illustrations by Tyler Gross

In the annals of Washington lawmaking, 2018 will go down as the year your lawmakers wavered on guns, failed on climate policy, choked on capital punishment, and attempted to hide their own records like weasels. Okay, it wasn't all bad. Bolstered by a new Democratic majority, legislators also passed historic bills on voting rights, pay equity, net neutrality, and sexual harassment. For those of you following for the first time, your state lawmakers meet only once a year for either 60 or 105 days. Since this year ends with an even number, they only had 60 days to move bills through the state's two chambers and onto Governor Jay Inslee's desk. Here's what legislators did—and just as importantly, didn't—get done.


Guns

You might imagine the dead kids in Parkland, Florida, would give your lawmakers the kick they needed to pass comprehensive gun reform. Think again. Our gun laws are so fucked that most 18-year-olds can waltz into their neighborhood weapons mart and leave with military-style assault rifles, such as the AR-15s used to commit murders in Parkland, Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando, Newtown, and Mukilteo. Yet this year legislators failed to raise the age restriction for buying assault weapons to 21, the same bar set for handguns. They also failed to pass enhanced background checks for people purchasing assault weapons, another common-sense regulation that gun-control advocates have been pushing for years. What we got was low-hanging fruit. Yes, Olympia banned bump stocks, the type of device that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to quickly fire so many rounds. But even Donald Trump and the NRA support bump stock regulations. Legislators also passed a bill adding domestic-violence-related harassment to the list of crimes that land a person on a no-buy list. And another bill allows people who recognize they might be a danger to themselves to voluntarily add their names to a blacklist for gun purchases. All important steps. None go far enough. STEVEN HSIEH


Taxes

If you're a property owner in Washington, you'll get a tax break next year, thanks to a last-minute deal in the legislature. Did Democrats finally use their new majority to tax the wealthy and offset other taxes? Hahahahaha, good one! This tax cut is the result of an unexpected influx of cash from existing taxes. A state revenue forecast recently predicted that Washington will bring in about $1.3 billion more than expected over the next three years. So lawmakers are now diverting that unexpected revenue from the rainy-day fund to a one-time property tax cut in 2019. Property owners saw higher tax bills after lawmakers voted last year to raise taxes to address a court order to fully fund K-12 education. Rather than paying $2.70 per $1,000 assessed value, property owners will pay $2.40, according to the Seattle Times and Tacoma News Tribune. HEIDI GROOVER


Sexual Harassment and Assault

Thanks to state capital workers speaking out—including 175 women who signed a letter asking for change—state legislators passed a host of bills that attempt to make it easier to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. (For the fuckteenth time, it turns out being treated like a fucktoy at work is not just "clumsy flirting," and women and men—but let's be real, mostly women—aren't vindictive hysterics who report anything and everything to human resources! Wow!) Olympia passed a bill that bans nondisclosure agreements regarding sexual harassment or assault complaints. They also banned work contracts that require employees to waive their right to file a sexual harassment complaint under Washington's antidiscrimination law. And finally, they directed the human rights commission to come up with sexual harassment best reporting practices. Shockingly, as of this writing, the legislature has not passed any bills that would bring back capital punishment for men merely accused of grabbing a woman's ass, or forcing them to wear a scarlet letter ("A" for "Asshole") while languishing in stocks in the town square. SYDNEY BROWNSTONE


Transit

Democrats swept into power this year ready to defend vulnerable people! Protect the environment! And, uh, let me check my notes here ... stand up for car drivers and deliver a financial blow to mass transit? Oh. For the second session in a row, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle introduced bills to lower car tab taxes, which help fund light rail projects in Puget Sound. But the formula Sound Transit uses to calculate the taxes inflates car values, so drivers have been bellyaching about it to their lawmakers. The house and senate had both backed a bill that would change the formula, resulting in a $780 million budget hole for Sound Transit. (The agency says the true cost will be more like $2.3 billion total because of increased borrowing costs to replace the lost funding.) The two chambers were split on whether to backfill that funding. The senate approved a bill to partially replace the lost money by exempting Sound Transit from construction taxes that were slated to fund education programs. But three days later, a house committee removed that funding source. By the time the legislature wrapped up on March 8, none of the bills passed and we ended up back where we started. Which is actually okay! Great job, everyone. HG


Reproductive Rights

Okay, okay—as easy as it is to criticize the invertebrate Democratic majority in the state legislature, the Dems do occasionally get their act together to pass worthwhile legislation. Take, for example, the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require insurance companies to cover abortions if they cover maternity care, and to cover various kinds of birth control. The act would also set up a reimbursement program for women who are without insurance or on Medicaid. Critically, the act also requires a review of maternal and reproductive health-care disparities between white women and women of color. HG


