By Trent House, AFA Government Affairs
Week of Jan. 15, 2024
While Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a holiday for many, it is one of the busiest days in the legislative calendar, with constituents arriving by busload to meet with their delegations. Bills are moving quickly in committees already and there are plenty to track. This year, over 1,000 new bills have been introduced for the short session.
Early Tuesday morning, Democrat majority budget writers received good news that the U.S. Supreme Court will not review Quinn v. Washington, the lawsuit challenging Washington’s 7% tax on capital gains above $250,000. The tax brought in nearly $900 million in revenue in the first year, which budget writers are counting on to fund education. This is not the end of the story though, as the issue may still appear as an initiative on the November ballot, pending signature verification and action by the Legislature. Later that morning, Secretary of State Steve Hobbs notified the Legislature that signature verification of Initiative 2117 (concerning carbon tax credit trading) has been completed and has been certified. The legislature must now approve that initiative or send it to voters with or without an alternative measure. The signatures on the other pending initiatives, including capital gains, are currently being verified by the Secretary of State.
Tuesday was the majority’s gun violence prevention day in the House Civil Rights and Judiciary committee, which is consistently one of the largest draws for testifiers on campus and virtually. Over two thousand people signed in not wishing to testify on most of the bills. The legislation proposed covered a great deal of territory, including HB 1902 (Berry, D-36), establishing a permit requirement to purchase a firearm; HB 1903 (Berry, D-36), requiring a report of the theft or loss of a firearm within 24 hours; HB 2118 (Walen, D-48), requiring firearm dealers to take precautions such as mandatory anti-theft features; HB 2021 (Senn, D-41), allowing the State Patrol to destroy confiscated crime guns; and HB 2054 (Farivar, D-46), prohibiting firearms dealers from delivering more than one firearm to a purchaser or transferee within any 30-day period. On Monday, the Senate also heard SB 5444 (Valdez, D-46) which further restricts firearms in sensitive places such as libraries, parks, and transit stations.
Tuesday was also gift card day, with four bills being heard in both chambers. While gift cards do not expire in Washington State, if a person does not use a gift card or funds on a mobile app from a Washington-based retailer after three years, current law allows that money to return to the company as profit. Rep. Emily Alvarado (D-34) and Senator Yasmin Trudeau (D-27) are proposing a pair of policies (HB 2094, HB 2095, SB 5987, SB 5988) that would send the unused balances to the Department of Revenue’s unclaimed property website, where gift card users could locate those balances. Any unreturned money held by the state could eventually go toward state spending on education, healthcare, or housing. Additionally, the legislation package would allow consumers to cash out a gift card up to $50, would require large corporations to notify consumers about unspent funds, and would let consumers reload gift cards and mobile apps at any amount. This is another highly contentious issue this session, with the business community coming out in force to oppose.
On Wednesday, the House Civil Rights and Judiciary committee heard HB 2119 (Riccelli, D-3) which would prohibit the garnishment of wages for medical debt. In his remarks, the sponsor noted that medical debt is increasing and is worse in lower income communities and communities of color and that the University of Washington, PeaceHealth, Providence and a few other hospitals have already moved away from garnishment. But the bill received harsh criticism from the Washington State Medical Association and the Washington State Hospital Association, who cite already available charity care.
If legislators have their way this session, there will be several additions to requirements for public education in the future. On Wednesday, the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committee heard four bills addressing additional topics of education. SB 5813 (Dozier, R-16) would require instruction on agricultural literacy; SB 5819 (Valdez, D-46) makes financial education a graduation prerequisite; SB 5849 (Wellman, D-41) creates a computer science competence graduation requirement; and SB 5851 (Braun, R-20) requires genocide and Holocaust education.
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