Crime, taxes are on tap at Legislature

Hearings offer preview of issues for this session

Rising costs of transportation projects. Using artificial intelligence in Washington classrooms. Preserving affordable housing. Spending proceeds from the state’s new capital gains tax and recent cap-and-trade auctions.

Those are a few topics state lawmakers are delving into as they return to Olympia for committee days, an annual fete in which they get schooled on issues that may arise in an upcoming session.

In this case, it’s the 60-day session that begins Jan. 8.

Senators gathered this week with 14 committees holding work sessions on Thursday and today. Then, next Monday and Tuesday, 19 House panels will be in action.

One of the first conversations Thursday was about fuel surcharges levied on farmers as a result of the Climate Commitment Act. A work group convened by the state Department of Ecology discussed this for months and came up with ideas to assist farmers, but not everyone involved thinks the problem is resolved.

The Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee got an update at 8 a.m., right after it learned how a state law providing farm workers with overtime pay was working out.

At the same hour, the State Government and Elections committee discussed how the accuracy of vote counts in elections is ensured. The process of rejecting ballots could come up as a recent study found evidence that voters of color, particularly Hispanic and Asian voters, have higher rates of ballot rejection.

Artificial intelligence’s use in public schools is on the agenda when the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee meets at 10:30 a.m. today. So, too, are the topics of media literacy and disinformation.

Skyrocketing costs of construction projects, including highways and removal of culverts that block the movement of fish, are on the docket of the Senate Transportation Committee this afternoon.

Next Monday, the House Appropriations Committee will hear about the Climate Commitment Act and the roughly $1.5 billion it has generated for state coffers from the sale of pollution allowances. That 2021 law is now the target of a citizen initiative to repeal it.

On Dec. 5 at 8 a.m., the House Capital Budget Committee will learn how efforts to steer additional state dollars into modernizing public schools and preserving affordable housing are panning out.

Also at that hour, the House Finance Committee will get a report on the nearly $900 million in first-year collections from the capital gains tax. Those proceeds, garnered from the state’s wealthiest residents, will be funneled into early learning and child care programs, and to school districts in need of dollars for construction and renovation projects.

And, a little later Tuesday morning, the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee will ponder perceptions and misperceptions on public safety with a work session entitled “Current Crime Trends in Washington: Looking Beyond the Headlines.”

The full schedule of committee sessions can be found on the Legislature’s website at CC and the hearings will be streamed live on TVW.

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Jerry Cornfield writes for the Washington State Standard (https://washingtonstatestandard.com), an independent, nonprofit news organization that produces original reporting on policy and politics.

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