The 2020 Legislative session started out with the biggest news being the election of a new Speaker of the House, Representative Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, who became the first woman Speaker in state history. She replaced Representative Frank Chopp who had served as Democratic Leader and Speaker since 1995. We had a very productive session and ended the 60 day session on time March 12, just as the COVID19 pandemic was rapidly gaining steam. And each and every one of our lives changed, almost overnight!
NOTE: Obviously the pandemic could have a negative impact on any legislation we passed this year. Only time will tell how deep and severe its impact on state government is.
Legislation That Passed
(I voted for each of these bills)
Yes, it is about all we hear in the news today. One of the last acts of the session was to approve $200 million in emergency from the state’s “rainy day” fund to address this public health crisis.
Homeless and Housing
At the beginning of session polling showed that homelessness was the top priority. Democrats took the lead and added $160 million to the current two-year budget to support additional shelter beds and expand access to affordable housing. Due to Republican opposition, the funds will come from the General Fund and not the “rainy day” fund because doing so would have required Republican votes for supermajority approval.
Protecting State and Local Public Employees
The state passed two important bills to protect public employees’ information and state employees’ jobs. The first bill protects state employees birth dates from public disclosure requests. Organizations have attempted to get all the possible personal information about public employees so they can target them with their anti-government campaigns. The second bill will require state agencies to prove there will be justifiable reasons before contracting out jobs historically performed by state employees.
Retiree Cost of Living Allowances
In 2008, the legislature terminated cost of living allowances for retirees in the Public Employees Retirement I and Teachers Retirement I plans, leaving them with no funding to combat inflation. Many of these retirees are single senior citizens living on a very limited income. Under the bill, they will receive a 3% COLA not to exceed $62.50 a month, Previously, there had been only a 1.5% COLA since 2008.
The supplemental budget adds $32 million to add one-half counselor in high poverty elementary schools. That adds up to more than 300 counselors. Studies show there is a severe need for more school counselors.
Centralized Background Checks
A firearms safety measure that generated bipartisan support will move Washington to an Oregon-style centralized background check run by the Washington State Patrol instead of being conducted by local law enforcement agencies.
Plastic Bag Ban
Beginning in 2021 single-use plastic bags used by some grocery stores and other retailers will be banned beginning in 2021 unless they meet certain requirements for recycled content. Retailers will be required to charge 8 cents for each bag that is provided to customers. The ban does not include to plastic bags used for fruit and vegetables.
Starting in 2021, young voters who register and will turn 18 after the primary election but before the general election will be allowed to vote in the primary. It seems logical that one who can vote in the general election should also be able to participate in the primary that selects which candidates appear on the general election ballot. It will also provide automatic voter registration for 16-17 year olds who preregister to vote.
The legislature overwhelming voted to allow betting on sporting events at Washington’s tribal casinos. The new law will permit betting on professional, out-of-state collegiate, and even Olympic competitions. The US Supreme Court authorized sports betting in 2018. Twenty states will now allow sports betting.
Comprehensive Health and Sex Education
The most understood bill of the session will mandate that schools across the state offer comprehensive, age-appropriate health and sex education. Several right wing groups used gross misrepresentations and false information in an attempt to defeat the bill. Contrary to their outlandish claims, it does not require teaching sex or showing graphic descriptions to kindergarten and elementary school students. It must be age appropriate and each of the state’s school districts, led by publicly-elected board members will approve the curriculum. And it only requires one hour a year of instruction to primary grades.
Although passed in 2019 (I was the prime sponsor), Washington conducted its first meaningful presidential primary this year. Over two million voters cast their ballots, compared to about 300,000 who participated in the arduous Republican and Democratic precinct caucuses in 2016. And conducting the primary by mail, as we do with all elections, severely reduced the threat of COVID19 exposure to voters.
Early in the session the legislature approved an overhaul of the business and occupation tax that funds a program to make tuition at public colleges significantly more affordable or free for students around the state.
We passed legislation, requested by Governor Inslee, to create a statewide Office of Equity. The new office will work to promote equitable opportunities and reduce disparities in state government.
Legislation That Failed
Death Penalty Repeal
For the third year in a row, the Senate—with bipartisan support—passed a bill to repeal the death penalty only to see it die in the House without even receiving a vote. (I voted for this bill every year.)
Gun Magazine Limits
Bills to limit gun magazine to 10 or 15 rounds were proposed by Governor Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The bills were approved by committees in the House and Senate but didn’t come up for floor votes in either house. (I would have voted for either bill.)
This bill to address the largest source of carbon emissions, the transportation sector, passed the House in 2019 and this year but did not get a vote in the Senate. The bill was strongly opposed by the oil and gas industry charging it would drive up the cost of a gallon of fuel. This bill is an essential part of our effort to attack climate change, and I would have voted for it.