Despite the fact that Democrats run everything in Olympia, lawmakers came out of the gate last week with little agreement on how to solve the major crises facing Washington. They blame the “short” 60-day session on their inability to consider major progressive legislation that could ameliorate some of those crises, such as establishing state-wide rent control, say, or taxing the rich to reduce the burden on the poor. On top of that, dreaming up ways to fill a potential $500 million hole in the transportation budget, created by Tim Eyman’s $30 car tab initiative, will also gobble up everyone’s time and serve as an excuse not to adequately fund any number of necessary programs.
Instead of using their majority to the fullest extent, Democrats mostly plan to tie up loose ends from last session and pass incremental measures on gun safety, the environment, tenant protections, criminal justice, and maybe homelessness. Republicans will, of course, resist all of this with passionate intensity. They’ll also introduce weird bills of their own. Let’s take a little romp through the stuff that’s expected to pass, as well as the funny little bills lawmakers somehow have time to consider despite the short session.
Funny Little Bills Lawmakers Somehow Have Time to Consider Despite the Short Session
State Dinosaur: A bill to designate the Suciasaurus rex as Washington’s official state dinosaur got a hearing on Monday. The badass-looking dino was found on Sucia Island up in the San Juans by “research associates” at the Burke Museum, and we should be extra proud of its badassness given the fact that it’s the first and only dino fossil found in the state.
Mudflap requirement: Republican Brad Klippert, who is famous for screaming about anal sex and “sad-ism” on the House floor for a solid minute, filed a bill that would prevent tires from extending beyond the wheel wells of cars and trucks if those vehicles don’t have mud flaps. I kinda like this one! Democrats should promise to vote for Klippert’s mud flap bill if he promises to expel Rep. Matt Shea.
Bad Bills Worth Noting
Tax break for private planes: Rep. Alex Ybarra, who replaced Rep. Matt Manweller in the legislature following a sexual harassment investigation, is sponsoring a bill along with a couple Democrats—Reps Larry Springer and Roger Goodman—to give a tax break to people selling private planes out of the state. In this era of polarization, it's so encouraging to see lawmakers on both sides looking out for poor private plane salesmen, who have been suffering on the streets for decades.
Anti-Trans bill: Rep. Klippert has submitted a bill that would prohibit trans girls from competing in girls' sports. According to the Seattle Times, which reviewed Washington's inclusive transgender sports policy on the tenth anniversary of its implementation, "three known transgender athletes have competed in WIAA sports since 2007." This bill is obviously just more bullying bullshit from ALEC, yet another effort to stir up a culture war in a Democratic stronghold at the expense of kids. It also makes one wonder why Klippert is so focused on teenage genitals.
Letting Facebook off the hook: As Stranger news editor Eli Sanders reports, Republican Drew MacEwen is proposing a pair of bad bills that would reduce disclosure requirements for giant tech companies who sell political ads. MacEwen says he and his staff were not lobbied by Google or Facebook before he submitted these bills. Haha, okay, Drew. Anyhow, this legislative body has a terrible record on transparency, so I wouldn’t be surprised if these proposals got farther than the trash can in the Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations.
Meaningful Bills Expected to Pass and/or Good Ones That Should
Data privacy and facial recognition software: On Monday Sen. Reuven Carlyle said he's reached a “95 percent agreement in principle on the core elements" of a bill that gives consumer greater control of their online data, and on another from Sen. Joe Nguyen that imposes some limits on the way cops and the government can use facial recognition software. If that last bill passes, government agencies will only be able to scan your face for "ongoing surveillance" if they obtain a warrant or if it's "necessary" to respond to an emergency. It also establishes some reporting and oversight requirements.
Ending these fucking advisory votes: Man, I bet a certain former House Speaker wished he held a floor vote on Sen. Kuderer’s bill to remove Tim Eyman’s idiotic, wasteful advisory votes from the ballots last year when he had the chance. To prevent voter confusion and the spread of misleading information, Democrats need to pass this one quick and send it to the governor’s office.
Comprehensive sex education: Remember when a proposal to require all schools in Washington state to teach scientifically accurate, compressive sex ed died in the House because its sponsor, education committee chair Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, felt left out of the bill’s construction? Well, that bill is getting a committee hearing on Friday, and it’ll probably get through this year despite a lot of floor theater from Republicans anguishing over the thought of teaching age-appropriate sex ideas to our children, including scandalous lessons on consent.
Banning plastic bags: Sen. Mona Das’s proposal to ban retailers from providing plastic bags for free got chopped at the very end of session last year, but since it got so far along last time it’ll probably make it over the finish line this year.
Legalizing apartments statewide: This bill hasn’t dropped yet, but during a legislative preview last week Rep. Nicole Macri mentioned her intention to introduce a bill to legalize duplexes, triplexes, and quadriplexes statewide, sort of like the bill Oregon passed last year. Macri’s bill would ask cities to come up with a plan to allow developers to build apartments in single family zones, which may increase the number of “missing middle” homes cities desperately need. Over the phone, Macri said this policy tends to be “very controversial, particularly when you’re doing it at the state level," but says we need to have the conversation anyway. "The housing crisis is too acute, it’s impacting too many people, and it’s disproportionally hurting communities of color," Macri added. Macri spoke with the governor about this proposal, and said he's “very supportive.” I plan to write much more about this bill later in the week.