Voting

For good reason, big issues like taxes, sexual harassment, and Governor Inslee pretending he couldn't veto that dumb secrecy bill grabbed most of the #waleg headlines this year. But the passage of the Washington Voting Rights Act was an equally huge deal. The bill, years in the making, addresses cities and counties where minorities live in large numbers but have little to no local representation. It allows people to file complaints about representation and seek a switch from at-large to district-based voting. Cities and counties will have 180 days to address the issue, or else the complaint will go to court. In other voting news, Washington voters will now be able to register in person all the way until Election Day instead of having to have their shit together weeks in advance. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds will soon be able to preregister to vote. And soon, Washingtonians who get an enhanced driver's license or enhanced ID will be automatically registered to vote. Residents will have the ability to opt out. HG


Environment

Governor Inslee sells himself as the green governor, but he's repeatedly failed to muster enough votes for his signature green policy proposal: a tax on carbon emissions. His carbon tax died in committee this year, this time shy a couple votes. Thankfully, it's not too late. A new initiative, sponsored by the Alliance for Clean Jobs and Energy, has a similar proposal. Sign it! Vote for it! Your children will thank you. While they didn't get a carbon tax, legislators made some strides on the environment. They banned Atlantic salmon net pen fishing, a welcome response to the disastrous escape of 100,000 of those invasive monsters in Puget Sound last year. They banned some toxic food packaging and a firefighting foam that pollutes water. They also passed a bill strengthening oil transportation safety. SH


Housing/Homelessness

Housing is another area where Dems have actually kinda stepped up! A bipartisan coalition passed a bill that's been near the top of housing advocates' wish list for years. Known as "source of income discrimination protection," this bill will bar landlords from refusing to rent to people with housing vouchers, Social Security, and other assistance. The legislature also strengthened a key homelessness funding source: the temporary $40 document recording fee. Lawmakers voted to make that fee permanent and to increase it to $62. The fee, which is charged on the filing of real estate documents, will fund homeless shelters, rental vouchers, and other services. The one area where housing advocates didn't get their wish: A bill to repeal the statewide ban on rent control died a predictable death in a house committee. HG


Criminal Justice

State legislators passed three pieces of great legislation addressing criminal justice reform, and failed spectacularly (for several reasons) on a fourth. First, kudos to politicians for changing Washington's deadly force law to make it easier to prosecute police officers who kill. Second, kudos to politicians for "banning the box" statewide. Under the Fair Chance Act, employers will no longer be able to advertise for positions with terms like "no felon" or "no criminal background." The law would also restrict employers from asking about a person's criminal history before hiring. State legislators also passed a bill requiring police departments to respond to the visa requests of undocumented crime victims, a process mostly sought out by immigrant survivors of domestic violence. Major progress. A bill that sought to lift the statute of limitations for rape, sexual assault, and child sex abuse had its flaws—namely, that juvenile perpetrators would be treated the same way as adult perps—but by the time that bill got to the house, politicians had wholly abandoned the idea of lifting the statute of limitations for adult rape survivors. The final form of the bill, which only addressed child rape and molestation, failed too. If you're raped in Washington State, you still have to report the crime to police within a year if you want to press charges within the next 10 years. Otherwise, your shot at justice is severely limited. SB


Gender Pay Gap

Let's start with the good news. After at least four years of debate, the legislature approved updates to Washington's Equal Pay Act. The approved changes will prohibit employers from mandating that employees keep quiet about their salaries. This year's bill also requires that all workers, regardless of gender, receive the same training and other career advancement opportunities relative to their jobs. Pay secrecy can perpetuate the gender and racial pay gap, since workers may never know they're being paid less than their colleagues. Banning it also happens to be the pay gap law du jour, so Washington got in on that trend. But another bill that could have advanced the fight for pay equity barely got any notice. That bill would have banned employers from asking about past salary. Basing your salary on whatever you made at your last job saves your boss money, but can keep you locked in a cycle of getting paid less than your coworkers. The bill died in committee. HG


Death

Washington hasn't been able to execute anyone since 2014, thanks to a temporary moratorium on capital punishment put in place by Governor Inslee that year. But since then, Washington legislators have been trying to ban the death penalty for good. Finally, with a Democratic majority in the state house and senate, some people thought we were actually going to do it! The story even became national news! HA! The death penalty bill, which even had bipartisan support (!), died an excruciating death in a house committee after it (even) passed the state senate. As did a bill that would have changed a racist state law and allowed nonresidents to sue for wrongful death in Washington State—like the family members of the international students who died in the 2016 Ride the Ducks crash. SB


Transparency

Your legislators almost got away with covering their asses. It started with a bill that would've exempted the birthdays of public employees from public disclosure. Then came a provision tacked onto a voter registration bill that would've exempted voter birthdays. Finally, the secrecy bill that landed with a thud. Within 48 hours and without any debate, legislators quietly fast-tracked a bipartisan bill that would've shielded their own records from public scrutiny. If it weren't for those meddling newspapers! Twelve of them, some of which sued for legislative records last year, graced their front pages with op-eds blasting the bill and demanding Governor Inslee's veto. Thousands of angry constituents offered their help through phone calls and e-mails to the governor's office. The campaign worked. Inslee vetoed the records bill, and the other two anti-transparency bills died in committee. SH

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