By Trent House, AFA Government Affairs
Week of February 5, 2024
We have now passed the mid-point of session and notably, the house of origin fiscal cutoff. Surviving bills have advanced to the Rules committees, joining bills that have no fiscal impact to the state and did not pass through a fiscal committee. The Rules committees are made up of members of both parties who are allowed to “pull” or select a few bills at each meeting to advance towards the floor. Less controversial bills may be placed on the suspension calendar in the House and the consent calendar in the Senate and heard early during this period before rules limiting debate are applied. Bills that will require debate are placed on the regular calendar. On second reading, the chambers debate bills and offer amendments. If a bill has been amended in committee or on the floor in the house of origin, it is engrossed, meaning the amendments are incorporated into the body of the bill. On third reading, the chambers vote to pass a bill. This repeating process of Rules, caucus, and floor time will continue until the February 13 deadline for bills to pass their chamber of origin.
Minority party bills usually die quiet deaths at the hands of the majority. But on Tuesday, the House passed HB 1800 (Barkis, R-2), an anti-graffiti bill, unanimously. Members across the aisle reported their districts are also struggling with graffiti, which has been in the news of late. Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a court ruling that stopped the city of Seattle’s ability to enforce its graffiti ordinance. The bill provides that a court may order a person convicted of Malicious Mischief in the third degree or Criminal Street Gang Tagging and Graffiti to complete at least 24 hours of community restitution, pay restitution, or clean up the damage with prior permission of the legal owner or the agency managing the property. The bill will now advance to the Senate.
Four years ago, Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man from Tacoma, died in police custody after spending the final moments of his life hog-tied. On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed SB 6009 (Trudeau, D-27), which prohibits the practice of hog-tying by law enforcement. This bill aligns Washington with other states that have taken decisive steps to prevent deaths related to the practice. The Department of Justice has recommended eliminating the practice since 1995, and the Attorney General’s Office’s use-of-force model policy advises against it. The bill will now start its process in the House.
On Tuesday, the House passed the “Nothing About Us Without Us” Act, HB 1541 (Farivar, D-46). Under the bill, task forces, work groups, and advisory committees tackling issues affecting underrepresented populations must include at least three individuals with direct lived experience on that issue. For those serving on task forces, work groups, and advisory committees, educational materials and toolkits will be created to support meaningful engagement of all participants. In addition, regular reports will assess the effectiveness of these inclusion efforts. The bill now goes to the Senate.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 5778 (Keiser, D-33), a priority for the labor community. The bill prohibits an employer from disciplining or discharging, threatening to discipline or discharge, penalizing, or taking any adverse employment action against an employee for refusal to attend an employer-sponsored meeting, listen to speech, or view communications, when the primary purpose of which is to communicate the employer's opinion concerning religious or political matters. Under the bill, employers would also not be able to require workers to attend meetings where they are told that attempts to unionize will lead to layoffs or loss of benefits. In her floor testimony, Sen. Keiser added that this is not a gag on the employer, but the employee does not have to listen. Oregon, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maine, and New York have passed similar laws. The bill passed on near-partisan lines and now moves to the House.
Data shows reported hate crimes in Washington have reached the highest level in more than two decades. SB 5427 (Valdez, D-46) passed the Senate on Wednesday, which if passed by the House will establish a hotline administered by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) for reporting these incidents. The hotline would accept reports of hate crimes and bias incidents and provide appropriate crisis intervention and information that is victim-centered, culturally competent, and trauma-informed. These services would be accessible to as many Washington state residents as possible, regardless of the language they speak. The AGO would also be required to develop a standardized process to collect, analyze and regularly report information related to these incidents to the governor, Senate, and House of Representatives. The collected data would need to be made publicly available after redacting personally identifiable information for the protection and safety of the victims.
Wednesday was a significant day for human trafficking bills. In a show of bipartisanship, SB 6006 (Dhingra, D-45) and SB 6056 (Torres, D-15) both passed unanimously and will move to the House. SB 6006 expands the definition of abuse or neglect of a child that must be reported by mandatory reporters to include trafficking, modifies agency procedures related to assessing, providing services, and reporting abuse or neglect, and expands sexual assault protection orders to include commercial sexual exploitation. SB 6056 mandates training for hotel employees to identify victims of human trafficking. In her floor remarks, Sen. Torres said that Washington state is ranked poorly in regard to identifying victims of human trafficking and these bills will help alleviate that. Sen. Keiser noted that this is particularly important with large sporting events coming to Washington state next year.
Another bill that passed with unanimous support was SB 6157 (Lovick, D-44). This allows Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status recipients to apply for civil service positions as city firefighters, city police, fish and wildlife officers, and peace and corrections officers. Sen. Lovick, a career law enforcement officer, noted that he believes this would bring more diversity to police departments. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.
Legislation to make members of the clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect passed the Senate on a 44-5 vote on Wednesday. The bill, SB 6298 (Frame, D-36) will now go to the House for consideration. Senator Frame is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the abuse ended only after she told a teacher who was a mandatory reporter. In 2023, Frame introduced SB 5280 on the same issue, which failed to pass because of disagreement over whether to include an exemption for clergy who learned about abuse during confession. The version of the legislation that passed the House, which closed the exemption for confession, was opposed by a majority of the Senate, and the two chambers were unable to agree on a final version of the bill. The updated legislation strikes a compromise position. It includes an exemption for confession for the duty to report, but it does enact a duty for clergy to warn law enforcement or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families when “they have reasonable cause to believe that a child is at imminent risk of being abused or neglected, even if that belief is informed by information obtained in part as a result of a penitential communication.”
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