State of the State 2023

Ambitious Housing Reform Has a Real Shot This Year

Years Into a Housing Crisis, the State Might Let Us Build More Places to Live This Year!

The Stranger’s 2023 Bill Tracker

A Big List of Promising and Not-So-Promising Proposals to Fix the State’s Polycrisis

The Stranger’s Big-Ass Preview of Washington's 2023 Legislative Session

Guns! Abortion! Housing! Police Reform! Health Care! Taxing the Rich! And Steamrolling the GOP! Or Not.

Are We Going to Tax the Rich or What?

Probably Only If You Scream at Your State Reps for the Next Several Years

Get Jesus Out of Our Uteruses

Democrats Vow to Make Washington an Abortion Sanctuary

Washington Takes Aim at the Gun Industry

We’re Banning Assault Weapons! Requiring Gun Permits! And Unleashing Bob Ferguson! Maybe!

Washington's Next Police Reform Battle

Ending Qualified Immunity Won't Be Easy, but It's Necessary

Big year, people. Big year.

The Washington State Legislature kicked off its 105-day session last week, and lawmakers are dropping all kinds of bills designed to tackle the housing crisis, the affordability crisis, the workforce crisis, the behavioral health crisis, the climate crisis, the crisis facing our public schools—you name a crisis, and they’ve got a bill for it.

But they also have or will have bills to make those crises worse, including bills to rollback police reform efforts and re-criminalize drugs.

Here’s a list of the legislation we have our eyes on. If you like or dislike any of these bills, feel free to testify in favor or against. This year, lawmakers in both the House and Senate decided to continue remote testimony, so it's never been easier. Learn more on that here

(Note: This list doesn’t have everything on it—including education bills; I’ll add those later—and a lot of major stuff gets handled in the budget. If you see any glaring absences, shoot me the bill number at rsmith@thestranger.com. Thank you. Another note: “HB” stands for “House Bill” and “SB” stands for “Senate Bill,” and bills with both prefixes were dropped in both chambers. Lawmakers do that to give them more options for passage.)

Renters’ Rights

  • HB 1388: Seattle’s Rep. Macri is coming through with this “rent stabilization bill” which would cap rent increases at 3% or the cost of inflation, whichever is higher. But if inflation is sky-high, landlords would only be able to raise your rent by as much as 7%. It would also stop landlords from charging higher for month-to-month leases under certain conditions and vice versa. The bill would also sic the Attorney General on landlords who violate the provision. Rep. Alex Ramel also dropped a similar bill, HB 1389, but it has more exemptions for landlords.

  • HB 1124: This anti-rent-gouging bill would require landlords to give tenants six months of notice before raising rent by 5%, and it’d let tenants end a lease “without penalty” for rent hikes over 5%. It would also limit late fees to $75, which honestly still seems kinda high. Housing Committee Chair Strom Peterson sponsors this bill, so there’s a good chance it gets through his committee, at least.

  • SB 5060: The state’s data on rental property is abysmal, which makes it difficult to determine average rent and real vacancy rates. Also, in some jurisdictions, landlords don’t even need to register or have a business license. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, would require landlords to register their units with the state if they don’t already do so within their city (and pay a registration fee for each unit), and it also requires the state to create a website to track rents and vacancies.

  • HB 1074: Tired of just assuming you’ll never get your deposit back? Then testify in favor of this bill, sponsored by Rep. My-Linh Thai, which makes it harder for your landlord to fuck you over on your deposit by making them show receipts for repairs and stuff. You know, like every other business does.

Housing and Homelessness

  • HB 1110/SB 5190: We need to build a million homes in less than 20 years, and there’s no way we can do it without this “missing middle” housing legislation from Rep. Jessica Bateman. This bill, a version of which died tragically last year, will legalize more duplexes, fourplexes, and six-plexes in areas where you can currently only built one dumb house. The urbanists will do an insurrection if this shit doesn’t pass this year.

  • HB 1167: A little pot-sweetener for the bill mentioned above, in which Rep. Davina Duerr and a few friends proposes a grant program to help cities and counties pay for certain kinds of middle housing plans.

