Week of March 22-26

With less than one month of the legislative session remaining, Friday, March 26 was the last day for bills to be passed out of policy committees in the opposite chamber. The next deadline comes quickly, with a Friday, April 2 cutoff for bills to pass fiscal committees in the opposite chamber.

Senate Democrats released their 2021-2023 Operating (SB 5092) and Capital (SB 5083) budgets on Thursday, March 25. With state tax collections rebounding to roughly what they were before the pandemic, the Senate Operating Budget spends $59.2 billion over the next two years, on top of $7 billion in aid funds from the federal government. The Operating Budget also uses $1.8 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.

Highlights of the 2021-23 Senate Operating Budget proposal include: 

  • $1.7 billion in federal grants to assist school districts as they safely reopen and to help students with learning loss.
  • $1 billion in federal money for vaccination and other pandemic response.
  • $89 million in combined state and federal funding for special education.
  • $33 million to increase counselors in high-poverty school districts.
  • $191 million to stabilize school districts that have seen a decrease in enrollment, ensuring schools can be fully staffed when classes resume in the fall.
  • $28 million for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in higher education.
  • $3.6 million to complete the expansion of the Spokane medical school.
  • $42 million to support the University of Washington hospital system.
  • $100 million in federal money to bolster the state’s public health workforce.
  • $150 million for foundational public health services.
  • $170 million in combined funding to implement a variety of behavioral health strategies, including work to continue adding more beds in community-based settings, increased Medicaid reimbursement rates, and additional crisis response support.
  • $59 million in federal dollars for mental health and substance abuse grants.
  • $50 million to increase reimbursement rates for dentists, pediatricians, and primary care physicians.
  • $100 million to make health care more affordable by reducing rates on the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
  • $454 million in combined state and federal dollars to increase vendor rates for nursing homes, assisted living centers, and adult family homes.
  • $30 million in state money to eliminate the waiting list for clients needing services from the state’s Developmental Disabilities Administration.
  • $50 million in flexible funds for the Dan Thompson Memorial Developmental Disabilities Community Trust Account.
  • $450 million in combined state and federal dollars to fully fund the Fair Start for Kids Act, which includes a major expansion of Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) slots and rate increases (500 new slots in 2022 and 400 new slots in 2023).
  • $850 million in federal money to support affordable housing and reduce homelessness, including rental assistance, shelter capacity grants, and homeowner assistance.
  • $44 million in state dollars to address landlord-tenant relations by providing tenant protections and providing for legal representation in eviction cases.
  • $26 million to create a state Office of Internal Investigations for police accountability.
  • $12 million to implement a number of police accountability reforms passed this session.
  • $38 million to expand the graduated reentry program that helps people leaving prison successfully transition back into the community.
  • $582 million to support businesses and workers across the state by providing unemployment insurance tax relief.
  • $300 million for additional Immigrant Relief Fund payments to individuals.
  • $268 million to fund the Working Families Tax Credit.
  • $200 million in federal money for expanded Paid Family Leave for individuals forced out of work during the pandemic.
  • 15% increase in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
  • $125 million to fund firefighting resources, improve fire-susceptible forests, and cut fire risk at the expanding juncture of urban areas and forests.
  • $24 million to fund the Climate Commitment Act, which would place an enforceable, declining limit on climate pollution from the largest-emitting sectors of its economy.
  • $20 million to ensure Washington State Parks are fully staffed and equipped by adding an additional 300 employees.
  • $10 million to fund the HEAL Act, which would reduce environmental health disparities by using principles of environmental justice.

Highlights of the 2021-23 House Operating Budget proposal include: 

After a Wednesday Capital Budget (HB 1080) release, House Democrats released their 2021-2023 Operating Budget (HB 1094) on Friday, March 26. The $58 billion proposal also uses approximately $1.8 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.

