By Trent House, AFA Government Affairs
Week of January 22
The 2024 Washington State Legislative Session is more than a quarter of the way finished. The January 31 House of Origin policy cutoff is looming, and committees are beginning to shift their focus to moving legislation. Bills must be voted out of the policy committee in the House of Origin by that date. Policies with a financial implication for the state will then need to make a quick stop in one of the fiscal committees, with a deadline of February 5 to be voted out of those. The legislative process is a series of hurdles designed to fail ideas more than pass them and many bills will die in the coming weeks either because they are problematic or for sheer lack of time.
As we head into a major election year, substance abuse and homelessness are front and center for voters. Even in Seattle, the most liberal hub in the state, moderate democrats swept the November 2023 election, promising to address the public safety and homelessness issues that have plagued Seattle in recent years. At the beginning of January, in a Crosscut/Elway poll, respondents listed as their top three priorities, the economy, public safety, and homelessness. 84% of those polled would like the state government to put surplus funds into mental health and drug programs, and 66% want to spend more on housing programs. Tribal leaders have asked Governor Inslee to declare a state of emergency on the fentanyl crisis. But on Monday, his office pointed to the Legislature as the right branch of government to pass necessary funding and policy actions to combat fentanyl.
Legislative committees in fact heard several bills addressing substance use disorders this week. Senate Health & Long Term Care heard SB 6228 (Dhingra, D-45) which increases access to substance use disorder treatment by, among other provisions, requiring health plans to cover inpatient treatment and ground ambulance transportation. This is a far more moderate approach than Senator Dhingra had taken before. Last session, Senator Dhingra (D-45), who is also a candidate for Attorney General, sponsored a substance abuse bill, SB 5624, that in part would have decriminalized drugs. That bill, while still alive in the second year of the biennium, does not appear to have the support to move. Rep. Davis (D-32), a passionate advocate for substance use disorder treatment, also had a bill up in House Health Care & Wellness this week. HB 2319 impacts discharge policies, counseling options, health plan coverage, and continuation of medication. HB 2112, sponsored by newly appointed Rep. Greg Nance (D-23) received a vote out of the House Postsecondary Education & Workforce committee this week as well. The bill requires public and private institutions of higher education to provide opioid and fentanyl prevention education, naloxone and fentanyl strips, and education to provide those tools in residence halls.
The immense volume of housing-related bills this biennium is a testament to bipartisan interest in addressing the housing and homelessness issue. Of the 3,400 total bills this biennium, over 700 focus on housing, and nearly 30% of all bills mention housing. On Tuesday, the House Housing committee heard popular HB 2270 (Morgan, D-29). The bill Directs the Office of Financial Management to contract for a study to help facilitate the transition of state housing programs to a new state agency, a Department of Housing, and identify gaps in current state housing programs. This bill is uniquely supported by the entities usually at war with each other over housing, including the Association of Washington Business, residential property managers, and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
Turning to the Initiatives to the Legislature hanging over the head of majority democrats, the anti-capital gains Initiative to the Legislative (2109) was certified by the Secretary of State on Tuesday. And in related news, HB 2459 (Gregerson, D-33) was heard later in the House State Government and Tribal Relations committee. Under the bill, a ballot alternative would receive a public investment impact disclosure to describe the investments that would be maintained if the alternative is adopted instead of the initiative to the legislature.
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