Hits, misses as state Legislature wraps up session

OLYMPIA – The 2019 legislative session began Jan. 14 and is scheduled to end today, if the operation, transportation, and capital budget all pass the Legislature and are signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Key issues this session have ranged from vaccines to school funding, gun control, behavioral health, reducing the rape kit backlog, and a host of other issues.

Inslee made waves this session by declaring his run for President on March 1. The campaign took Inslee to the East Coast frequently over the course of the session, where he appeared on talk shows and his own CNN Town Hall in April. His absence from the state during the legislative session and increased security costs have drawn criticism.

While budgets and taxes loom, the policy changes that are encompassed in the 2,641 proposed bills this session are vast. Here are some of the key issues passed or left behind this session.

Tobacco 21: It will be illegal to purchase tobacco if you are under the age of 21, effective Jan. 1. Inslee signed it into law April 5. Federally recognized tribes and their lands fall under federal law, which stipulates the minimum age to purchase tobacco is 18. Therefore, it will be legal on tribal lands in Washington for those 18 to 20 to purchase tobacco products. Legislators cited the dramatic reduction in odds that individuals will pick up the habit of smoking after the age of 21 as the reason they strongly support the bill.

Rape kit backlog: A bill to reduce the sexual assault kit backlog passed the Legislature in two unanimous votes, with Inslee signing it into law on April 23; it became effective then.

A sexual assault kit is physical evidence collected from a victim after the assault. With some kits remaining untested for over a decade, the State Patrol Crime Lab now can test only 213 kits per month, with a backlog of about 10,000 kits. The bill includes a victim’s bill of rights, money to hire additional lab technicians, and new timelines for future rape kit testing.

Statute of limitations on sex crimes: There will be no statute of limitations for most sex crimes against minors and, an extended statute of limitations for rape, under legislation signed into law by Inslee on April 19. The statute of limitations is the length of time after a crime is committed that legal action or prosecution can be taken. The legislation also changes the burden of proof for consent to the defendant for the charge of rape in the third degree. Previously, the victim had to prove they had not consented. The bill received broad bipartisan support in both chambers.

Hate crimes: Newly named hate crime offenses would let courts infer the offense was due to the perception of the victim’s association with a protected class, unless evidence suggests otherwise. The legislation also would create a multidisciplinary Hate Crime Advisory Working Group under the attorney general. Washington was the number-two state in the nation in 2017 for the number of hate crimes reported.

Daylight Savings: Legislation to move Washington to year-round daylight savings time is headed to Inslee’s desk. The legislation passed both chambers in bipartisan votes, and states like California and Oregon are considering similar legislation. The state must have approval from Congress to actually make the switch.

Composting human remains: The Legislature passed a bill that would add being turned to garden compost to a selection of ways to dispose of the deceased. Effective in May 2020, funeral directors will be allowed to compost human remains if requested.

Vaccines: After a measles outbreak earlier this year in Clark County, the Legislature passed a bill to remove the personal exemption to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine while leaving both the religious and medical exemptions intact.

Firearm seizure: Law enforcement officers will seize all firearms and ammunition from a home when a domestic violence offense has occurred, including guns believed to be used in commission of the offense, as well as any other guns in sight or discovered during a lawful search. The guns will be held for a cooling-off period of five days, after which the owner can follow the pre-existing process to obtain their firearms.

Hydrogen fuel: In addition to biodiesel- and ethanol-based fuels, Public Utility Districts will now be allowed to produce and sell renewable hydrogen as a fuel source.

Clean energy: A sweeping clean energy bill will require all utility companies in the state to provide 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2045. Starting in 2026 all electric utilities in Washington will be required to eliminate coal-fired sources of electricity. And by 2030, all electricity sold to utility customers must be greenhouse-gas neutral. Inslee has been a proponent of this legislation.

Orca protection: A law recommended by the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force makes it illegal for boat traffic to come within 300 yards of an orca and also establishes annual fees for whale watching enterprises, ranging from $125 for a single kayak to $2,825 for large motorized whale-watching tour boats.

Eyeball tattoos: Scleral tattooing is the process of scarring or inserting pigment into the human eye, typically the white of the eye. The legislature voted to make the practice illegal in Washington. Indiana and Canada already have banned the procedure.

Dog breed profiling: Effective Jan. 1, it will be illegal for municipal governments to ban certain dogs based solely on their breeds, unless a reasonable exemption process, such as making exceptions for canine graduates of the American Kennel Club “Good Citizen Program,” is in place. Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law.

Legislative Losers

Death penalty: A proposal to strike the death penalty from state law and replace it with mandatory life in prison without possibility of parole did not survive. Nevertheless, there has been a moratorium on the death penalty since 2014 and the last execution was conducted in 2010. Attorney General Bob Ferguson pointed to the House leadership’s unwillingness to bring the legislation up for a vote as the reason the measure did not pass this session.

Sex Ed: The Senate passed a comprehensive K-12 sex education bill on Feb. 27 in a party-line vote. The bill would have required public schools to teach medically and scientifically accurate, comprehensive sexual health education at an age-appropriate level, with curriculum approved by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The bill never came up for a vote in the House of Representatives.

Dwarf tossing: Entertainment venues featuring dwarf tossing or dwarf bowling were not outlawed this session, though a bill aimed at preventing injuries of small-statured people was introduced.

For more information on the bills being signed into law over the coming weeks, see https://tinyurl.com/PDN-govbillaction.

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

Sandy Stokes contributed to this report.

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