Week 2 General Legislative Review – Jan 15 – 19

While Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a holiday for many, it is one of the busiest days in the legislative calendar, with constituents arriving by busload to meet with their delegations. Bills are moving quickly in committees already and there are plenty to track. This year, over 1,000 new bills have been introduced for the short session.

Quinn v. Washington

Early Tuesday morning, Democrat majority budget writers received good news that the U.S. Supreme Court will not review Quinn v. Washington, the lawsuit challenging Washington’s 7% tax on capital gains above $250,000. The tax brought in nearly $900 million in revenue in the first year, which budget writers are counting on to fund education. This is not the end of the story though, as the issue may still appear as an initiative on the November ballot, pending signature verification and action by the Legislature. Later that morning, Secretary of State Steve Hobbs notified the Legislature that signature verification of Initiative 2117 (concerning carbon tax credit trading) has been completed and has been certified. The legislature must now approve that initiative or send it to voters with or without an alternative measure. The signatures on the other pending initiatives, including capital gains, are currently being verified by the Secretary of State.

Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

Tuesday was the majority’s gun violence prevention day in the House Civil Rights and Judiciary committee, which is consistently one of the largest draws for testifiers on campus and virtually. Over two thousand people signed in not wishing to testify on most of the bills. The legislation proposed covered a great deal of territory, including:

  • HB 1902 (Berry, D-36) establishing a permit requirement to purchase a firearm;
  • HB 1903 (Berry, D-36) requiring a report of the theft or loss of a firearm within 24 hours;
  • HB 2118 (Walen, D-48) requiring firearm dealers to take precautions such as mandatory anti-theft features;
  • HB 2021 (Senn, D-41) allowing the State Patrol to destroy confiscated crime guns; and
  • HB 2054 (Farivar, D-46) prohibiting firearms dealers from delivering more than one firearm to a purchaser or transferee within any 30-day period.

On Monday, the Senate also heard SB 5444 (Valdez, D-46) which further restricts firearms in sensitive places such as libraries, parks, and transit stations.

Gift Card Conundrum

Tuesday was also gift card day, with four bills being heard in both chambers. While gift cards do not expire in Washington State, if a person does not use a gift card or funds on a mobile app from a Washington-based retailer after three years, current law allows that money to return to the company as profit. Rep. Emily Alvarado (D-34) and Senator Yasmin Trudeau (D-27) are proposing a pair of policies (HB 2094, HB 2095, SB 5987, SB 5988) that would send the unused balances to the Department of Revenue’s unclaimed property website, where gift card users could locate those balances. Any unreturned money held by the state could eventually go toward state spending on education, healthcare, or housing. Additionally, the legislation package would allow consumers to cash out a gift card up to $50, would require large corporations to notify consumers about unspent funds, and would let consumers reload gift cards and mobile apps at any amount. This is another highly contentious issue this session, with the business community coming out in force to oppose.

HB 2119 – Prohibiting Garnishing Wages for Medical Debt

On Wednesday, the House Civil Rights and Judiciary committee heard HB 2119 (Riccelli, D-3) which would prohibit the garnishment of wages for medical debt. In his remarks, the sponsor noted that medical debt is increasing and is worse in lower income communities and communities of color and that the University of Washington, PeaceHealth, Providence and a few other hospitals have already moved away from garnishment. But the bill received harsh criticism from the Washington State Medical Association and the Washington State Hospital Association, who cite already available charity care.

Public Education Bills

If legislators have their way this session, there will be several additions to requirements for public education in the future. On Wednesday, the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committee heard four bills addressing additional topics of education:

  • SB 5813 (Dozier, R-16) would require instruction on agricultural literacy;
  • SB 5819 (Valdez, D-46) makes financial education a graduation prerequisite;
  • SB 5849 (Wellman, D-41) creates a computer science competence graduation requirement; and
  • SB 5851 (Braun, R-20) requires genocide and Holocaust education.

On Thursday, the House Education committee heard HB 1296 (Leavitt, D-28) which would require fentanyl and other substance abuse prevention education in schools.

Traffic Safety Initiatives

In a media availability Thursday, Inslee called for action in response to a state report forecasting another year of record traffic death. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission counted over 800 traffic fatalities in 2023, the most since 1990. Lawmakers are considering proposals to allow municipalities to deploy speed cameras (SB 5959, Liias D-21) and reduce the allowable blood-alcohol concentration (SB 5002 Lovick D-44) from .08 to .05 grams per mL of blood. About a third of fatal crashes in Washington involve an alcohol-impaired driver.

TVW’s Legislative Review covered other legislative highlights from the second week of session. Legislative committees held public hearings on bills to require oil companies to report pricing info to state government, put a new 1% tax on high-value home sales, protect initiative signature gatherers, raise the local property tax threshold, make it easier to kill wolves that attack livestock, phase out mercury containing lights – and more.

Upcoming Dates:

  • 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

Source: Brynn Brady, Ceiba Consulting, Inc. | ceibaconsulting.com