OLYMPIA — Abortion-related measures and fertility treatment health coverage were included among more than 400 bills filed by state lawmakers by the time they were sworn in for the 105-day legislative session that began Monday.
The proposals, which are heavy on housing bills, were filed in December and after Jan. 1. They will be overshadowed from a time standpoint by passage of a 2023-25 budget, with Gov. Jay Inslee’s $70.4 billion plan already on the table and House and Senate proposed spending plans yet to come.
Bills already making their way to committees include a ban on abortions of unborn children with Down syndrome as well as a Senate joint resolution for a constitutional amendment. The amendment would guarantee that the state “shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom decisions.” Approval would be required by two-thirds of lawmakers and voters.
Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim and Reps. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Mike Chapman of Port Angeles represent the 24th District, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and half of Grays Harbor County, including Hoquiam and Ocean Shores.
The three Democratic lawmakers said Monday they support a woman’s right to choose.
But even with Democratic majorities of 58-41 in the House and 28-20 in the Senate, they did not expect SJR 8202 proposing a constitutional amendment to achieve the legislative margin for ballot worthiness.
“I don’t think six Republicans will vote with us,” Van De Wege said.
A constitutional amendment would further codify citizens’ Initiative 120.
Narrowly passed by Washington voters in 1991, I-120 affirmed the right to an abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which it did June 24. The 6-3 majority on the U.S. court ruled there is no constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, leaving abortion restrictions and access up to state voters and legislatures.
Republican 4th District state Sen. Mike Padden, representing the Spokane Valley and ranking member of the Law and Justice Committee, is sponsoring SB 5098. He could not be reached Monday for comment.
His bill would make it illegal to perform or induce an abortion “on a woman if the person has knowledge that the woman is seeking the abortion” because of a test result, prenatal diagnosis “or any other reason to believe that an unborn child has Down syndrome.”
Down syndrome is a chromosome disorder. An unborn child is defined in the legislation as offspring from conception to birth.
The medical professionals who violate SB 5098 would become liable in civil action for compensatory damages and attorney fees to the estate of any person who is injured or dies as a result of the procedure. The woman on whom the abortion is performed would not be liable under the proposal.
The bill was referred Monday to the Health & Long Term Care Committee, of which Padden and Van De Wege are members.
Also referred to the committee Monday was SB 5204, prefiled Friday, which mandates that health plans provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility and fertility preservation services.
The legislation, which would become effective Jan. 1, 2025, notes that 12 percent of women of reproductive age in the U.S. have difficulty becoming or staying pregnant. Infertility is evenly divided between men and women, according to SB 5204.
Chapman was selected anew by the party caucus as chair of the newly named House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. The committee no longer has purview over rural development.
Asked during his legislative overview presentation at a Dec. 6 Port Angeles Business Association meeting if his chairmanship was being challenged, he said Monday he did not know.
“It’s not like it’s an open process,” he said. “I heard a couple of people were interested. Whether they put their name in or not, I don’t know.”
Van De Wege chairs the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee and is on the Ways & Means Committee.
Potential new legislation also includes several proposals on homelessness and housing affordability and access.
Chapman has submitted HB 1133, which would establish limitations on detached accessory dwelling units outside urban growth areas.
Other pre-filed housing legislation includes HB 1042, which would limit cities from regulating the creation of residential units within existing buildings beyond regulations applicable to other residential development.
As part of his budget package, Inslee has proposed a $4 billion bond measure that would exceed the state’s debt limit and pay for housing.
It must be approved by lawmakers and would go before voters in 2024. If approved, the measure would pay for about 5,300 new units during the current biennium and 19,000 more in the following six years.
Van De Wege, Tharinger and Chapman are sponsoring companion bills in their respective chambers that would benefit paper mills throughout Washington, including McKinley Paper Co. in Port Angeles and Port Townsend Paper Corp.
HB 1018 and SB 5030 would extend a hog fuel sales and use tax exemption that expires June 30, 2024, to June 30, 2034. Hog fuel is coarse mixture of wood residue and chip waste that, when burned as biomass, generates steam and heating.
Inslee vetoed the 10-year extension in April 2020, despite near-unanimous legislative approval, as part of wide range of budget vetoes at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The hog fuel bill was caught up in that,” Tharinger said Monday.
In 2020, the lost tax revenue was estimated at $2.7 million a year, according to newsdata.com, an energy industry newsletter.
The exemption, Tharinger said, “helps maintain jobs in an area where they are most needed.”
Tharinger chairs the Capital Budget Committee and is on the Appropriations and Health Care & Wellness Committee.
HB 1018 was referred Monday to the House Finance Committee, before which a hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.
SB 5030 was referred Monday to the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
Information on lawmakers and legislation is available at leg.wa.gov.
Legislative proceedings can be viewed at tvw.org and on TV channel 74 for Astound cable subscribers.
Legislative Reporter Paul Gottlieb, a former senior reporter at Peninsula Daily News, can be reached at email@example.com.