OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers are more than halfway through this year’s 60-day legislative session and have been rapidly moving bills out of the Senate and House ahead of unveiling their supplemental budget proposals.
A revenue forecast on Thursday was good news for lawmakers, projecting that they have a good deal more money to work with as they finish crafting their plans. Senate Democrats will release their budget plan on Monday, followed by House Democrats on Tuesday. Many bills not considered necessary to implement the budget needed to be passed off the floor of their chamber of origin by Wednesday in order to advance.
With Democrats in charge of both chambers for the first time in five years, the new majority in the Senate has moved fast to pass out several bills that had previously stalled in that chamber.
Here’s a look at where things stand:
Signed into law
• Capital budget: After being held up for months because of a dispute over a water use bill, the $4.2 billion budget that pays for construction projects across the state was signed into law early in the session. The budget includes money for major projects across the state, including affordable housing, K-12 school buildings, mental health beds and public work projects.
• Water use: Lawmakers struggled for over a year to reach agreement on how to address a 2016 state Supreme Court decision known as Hirst involving the use of domestic wells in rural areas. The compromise that was reached on the issue this year allows landowners in rural areas to tap household wells known as permit-exempt wells while local committees work to develop plans for future water use. Those plans must outline how to offset potential impacts to rivers and streams from those wells.
• Death penalty: A measure to abolish the death penalty in the state passed the Senate and awaits action in the House. The bill removes capital punishment as a sentencing option for aggravated murder and instead mandates a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014, but up until this year, efforts to advance legislation to make the move permanent have failed to advance out of either chamber.
• Bump stocks ban: A bill that seeks to ban devices that are designed to accelerate a firearm’s rate of fire has passed the full Senate and a House policy committee.
The measure to prohibit the devices, known as bump stocks, came in response to last October’s mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and left hundreds more injured. The bill would make it illegal for anyone in Washington to manufacture or sell bump stocks beginning July 1. In July 2019, it would become illegal to own or possess a bump stock in Washington.
• Net neutrality: A measure meant to protect net-neutrality rules in the state passed the House with strong bipartisan support and has a public hearing before a Senate policy committee this week. Under the measure, internet providers are prohibited from blocking content or impairing traffic.
The bill also would require providers to disclose information about their management practices, performance and commercial terms. The bill is in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent repeal of net-neutrality rules.
• Carbon tax: A measure to tax fossil fuel emissions to fight climate change has cleared a Senate policy committee and has had a public hearing before a key fiscal committee. The bill proposes a new tax of $12 per metric ton of carbon emissions, lower than the $20 per ton originally proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee. The tax would begin in 2019 and in 2021 would increase $1.80 per ton each year until it is capped at $30 a ton. Because the bill has a potential fiscal impact, it’s not subject to deadlines that other non-budgetary bills face.
• Voting rights acts: The Senate passed a measure seeking to reform representation of minorities in local elections. The bill has passed a policy committee in the House and awaits a vote by the chamber. It seeks to open the possibility of court challenges to cities, counties and school districts to push them to switch from at-large to district elections in areas where large minority groups are present.
• Equal pay: A bill that seeks to reduce the wage gap between men and women and provide equal growth opportunities and fair treatment in the workplace passed the House and a policy committee in the Senate, and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. The bill would modify the state’s Equal Pay Act by making it unacceptable for employers to retaliate against a female employee for asking about their wages or the salary of other employees. It would also allow women to receive the same promotional opportunities as men within a company.
• Abortion insurance coverage: The Senate passed a measure that would require Washington insurers offering maternity care to also cover elective abortions and contraception. The bill has passed a policy committee in the House. In addition to linking abortion coverage with maternity care, the bill would require health plans issued or renewed after Jan. 1, 2019, to provide copayment- and deductible-free coverage for all contraceptive drugs and devices, as well as voluntary sterilization and any consultations or other necessary procedures.
• Conversion therapy ban: A bill to ban therapists from trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation has passed the Senate and a policy committee in the House. The measure would deem it “unprofessional conduct” for a licensed health care provider to perform conversion therapy on a patient under the age of 18.
• Other gun control measures: Several measures related to guns did not advance, including: a ban on most magazines that hold more than 10 rounds; requirement of enhanced background checks for the purchase of an assault weapon and raising the age limit to 21 for purchase of an assault weapon; creation of a duty for the safe storage of firearms and creating a civil liability for violations of that duty what result in injury, death or committing of a crime; and repeal of state laws that pre-empt local governments’ ability to regulate firearms.
• Law enforcement and guns: A bill that would have allowed the State Patrol to destroy firearms confiscated during criminal investigations stalled in the House.
• Orca protection: A measure that would have increased the number of enforcement patrols to keep boaters a safe distance from endangered Puget Sound orcas stalled in the Senate. It had called for about 100 patrols during the most active times when the whales are in the Salish Sea. Fish and wildlife officers typically do about 50 patrols now.
• School safety app: A bill that would have directed Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to work with a vendor to create a mobile app for students to anonymously report concerns about unsafe, dangerous or illegal activities to school administrators passed a policy committee in the House but stalled in a fiscal committee.
• Low carbon fuels: A bill requiring fuel producers and importers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with gasoline and other transportation fuels cleared two committees but ultimately stalled in the House. The measure would have created a low-carbon fuel standard similar to ones in California and Oregon.