  • $1.185 billion for COVID-19 vaccines, contact tracing and testing.
  • $1.07 billion for rental assistance to continue the state goal of paying the back rent accrued during the governor’s eviction moratorium. Combined with the $325 million allocated in the Step One for Community and Economic Recovery bill (HB 1368) passed by the Legislature in February, that totals nearly $1.4 billion in rental relief this year.
  • $100 million for local public health districts and regions.
  • $94 million for primary care provider rate increases.
  • $35 million for uninsured and underinsured care through federally qualified health centers, rural health centers, and free clinics.
  • $11 million for school nurses.
  • $600 million for unemployment insurance tax rate cuts and $250 million in small business grants.
  • $166.6 million in mortgage assistance through the ARPA Homeowner Assistance Fund.
  • $140.8 million in food assistance programs.
  • $121.6 million in state housing/homelessness assistance.
  • $37.63 million to increase TANF grants and $26 million to extend TANF benefits.
  • A $26.5 million increase to the Housing and Essential Needs Program, with the goal of serving an estimated 1,700 people who qualify for the program but are waiting for the program to receive more funding.
  • $26.2 million increase for the Emergency Cash Assistance
  • $13 million for foreclosure assistance.
  • $340 million for immigrant relief funds that provide unemployment assistance to undocumented workers and families who are vital to their communities, often serving as front-line and essential workers.
  • $415 million for a temporary rate increase to long-term care and providers for individuals with developmental disabilities.
  • $22 million to fund the Office of Independent Investigations.
  • $400 million in child care grants and supporting providers for language access and navigators.
  • $90 million for Working Connections Child Care co-pay reductions.
  • $96.7 million to fund beds with community-based providers to replace Western State Hospital wards that will be closed.
  • $90 million to improve the state’s suicide and behavioral health crisis response system through HB 1477, implementing the 988 national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.
  • $69.38 million for substance use disorder treatment and response.
  • $53 million for additional special education funding.
  • $52.5 million for additional counselors in high-poverty schools.
  • $8.9 million to cover school lunch copays.
  • Continuing our historic investments with the Workforce Education Investment Act, fully funding the Washington College Grant, and maintaining support for higher education institutions.
  • $15.9 million for Guided Pathways to help community college students finish their programs.
  • $14 million in higher education emergency assistance grants.
  • $2.3 million for the UW Medical School and $5.9 million for the WSU Medical School.
  • $33 million for student and child care connectivity.
  • $7.5 million for statewide digital navigators.
  • $1.3 million for grants to support broadband and digital equity planning.
  • $1.5 million to fully fund the State Broadband Office and a digital equity forum.
  • $204.7 million to expand the Paid Family and Medical Leave program (HB 1073).
  • $144 million for a local government assistance account to help pay for court costs, ballot boxes, GMA planning, or police reform.
  • $125 million to fund healthier, more wildfire resistant forests (HB 1168)

Both the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses released their 2021-2023 biennium transportation budgets this week and on Tuesday, March 23 they received public hearings. Both budget proposals reflect a small sigh of relief from budget writers compared to this time last year. This is due to the State Supreme Court’s rejection of I-976 and the federal stimulus providing $800 million in transportation funding. While the short-term financial picture for transportation has improved, budget writers claim long-term challenges remain with declining gas tax revenues and higher costs due to population growth. In House Chair Fey’s description of the $10.9 billion 2021-2023 House Budget, HB 1135 (Fey, D-Tacoma), he touts three priority categories: investing in green transportation initiatives, major construction projects, and policy reforms to boost equity and opportunity. Senate Chair Hobbs describes his budget process for the $11.7 billion 2021-2023 budget, SB 5165 (Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens), as a “do no harm” approach, with safety, preservation, and maintenance at the top of his list.

In a February 25 decision in the case of State v. Blake, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the state statute that made possession of controlled substances a class C felony, effectively removing any state criminal penalties for possession. On Tuesday, March 23, Senator Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) introduced SB 5476, a bill that establishes a new legal framework for possession of controlled substances. Similar to current state laws on marijuana and alcohol, the legislation would prohibit the public use of controlled substances, as well as the possession by minors. For adults, the possession of small amounts of controlled substances consistent with personal use could be referred to a forensic navigator for treatment. Forensic navigators are employed by the state Department of Social and Health Services to help clients connected with the criminal justice system who need competency evaluations and connections to social services, including substance use treatment. The state is currently building out the forensic navigator system. It is in place in 10 counties and is scheduled to expand to King County on July 1, and to the rest of the state in subsequent years. That rollout is expedited in this year’s state budget. Possession of large amounts would be a class C felony. Republicans and moderate Democrats have also introduced proposals to address the fall-out of the Blake decision.