  • HB 1149/SB 5202: Governor Jay Inslee wants to put $4 billion on the state’s credit card to acquire housing now—rather than several years from now, when the prices will be higher. If the bill passes, he’ll need our vote to authorize the purchase. Though we’ll have to pay back the money using our worst-in-the-nation regressive tax system, we needed 200,000 more housing units yesterday, and at the moment this seems like quickest way to get the money. And, who knows, maybe we can use a progressive source to service the debt.

  • SB 5045: Sen. Patty Kuderer’s legislation would give landlords a property tax break if they rent out their backyard cottage to people with low-incomes and only charge 30% of the tenant’s monthly income. The bill basically aims to incentivize people to rent out their accessory dwelling units (ADUs) for the good of the housing market, rather than turning them into  AirBnBs for the good of tourists.

  • HB 1026: This bill would streamline the design review process so that unelected boards of dorks can’t hold up construction on vital housing projects just because they’d prefer one kind of fake brick to another. If this legislation passes, only a faceless bureaucrat could do that—which would honestly be 100 times better.

  • SB 5203/HB 1181: Another top-ticket item for urbanists. The proposal, which died in spectacular fashion last year, would force cities and counties to use their growth plans to reduce climate change by figuring out ways to reduce greenhouse gases and vehicle miles traveled. If the covered jurisdictions fail to do this, then you better believe the growth management hearing board will have some strongly worded things to say on the matter.

Poverty

  • HB 1045: Contrary to knee-jerk conservative beliefs, just giving poor people money actually works. Rep. Liz Berry’s Evergreen Basic Income Pilot Program would give 7,500 people the amount of money it’d cost to live in a two-bedroom apartment on a monthly basis for two years, and it would likely add more evidence to the growing pile showing the effectiveness of these kinds of policies.

  • SB 5125/HB 1094: State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti wants to start a “baby bonds” program, and he asked Rep. Monica Stonier and Sen. Yasmin Trudeau to work that idea through the Legislature. The program would set aside $4,000 for every baby born under Medicaid, which accounted for 47% of births in 2020, according to the Treasurer’s office. As those babies matured, so would this money. And if those babies are still poor by the time they’re 18, then they can cash in this money and use it to help pay for college, apprenticeships, a home, or a small business. It wouldn’t guarantee the realization of the American dream in Washington, but it’d help.

Drugs

  • SB 5263: Sen. Jesse Salomon is back with his proposal to legalize psychedelic mushrooms. Lawmakers slowed down the legislation last year, reportedly after the Department of Health, which would have had to create rules around the new industry, asked for a breather to deal with COVID stuff.

  • TK: There will be some bills to re-criminalize simple possession of drugs, despite the lessons the drug war taught us, and I’ll update those here.

  • SB 5080: This bill, courtesy of the Liquor and Cannabis Board and Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, aims to increase equity in the pot-dealing business, partly by offering to waive an annual license fee one time for pot shops that produce a “social equity plan,” and partly by allowing more shop licenses in certain areas based on population.

Criminal Justice and Police Accountability

  • SB 5383/HB 1428: Sen. Rebecca Saldaña wants to make jaywalking legal so long as the person basically looks both ways before crossing the street and exercises care before doing so, and so do I. Cops use jaywalking as an excuse to stop poor people on the street they don’t like, and they shouldn’t have that excuse.

  • HB 1363 / SB 5352: 🚨 Rollback alert!!! 🚨 Cops want to do more deadly car chases, and these bills would rollback protections in a police accountability law passed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to do it.

  • HB 1025: Washington still has plenty of work to do on police accountability, and Rep. My-Linh Thai’s bill to end qualified immunity probably ranks at the top of that list. The bill would allow people to sue cops for violating civil rights, though cities and counties would ultimately be on the hook for the money. Read Will’s piece to learn everything you need to know about this.

  • HB 1024: If you work, you should at least make the minimum wage—even and especially in jail. This bill would make sure that happens, and it would also reduce the amount of money that prisons can skim off the labor of incarcerated workers to pay for their own imprisonment.

  • HB 1062: Here’s the thinking behind this proposal from Rep. Strom Peterson: cops shouldn’t be able to lie to try to trick you into incriminating yourself. Why? Because that’s an obvious abuse of power. And also because it’s dangerous as hell.

