Week 3 General Legislative Review – Jan 22 – 26

The 2024 Washington State Legislative Session is more than a quarter of the way finished. The January 31 House of Origin policy cutoff is looming, and committees are beginning to shift their focus to moving legislation. Bills must be voted out of the policy committee in the House of Origin by that date. Policies with a financial implication for the state will then need to make a quick stop in one of the fiscal committees, with a deadline of February 5 to be voted out of those. The legislative process is a series of hurdles designed to fail ideas more than pass them and many bills will die in the coming weeks either because they are problematic or for sheer lack of time.

To date the House has passed 32 bills off the House floor, half of which have passed unanimously. The Senate has passed 24 bills off the Senate floor, also half of which were unanimous.

Substance Abuse and Homelessness Are Front and Center

As we head into a major election year, substance abuse and homelessness are front and center for voters. Even in Seattle, the most liberal hub in the state, moderate democrats swept the November 2023 election, promising to address the public safety and homelessness issues that have plagued Seattle in recent years. At the beginning of January, in a Crosscut/Elway poll, respondents listed as their top three priorities, the economy, public safety, and homelessness. 84% of those polled would like the state government to put surplus funds into mental health and drug programs, and 66% want to spend more on housing programs. Tribal leaders have asked Governor Inslee to declare a state of emergency on the fentanyl crisis. But on Monday, his office pointed to the Legislature as the right branch of government to pass necessary funding and policy actions to combat fentanyl.

Legislative committees in fact heard several bills addressing substance use disorders this week. Senate Health & Long Term Care heard SB 6228 (Dhingra, D-45) which increases access to substance use disorder treatment by, among other provisions, requiring health plans to cover inpatient treatment and ground ambulance transportation. This is a far more moderate approach than Senator Dhingra had taken before. Last session, Senator Dhingra (D-45), who is also a candidate for Attorney General, sponsored a substance abuse bill, SB 5624, that in part would have decriminalized drugs. That bill, while still alive in the second year of the biennium, does not appear to have the support to move. Rep. Davis (D-32), a passionate advocate for substance use disorder treatment, also had a bill up in House Health Care & Wellness this week. HB 2319 impacts discharge policies, counseling options, health plan coverage, and continuation of medication. HB 2112, sponsored by newly appointed Rep. Greg Nance (D-23) received a vote out of the House Postsecondary Education & Workforce committee this week as well. The bill requires public and private institutions of higher education to provide opioid and fentanyl prevention education, naloxone and fentanyl strips, and education to provide those tools in residence halls.

Addressing the Housing and Homelessness Issue

The immense volume of housing-related bills this biennium is a testament to bipartisan interest in addressing the housing and homelessness issue. Of the 3,400 total bills this biennium, over 700 focus on housing, and nearly 30% of all bills mention housing. On Tuesday, the House Housing committee heard popular HB 2270 (Morgan, D-29). The bill Directs the Office of Financial Management to contract for a study to help facilitate the transition of state housing programs to a new state agency, a Department of Housing, and identify gaps in current state housing programs. This bill is uniquely supported by the entities usually at war with each other over housing, including the Association of Washington Business, residential property managers, and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. passed today in the Washington State Senate on a 29-20 bipartisan vote. On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 5334 (Lovelett, D-40) 29-20, a measure that would allow counties or cities to adopt an excise tax on the sale of lodging of short-term rentals. The revenue would be dedicated to affordable housing programs, including homeless housing assistance, temporary shelters, and other services. In 2019, Harvard Business Review found that the rise of short-term rentals is directly tied to rising rents.

Book Banning and Censorship

The American Library Association counted 1,300 attempts to ban or censor books nationwide in 2022. SB 6208 (Stonier, D-49) and companion bill HB 2331 (Wellman, D-41) would insulate schools from demands to remove books by creating a process to hear complaints and by forming an instructional materials committee. SB 5824 (Hunt, D-22) would keep libraries open in response to recent anti-intellectual outbursts in Washington state and across the country. This week the bill passed the senate unanimously.

Initiatives & Legislative Highlights

Turning to the Initiatives to the Legislature hanging over the head of majority democrats, the anti-capital gains Initiative to the Legislative (2109) was certified by the Secretary of State on Tuesday. And in related news, HB 2459 (Gregerson, D-33) was heard later in the House State Government and Tribal Relations committee. Under the bill, a ballot alternative would receive a public investment impact disclosure to describe the investments that would be maintained if the alternative is adopted instead of the initiative to the legislature.

TVW’s Legislative Review covered other legislative highlights from the third week of session. Legislative Committees heard bills on biometric ID for liquor purchases, limiting student restraint and isolation, prohibiting new natural gas hookups, tax breaks for child care, trespassing on school buses, free community college, pay hikes for paraeducators, respite care for family caregivers, regulating the “rolling resistance” of tires, lowering the DUI blood alcohol limit, requiring schools to teach the meaning and history of the Pledge of Allegiance, 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