Just cause eviction: Rep. Nicole Macri and Sen. Saldaña are hoping to push their “just cause” legislation through their respective chambers this year, though it’s unclear which one will make it through. The bill would require landlords to give tenants a reason for evicting them, whereas right now landlords can evict tenants in every city but Seattle, Burien, and Federal Way for any reason with only 20 days notice. This bill is good, and it builds on the success of the landmark eviction reforms that passed last year, but the problem with passing just cause eviction without rent control is that landlords can skirt the new protections by simply jacking up the rents and “economically evicting” residents. Macri has promised to have conversations with lawmakers about rent stabilization or anti-gouging laws as she pushes the just cause bill, so maybe she’ll get some more converts this session.
Ending solitary confinement for kids: Sen. Claire Wilson has a bill that ends solitary confinement as a punitive measure in juvie and limits "isolation" as much as possible. Both the House and Senate are taking a look at their respective versions of this bill this week.
Death penalty elimination: The Supreme Court already ruled the death penalty unconstitutional because it’s been applied in a racist way, but the legislature needs to make it state law for the sake of consistency, and for the sake of warding off any ballot measures attempting to preserve the barbaric practice. Sen. Reuven Carlyle has been the caretaker of this bill for some time now, and he’ll probably get his way this session.
High-capacity magazine ban: If you manufacture, buy, or sell “an ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than ten rounds of ammunition,” then—threat of 30-50 feral hogs aside—you’re a paranoid loser scared of your own shadow, and you’ll probably have to ditch your large capacity magazines at the end of the year. Sen. Kuderer’s bill to ban Rambo-like magazines in the age of mass shootings stalled after passing out of committee last year, but lawmakers say they'll take another look soon. Expect Sen. Minority Leader Mark Shoessler to make strange noises as that happens, though. Kuderer is also carrying an assault weapons ban, but that bill didn’t make it as far as the high-capacity magazine ban did last year.
Taxing the rich: Sen. Christine Rolfes says this isn’t going to happen, but Sen. Joe Nguyen plans to push for bills that tax capital gains and corporations who pay million dollar salaries. After saying in an email to a conservative blogger and director of Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center that he thinks a capital gains tax is an income tax, though there’s been no state ruling on that, Nguyen plans to write a version of the bill that would levy a 1% tax on capital gains in order to conform with Washington’s prohibition on progressive taxes.
Beefing up wildfire prevention and response: This proposal will create a dedicated revenue stream (to the tune of $63.5 million per year) to manage our forests better so they don’t burn up all over the place, befoul our air, and lead to deadly landslides. “On average I spend $153 million a year just reacting to fires, and every year I have to go back to beg for it,” said Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Fitzgibbon, would not only fund the state’s wild fire fighting needs, but also improve forest health, which will reduce the severity of future burns. Part of the money will go to new a new helicopter (“I have 9 helicopters to fight fires, and every one of them fought in the Vietnam War,” says Franz), more fire trucks, and more fire fighters across the state. Funding would also hire more people to remove dead trees from 2.7 million acres of dead or dying forests in central and eastern Washington, and to reforest a million acres that have already burned. To pay for all this, the bill would add a small surcharge on house and causality insurance policies. Franz expects a lot of pushback from insurance lobbyists, and says this will “not be an easy bill to pass.” Though it’s snowing right now, Franz says three towns in Washington have a higher fire danger than Paradise, California. “The threat that we’ve seen in California is very real right here,” she said.
Inslee’s environmental bills: In his budget proposal and in subsequent speeches, Gov. Jay Inslee has been championing a clutch of environmental proposals carried mostly by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon in the House. The largest and most “controversial” bill establishes a low-carbon fuel standard, which requires transportation fuel providers (e.g. oil refineries, gasoline importers) to reduce amount of carbon pollution per unit of fuel by 20% over time. The bill got through the House last year, but Senate transportation committee chair Sen. Hobbs killed it. The fear is the bill will cause gas prices to rise, but Oregon, California, and British Columbia passed similar measures years ago and gas prices haven’t gone up that much in those areas. Another proposal would require ride hailing services such as Lyft and Uber to write up a report on their carbon footprint. They’d be required to list the number of electric vehicles in their fleets, the amount of time their drivers spend hunting for fares, number of miles driven for food deliveries, etc. Then the Department of Ecology will look at that report and set targets for emission reductions. Ride hailing services would have to meet those requirements without substantially screwing over low/middle-income drivers. Seattle has had a pretty hard time coaxing any data out of these companies, so good luck to the state. Finally, the governor also wants to keep pushing on the zero emissions vehicle standard, which passed the Senate but not the House last year. The regulation requires automakers to deliver ever-higher percentages of electric vehicles to Washington. Right now, big automakers tend only to deliver their EVs to the ten states who have passed this standard, so passing this bill would give us a wider range of electric cars to choose from and potentially lower prices.