  • HB 1087/SB 5135: Long-term solitary confinement is torture. This proposal would limit the ways jail officials could use it and collect data on its use. 

  • HB 1174: Rep. Tarra Simmons’s bill would make it easier to vote in jail, so far away from the Stranger Election Control Board’s premium election content.

Dinosaurs

  • HB 1020: The bill to make the Suciasaurus rex the state dinosaur died last year, but it didn’t go extinct (kill me). This year, Rep. Melanie Morgan revived it to help memorialize this short lizard king, which scientists discovered up in San Juan County.

Tech 

  • SB 5464/HB 1392: The "Right to Repair" bill is back! It hasn't really changed since Matt wrote about it last year. The proposal would force tech companies to give us the tools to fix the stupid little addicting bricks we buy from them! Allowing us to fix stuff doesn't fit into the whole "planned obsolescence" growth racket these companies run, so it'll likely be another big battle. 

  • HB 1616/SB 5643: Tech giants have a lot of your data, and they make big money with it. You should have the power to demand they delete it or correct it, and also the power to sue them if they don't comply. Rep. Kloba's People's Privacy Act does that. Read all about it

Health Care

  • SB 5120: Tired of watching people having mental breakdowns on the light rail, the sidewalk, and in the middle of the street? So is Sen. Manka Dhingra, who will push through this bill to establish 23-hour “crisis centers,” which are places where people in crisis can go besides the emergency room (expensive) or jail (counter-productive AND expensive). Read Will’s feature on this to learn more.

  • HB 1115/SB 5242: This legislation from Rep. Jessica Bateman would make your health insurance cover the full cost of abortion, without leaving you on the hook for co-pays or any other cost-sharing bullshit like that.

  • HB 1155/SB 5351: Rep. Vandana Slatter’s bill would add protections to health data collected by apps and websites. Under this bill, companies who want to collect your health data need to ask for it first, and you’d be able to stop them from selling it and to have them delete it. Wanna read more on this and other abortion protections working through the Legislature? Hannah has you covered.

  • SB 5236: Nurses' unions and hospital associations face off again over this bill to try to improve nurse-to-patient ratios. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. June Robinson, would force hospitals to give nurses more say on staffing plans, give the state sharper teeth (fines) to ensure that hospitals adequately adhere to those staffing plans, and expand the number of employees who qualify for mandatory rest/meal breaks. 

Good Government

  • SB 5082/HB 1158: Regular readers of the Stranger Election Control Board’s endorsement guides know that Tim Eyman’s stupid, fucking advisory votes are meaningless push-polls that clog up the first page of ballots, waste taxpayer dollars, and do nothing other than confuse people about how government works. This bill from Sen. Patty Kuderer would kill them.

  • HB 1048/SB 5047: This proposal, from newly elected Rep. Sharlett Mena, would reduce some legal friction to securing voting rights in Washington.

  • HB 1206/SB 5199: Rep. Gerry Pollet and Sen. Mark Mullet want to give digital news outlets a tax break. The Stranger probably doesn’t qualify under the current language, unfortunately and very likely deliberately (jk).

Guns

  • HB 1143/SB 5211: Governor Jay Inslee and Rep. Liz Berry’s bill to require permits to buy guns and 10-day background checks. Looks like the same sponsors, minus the governor, have a compromise bill—one that doesn’t have the permit-to-purchase requirement—ready to go, too. Read Will on this legislation and a handful of others.

  • SB 5193/HB 1180: Assault weapons ban, baby.

  • SB 5446/HB 1178: Lifts the state ban on cities regulating guns themselves. Mayor Bruce Harrell would be happy.

Climate

  • HB 1085: Rep. Mena’s bill to reduce plastic by banning those little shampoo containers in hotels and also certain kinds of extruded foam used to float stuff on the water. The proposal also requires water bottle filling stations next to drinking fountains.

  • SB 5154/HB 1131: Our plastic recycling system sucks, but this bill would help it suck less by bringing it in line with European and Canadian standards. Read Matt on this for more.

Transportation

  • SB 5267: Makes sure railroad workers get sick leave.

  • Plus, you know, there’s the transportation budget.