The Washington state Legislature adjourned at midnight Sunday, avoiding overtime and ending a 105-day legislative session that saw bills signed on high-profile issues and a whirlwind finish that raised questions about transparency.
Entering their second year in full control of state government, Democrats enacted changes to laws touching everyday life across the state, from raising the smoking age to 21 to creating a limited public health insurance option to significantly extending the statute of limitations on rape.
And majority Democrats, who regained control of both chambers in 2018, celebrated not going into special session in a long, budget session year for the first time in a decade.
But budget negotiations dragged, with budget writers not releasing key details of their final $52.4 billion two-year proposal until less than 48 hours before the final vote. While Democratic leaders said the broad strokes of their plans had been public for months, critics and open-government advocates said withholding specifics hindered public involvement and oversight.
“If this was an improvement over divided government, I’m sadly disappointed,” Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler said Monday.
Republicans criticized Democratic proposals including transitioning to a progressive real estate tax, questioning why new money was needed even as a growing economy has caused existing taxes to yield more.
And despite holding a majority in both the state House and Senate, Democrats weren’t able to find traction on a number of bills including a few of their top priorities. Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate announced capital gains tax proposals, calling them a major step toward making the state’s tax system more progressive, but were unable to pass either.
With hours to go and many bills left unpassed, including a levy proposal school officials said was key to avoiding a funding crisis, the session seemed sure to lapse into legislative overtime.
But in their final hour, lawmakers struck a deal to pass the levy bill, at least in part in exchange for privacy guarantees Democrats agreed to attach to the state’s bump stock buyback program.
“I thought people adapted and adjusted and got all those gnarly things that were hanging and unresolved, got them resolved and did it quickly,” said Democratic Rep. Timm Ormsby, one of the House budget negotiators. “The Legislature can act very quickly when it decides to.”
Here’s a look at some other bills that passed and stalled.
LONG-TERM CARE: The Washington Legislature has approved the nation’s first employee-paid program creating an insurance benefit to help offset the costs of long-term care. The measure, which awaits a signature from Gov. Jay Inslee, creates a benefit for those who pay into the program, with a lifetime maximum of $36,500 per person, indexed to inflation, paid for by an employee payroll premium. Premiums will start being collected from employees in 2022 and benefits could start being collected in 2025.
HUMAN COMPOST: A measure allowing a burial alternative known as “natural organic reduction” has passed the Legislature and is awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature. The process is accelerated decomposition that turns bodies into soil within weeks. If signed by Inslee, the new law would take effect May 1, 2020. Washington will become the first in the nation to offer such an option.
VACCINE EXEMPTIONS: A measure to remove the philosophical exemption for the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine cleared the Washington Legislature and awaits Inslee’s signature. The bill was introduced amid a measles outbreak in the state that sickened 74 people.
CLEAN ENERGY: A measure that seeks to eliminate fossil fuels like natural gas and coal from the state’s electricity supply by 2045 awaits Inslee’s signature. The bill is a key piece of the governor’s climate agenda. The measure would require utilities to eliminate coal as an energy source by the end of 2025 as the first step toward a goal to provide carbon-free electricity by 2045.
LEGISLATIVE HARASSMENT: Following a year in which four state lawmakers either lost an election or resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations, the Washington Legislature passed a measure that makes such harassment a violation of the state’s Ethics in Public Service Act.
DAYLIGHT SAVING: Washington will make daylight saving time permanent in the state if federal law changes to allow it. While federal law allows states to opt into standard time permanently — which Hawaii and Arizona have done — the reverse is prohibited and requires Congressional action. More than 30 states this year considered legislation related to the practice of changing clocks twice a year.
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY: Inslee, a Democratic contender for president, has signed a measure moving the state’s presidential primary from May to March. Next year’s primary will now be held on the second Tuesday in March.
SMOKING AGE: Washington became the ninth state to raise its smoking age. Along with restricting traditional cigarettes, the new law raises the legal age in January 2020 for buying e-cigarettes and other vaping products whether they include nicotine or not, and sets a penalty for selling to underage buyers. Inslee signed the measure April 5.
PUBLIC OPTION: A plan to create a public health insurance option in Washington cleared the Legislature and is awaiting Inslee’s signature. Dubbed Cascade Care, the proposal would create a state-contracted individual insurance option for purchase on the state’s insurance exchange by 2021. Backers say rate caps for doctors will make the plans cheaper than insurance from private companies.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS: A measure significantly extending time limits for prosecuting sexual assault and modifying the definition of sexual consent was signed by Inslee April 19. It entirely removes the statute of limitations for the most serious sex crimes against children, and extends limits for older victims to as much as twenty years. It also alters consent rules by removing active resistance from the definition of third-degree rape: Instead the definition is modified to mean sex without consent — given by words or action — from the victim.
TENANT PROTECTIONS: Lawmakers approved a package of tenant protections that extend eviction notices from three days to 14, ban eviction for nonpayment of fees, and require payments go to rent before fees. The bill also gives new power to judges, allowing them to temporarily block evictions based on factors including a tenants’ good-faith effort to pay. It waits for Inslee’s signature.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Lawmakers approved Initiative 1000, a plan to allow state agencies and schools to consider factors like race in hiring, and engage in targeted recruitment. As an initiative to the Legislature, lawmakers were able to approve it themselves without sending it to a vote. Opponents are gathering signatures to override the approval and force a popular vote.
SEATTLE TEACHING HOSPITAL:
Lawmakers approved plans for a new behavioral health teaching hospital run by the University of Washington in Seattle, with capacity for 150 patients. A prominent part of Inslee’s plans to address the state’s mental health crisis, the goal of the facility is to boost the state’s workforce of trained behavioral health professionals.
MENTAL HEALTH NETWORK:
A plan from Inslee to create a network of community behavioral health facilities around the state cleared the Legislature, with the goal of eventually allowing patients discharged or diverted from larger facilities to be treated closer to their homes. The proposal would shift how mental and behavioral health care are delivered by shifting capacity away from Eastern and Western State, Washington’s two main state-run psychiatric hospitals.
DATA PRIVACY: A proposal to require allow consumers to find out what data is stored about them, correct errors or request deletion died in the House after meeting resistance from both industry groups and privacy advocates who said it didn’t go far enough. The measure had also proposed rules for facial recognition technology for both state and private users.
DEATH PENALTY: Twin proposals to formally end Washington’s death penalty stalled in the state House. The state’s Supreme Court earlier unanimously struck down capital punishment as arbitrary and racially biased, but the proposals sought to make the ruling permanent by removing capital punishment from state law and substituting life sentences instead. Execution was already extremely rare in Washington, and a governor-imposed moratorium has blocked its use since 2014.
LOW-CARBON FUELS: A pair of proposals that would have required fuel producers and importers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with gasoline and other transportation fuels died in the state Senate. The idea had been a key part of Inslee’s legislative agenda, but met opposition from Republicans and fuel businesses.
MANDATORY SEX ED: A proposal for universal, all-grade sex education stalled in the House after contentious debate. The proposal would have required schools to include teach about items including affirmative consent and how to recognize abusive relationships, according to state learning standards for each grade. Inflammatory remarks marked the debate, centering around accusations that it would foist inappropriate material on young children, although in fact restricted topics like reproduction, STD’s, or puberty, to older students.