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week 6-2024 Legislative session updates

By Trent House, AFA Government Affairs


Week of February 12, 2024

 

The 2024 Legislative session is now more than 66% complete, after having passed the House of Origin cutoff on Tuesday. The vast number of bills introduced during the biennium are dwindling and legislators are now back in committees, largely considering a smaller set of bills already debated, amended, and passed by the other chamber. At this point in session, the process moves at lightning speed, allowing just 8 days for the Opposite House policy committees to hear and pass referred bills, compared to 24 days for the House of Origin at the beginning of session. 

 

As floor action wound down early this week, the chambers passed some of the more contentious bills of the session regarding firearms dealers, traffic cameras, sentencing modifications, holocaust education, and unemployment insurance for striking workers. Great speculation always exists as to what will be the 5:00 bill in each chamber. Under legislative rules, as long as a bill has been started (and usually paused on cutoff day) prior to the 5:00pm deadline, debate is allowed to go on as long as necessary. This year, the Senate adjourned at 4:15pm after passing a bill officially bestowing “The Evergreen State” as the state’s nickname. The House, on the other hand, debated HB 2114 (Alvarado, D-34), the heated rent stabilization bill. The bill prohibits increasing rent more than once in a 12-month period and prohibits increasing rent more than 7% during a 12-month period for month to month and long-term leases. It also requires that landlords charge the same for month to month and long-term leases. Additionally, combined total move in fees and security deposits cannot exceed the cost of one month’s rent and late fees are capped at 1.5% of a tenant’s total monthly rent.  The legislation passed 54-43 with 4 Democrats voting against it. It now heads to a Senate that is slightly more moderate than the House and possibly less likely to pass it. 

 

After three hours of Senate floor debate last week, SB 5241 (Randall, D-26) arrived in the House Civil Rights & Judiciary committee on Wednesday. Known as the “Keep Our Care Act,” the bill is a carry-over from the 2023 session, when Democrats proposed a package of bills designed to preserve access to abortion and other reproductive care in response to the fall of Roe. v. Wade in 2022.  If passed, hospitals and health systems would have new reporting requirements during mergers or purchases, such as providing documentation on how the change would affect access to reproductive, gender-affirming, emergency, charity, and end-of-life care.  It would also give the Attorney General’s Office power to determine if the merger or sale would negatively impact access to affordable health care and the AGO could block a merger or impose conditions. Last session the bill did not advance past Senate Rules, but this year the bill has new momentum despite opposition from hospitals and provider groups, particularly in rural areas, who point to a dire financial state in healthcare and lack of stakeholder outreach on the legislation.  If passed, this bill would certainly be a talking point for Senator Randall, who is also a candidate for the open seat in the 6th Congressional District. 

 

This week Washington State celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Boldt Decision, a historic case that ruled Native Americans are entitled to half the salmon catch in Washington, affirming that tribes are sovereign nations and obligating the U.S. to keep the promises of long-ago signed treaties. Prior to Boldt's ruling, tribes collected less than 5% of the harvest, but by 1984, were collecting 49%. On Wednesday, the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Committee heard HB 1879 (Lekanoff, D-40) which names the curriculum used in public schools to teach about tribal history, culture, and government as the John McCoy (lulilaš) Since Time Immemorial curriculum. Tulalip Senator John McCoy, who died June 6, 2023, served in the House from 2003-2013, and in the Senate from 2013-2020. McCoy also served as chairman of the executive committee of NCSL’s National Caucus of Native American State Legislators. According to NCSL, there are 89 Native legislators in 21 states. 

 

Each session, budget writers await the mid-session revenue forecast before putting the finishing touches on their budgets. On Wednesday, the forecast showed a “slow growing economy” but the forecast of funds subject to the budget outlook has increased by $337 million (0.2%) for 2023-27 biennia. Total state revenues are expected to grow 3.5% between the 2021-23 and 2023-25 biennia and 7.0% between the 2023-25 and 2025-27 biennia. Senate budget writers released their 2024 Supplemental Capital Budget proposal on Thursday. The Capital Budget funds construction and maintenance of infrastructure and physical projects throughout Washington. This year, the budget includes funding increases including:

 

·         $121.5 million for K-12 school construction.

·         $44.5 million for the purchase and modernization of the Olympic Heritage Behavioral Health Hospital in Tukwila, which was purchased by the state in the summer of 2023 after its private operator suddenly shut it down.

·         $44.8 million for behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment facilities run by the state’s partners in tribal government, funding facilities for the Colville, Jamestown S’Klallam, Kalispel, Lummi, Quinault, and Suquamish tribes.

·          $12.49 million for other behavioral health community capacity grants, including $8.5 million for opioid addiction treatment facilities.

·         $119 million in total housing funding, including $111 million for the Housing Trust Fund.

·         $25 million to help the Quinault Indian Nation acquire privately-owned working forest land on its reservation.

·         $8.6 million for the Nisqually Indian Tribe for its electric grid, EV charging, and wastewater treatment, to help complete its energy sovereignty initiative.

·         $25 million to help Energy Northwest develop small modular nuclear reactor technology, which requires tribal consultation before moving forward.

·         $10 million for a digester at the WSU Knott Dairy — the creamery that produces Cougar Gold cheese — to help turn manure into clean energy.

·         $10 million to support the 2026 World Cup, which is expected to bring more than $100 million back in economic impact to the Seattle area.

·         $1.5 million for the Garfield High School “superblock” in Seattle’s Central District.

 

As this week wraps up, most legislators will return home to their districts for the weekend to hear from constituents at town halls, traditionally scheduled for the weekend after the first floor cutoff. 

 

Upcoming Dates:

 

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

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Response from Sen. Mullet regarding industry feedback on the Unemployment Bill for Striking Workers SB5777/HB1893


"You will be glad to hear that I do not support this bill. I do not think that workers on strike should receive unemployment insurance.  As a small business owner, it makes me nervous that we could be providing benefits to employees who choose to go on strike which puts owners like me in a tough position as those costs are spread through every employer.   The purpose of the unemployment insurance trust fund is to provide temporary financial support to workers who lose their job through no fault of their own.   I promise to fight against this proposal because it completely violates the central purpose of the unemployment insurance program."


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