On Monday, March 22 the Senate Early Learning & K-12 committee heard HB 1213 (Senn, D-Mercer Island), the Fair Start for Kids Act. Among other impacts, this bill and the Senate companion, SB 5237 (Wilson, D-Federal Way) make childcare and early learning programs more affordable and accessible for families while providing higher reimbursements, healthcare, and technical assistance for providers. Supporters say COVID-19 has brought childcare issues to the forefront. According to a study from the Association of Washington Business and other stakeholders, lack of childcare causes Washington’s businesses to lose $2 billion per year and parents to forgo $14 billion per year due by not taking a job, a promotion, working full-time, or getting a higher education degree.

The House and Senate chambers returned to the floor this week. On Wednesday, March 24 the Senate passed HB 1078 (Simmons, D-Bremerton), sending it on to Governor Inslee’s desk. The bill restores full voting rights to felons while on parole and waives the fines that come with seeing those rights restored. An estimated 20,000 people would immediately regain the right to vote, according to the Department of Corrections— more than twice the number bill sponsors had previously thought. As of 2021, only Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia protect the right to vote at all times, including during incarceration. In 18 states, voting rights are automatically restored during parole.

SB 5313 (Liias, D-Everett), known as the Gender Affirming Treatment Act was passed by the House on Wednesday, March 24. The legislation will prohibit health insurers from denying or limiting coverage for gender-affirming treatment that is consistent with a protected gender expression or identity, is medically necessary, and is prescribed in accordance with accepted standards of care. Many health plans in Washington state classify gender confirmation treatment as cosmetic and therefore treatment is often not included in health insurance plans. Because the bill was amended in a House committee, it will return to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

The House Housing, Human Services & Veterans Committee passed SB 5160 (Kuderer, D-Bellevue) Senator Kuderer’s eviction moratorium bill on Thursday, March 25. The much-watched and negotiated bill was amended as follows:

  1. Provides that, for rent that accrued between March 1, 2020, and the six months following the expiration of the eviction moratorium, a landlord may not report to a prospective landlord a tenant’s nonpayment of rent or an unlawful detainer action that resulted from a tenant’s nonpayment of rent during that period.
  2. Adds that a prospective landlord, in addition to a landlord, may not: deny or discourage application for a rental dwelling unit based on a tenant’s medical history; or inquire about, consider, or require disclosure of a tenant’s medical records.
  3. Provides that if a tenant has remaining unpaid rent that accrued between March 1, 2020, and six months following the expiration of the eviction moratorium or the end of the public health emergency, whichever is greater, the landlord must offer the tenant a reasonable repayment plan.
  4. Increases the amount for which a landlord may make a claim to the landlord mitigation program of up to $15,000 in unpaid rent. Adds that a landlord is ineligible for reimbursement under the landlord mitigation program for unpaid rent during the eviction moratorium where the tenant vacated the tenancy because of an unlawful detainer action.
  5. Provides that the Department of Commerce must prioritize funds in the landlord mitigation program account for allowable costs pursuant to statute.
  6. Strikes the requirement that a landlord send copies of the pay-or-vacate notice and additional notices to the local housing justice project at the time of service or mailing to the tenant.
  7. Adds additional language to the uniform 14-day pay or vacate notice and summons, providing contact information if the tenant believes that he or she is low-income and would qualify for court-appointed representation.
  8. Provides that, for one year beyond the expiration of the eviction moratorium, a tenant may demonstrate the ability to pay in order to reinstate the tenancy by means of reimbursement from the landlord mitigation program account, and in such cases, the restriction that a tenant who has been served with three or more notices to pay or vacate for failure to pay rent within one year may seek relief for reinstating the tenancy pursuant to statute.

Chair Strom Peterson has committed to continue to work with stakeholders on the eviction moratorium bill through the floor process. The bill passed on a party-line vote with Republican Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia) crossing the aisle to add his support.

Next week the fiscal committees will hear bills as they wrap up committee action in advance of the Friday, April 2 cutoff. Then on to the floor!

  • Friday, April 2 – Fiscal Committee Cutoff (opposite House)
  • Sunday, April 11 – Opposite House Cutoff
  • Sunday, April 25 – Sine Die

Brynn Brady, Ceiba Consulting | Martin Flynn Public Affairs, Inc.