WK3: 2021 Legislative Update

Each week, Trent House AFA's Government Relation's Director, gives you insight into Olympia, providing an update on the week's proceedings.


Join Trent every Friday during session for a discussion of activities in the Legislature via Zoom. Register at https://www.afa-wa.com/events/2021-legislative-review-w-trent-house


Week of January 25-29


Against the backdrop of recent gun violence at protests in Olympia and across the United States, the Senate Law & Justice Committee heard several high-profile bills addressing firearms this week. Both of which attracted record-breaking virtual crowds empowered by the ease with which they can sign in with support or opposition during this virtual session.


Unemployment Insurance & COVID-19 Relief


HB 5061 (Keiser, D-33) passed the House floor Friday afternoon on a bipartisan 89-8 vote, providing much-needed relief for employers across the state whose tax bills skyrocketed due to COVID-19 layoffs last year. The legislation also helps the lowest-wage hardest-hit workers by raising their minimum benefit. The bill will relieve businesses by preventing an automatic UI tax increase of $1.7 billion from 2021 to 2025, starting with $920 million this year, thereby reducing employers’ tax bills due in April. It also completely removes from businesses’ future UI tax calculations an additional $1.2 billion in benefits paid out during the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order last spring from March 22 to May 30, 2020. The lowest-wage workers, those making between $21,000 and $27,800 per year, will also welcome the provisions in this measure to raise their minimum benefit when they get laid off. Employees who make more than minimum wage will not see a change in their benefit. The bill also makes a series of changes that would automatically take effect the next time the governor declares a health emergency, including: providing UI benefits to people at risk who quit voluntarily because they cannot work from home, and waiving charges from their employer’s experience tax rate; waiving charges for employers who cannot continue operating fully or must shut down due to an infectious public health emergency; waiving the one-week unpaid waiting period when federal funds are available. Passing SB 5061 will also restore the state’s UI trust fund, which has reduced from $4.8 billion to $1.4 billion during the pandemic. It is projected to grow to $3.2 billion by 2025. The emergency clause in the bill will make it effective immediately after it is signed by the governor.


The Senate advanced to the 9th Order of Business on Wednesday after Senate Republicans used the procedural move to force the Senate to take up SB 5114 (Braun, R-20), the bill that would move the entire state to Phase 2 of Governor Inslee’s reopening plan. A roll call was demanded. Senators Mullet and Sheldon joined Republicans in voting in support of SB 5114. The bill failed.


Tax


Next Tuesday, the House Finance committee will hear HB 1406 (Frame, D-36), a bill that will impose a 1% tax on “extraordinary financial intangible assets” such as cash and cash equivalents; publicly traded options; futures contracts; and stocks and bonds. The revenue would be used to offer credits against taxes paid by low- and middle-income families, start-up and low-margin businesses as well as fund education, childcare, public health, public housing, and public safety. The Department of Revenue estimates approximately 100 Washington billionaires will be impacted. The first $1 billion of assessed value would be exempt.


Firearms


More than 3,600 people signed in on SB 5078 (Liias, D-21) in the Senate Law & Justice Committee on Monday, setting a new record for the Washington State Legislature. Under most circumstances, the bill prohibits the manufacture, possession, distribution, importation, selling, offering for sale, purchasing, or transfer of large capacity magazines. Opponents of the bill claim the legislation unfairly targets women, the elderly, and people with disabilities who may be less able to carry around and change multiple magazines quickly and therefore require a high-capacity magazine. Proponents of the prohibition point to the fact that assault weapons and high-capacity magazines have been repeatedly used to commit some of the largest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. And here in Washington, mass shootings in Seattle, Mukilteo, Burlington, and Spokane all involved high-capacity magazines which enable shooters to fire more rounds, faster, without having to reload. Proponents say the seconds a shooter takes to reload are often the moments during which someone is able to bring down a shooter. The bill passed out of the committee on a party-line vote on Thursday.


On Tuesday, the committee heard SB 5038 (Kuderer, D-48) which prohibits the open carry of a firearm or other weapons at or within 1,000 feet of permitted public demonstrations. Notably, the bill also bans open carry on the state capitol grounds, its buildings, and other legislative locations. Openly carried weapons are currently banned from both House and Senate galleries and hearing rooms. Several states, including California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Wyoming have prohibitions on concealed carry, open carry, or both at state legislative and other government-owned buildings. Supporters of the bill contend open carry enables those who wish to intimidate others, while opponents argue it infringes on their second amendment rights. The law will apply whether a person carries the weapon on their person or in a vehicle. More than 2,400 people signed in on the bill. The bill passed out of the committee on a party-line vote on Thursday.


Equity Impact Statements


On Monday, the House State Government & Tribal Relations committee heard HB 1264 (Thai, D-41), a bill creating “equity impact statements” on legislation, something akin to fiscal notes. Using a phased-in approach, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) will be required to provide an Equity Impact Statement (EIS) that must, at minimum, describe the expected impact of the legislative proposals on communities, or groups of individuals who share the same race, creed, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, certain disability status, language access status, or socioeconomic status. OFM testified with concerns about the bill, citing the enormity of the work included in an EIS. A fiscal note had not yet been received at the time of the hearing. The bill was scheduled for executive action on Thursday but no action was taken.


Governance


On Wednesday, the Senate State Government & Elections committee heard SB 5196 (Billig, D-3), a bill to provide a path for the legislature to call itself into special session. Though granted the right by the Washington State Constitution, the legislature has never called itself into special session in the history of the State of Washington because the procedures to do so do not formally exist. This bill puts those procedures into statute. In his testimony before the committee, Senator Billig cited the importance of the right of the legislature to call itself to special session as part of the balance of power between the branches. The bill has been scheduled for executive session next Wednesday.


Healthcare


The Senate Health & Long Term Care committee held a hearing on SB 5149 (Robinson, D- 38), the “Covered Lives” assessment on Wednesday. The bill would put a new tax on health carriers, Medicaid managed care organizations, and third-party administrators with over 50 covered lives. The assessment would generate $143 million for fiscal year 2024 and $200 million for fiscal year 2025 and beyond. The revenue from the assessment would help fund foundational health services. These include communicable disease control, chronic disease and injury prevention, maternal child family health, access to clinical care, environmental public health and vital records. Proponents of the bill say this will create a reliable and stable funding source for public health. Opponents however claim the bill wrongly punishes employers that provide healthcare to their employees, rather than employers that provide no healthcare. While public health advocates support the bill, the legislation has united the Association of Washington Business and organized labor in opposition. The proposal has not been scheduled for executive session.


Transportation Package


Senate Transportation committee chair Senator Steve Hobbs (D-44) released his updated Transportation Proposal, “Forward Washington” on Thursday. The plan would make $18 billion in transportation investments over 16 years. Spending in Hobbs’ plan focuses less on preservation and more on state, local, and tribal projects. Hobbs has proposed two options for the bulk of the revenue generation: one that uses cap & invest as a tool and another that uses a carbon fee. Both generate between $15.5-$16 billion over 16 years and assume some bonding. The Hobbs plan includes many smaller revenue sources, including a 3.5 cent fuel tax, an air quality surcharge, and a statewide transportation benefit assessment. This contrasts with the proposal by House Democrats that includes an 18-cent gas tax increase phased over two years, which would, along with existing state and federal rates, raise the total to 85.4 cents per gallon, the highest in the United States. Diesel would be taxed 3 cents a gallon more. House Democrats included a carbon tax starting at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The House proposal does not assume any bonding.


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