superintendent of Public Instruction are opposed to electronic gambling given the ease of access for young people.
The Senate voted once again to abolish the death penalty in Washington on Friday. 5339 (Carlyle, D-Seattle) would make permanent a 2018 Washington State Supreme Court ruling that struck it down as arbitrary and racially biased, instead mandating a life sentence without the possibility of parole as the sentence for aggravated murder. It has passed the Senate every year for three years but failed in the House. The measure will be another test of a Jinkins House. Governor Inslee has already agreed to sign it should the bill reach his desk.
Feb 7 – House of Origin Policy Cutoff
Feb 11 – House of Origin Fiscal Cutoff
Feb 19 – House of Origin Floor Cutoff
Feb 28 – Opposite House Policy Cutoff
March 2 – Opposite House Fiscal Cutoff
March 6 – Opposite House Floor Cutoff
March 12 – Sine Die