OLYMPIA – With the Washington state Legislature set to convene a special session on May 13, Gov. Jay Inslee, House Democrats and the Republican-dominated Senate majority will be tasked with working toward a budget deal. But that likely won’t be the only contentious matter the parties will take up next month.
A budget agreement, Inslee said Sunday, is “the tree that all the limbs come out from.”
But the coming monthlong session, he said, will provide space for a range of non-budgetary items – from changes to drunken driving laws to a transportation revenue package – to seek the light.
While Senate leaders say they will push to keep the focus on the budget, they too have a set of priorities, like changing workers’ compensation rules to giving school principals more hiring power.
Here’s a look at some key bills that have made it through the legislative process and others that may see new life in the new 30-day session.
Signed into law
Climate change: Inslee earlier this month signed into law a stripped-down version of a measure he championed to study the best practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under the law, an outside consultant will review both Washington state’s ongoing efforts to cut carbon emissions and similar endeavors elsewhere before reporting their findings to a panel consisting of lawmakers and the governor. (SB 5802)
Alcohol tasting: A bill to allow students age 18 and over to taste alcohol in college classes was signed into law by Inslee last week after passing out of the Legislature. The new law will allow students in alcohol-related programs, such as culinary classes, to taste but not ingest alcohol as part of their studies. (SB 5774)
Passed Legislature and awaiting Inslee’s signature
Firearm offender registry: A bill to require felony firearm offenders to register with their county sheriff subject to the discretion of a judge has been passed by the Legislature and awaits Inslee’s signature. Unlike the state’s registry for sex offenders, the information will not be publicly available. The database will be maintained by the Washington State Patrol. (HB 1612)
Social media passwords: A bill that would prohibit employers from asking employees and job seekers for the credentials to personal social media accounts has advanced to Inslee’s desk after passing through the Legislature. (SB 5211)
Wrongful convictions: A measure to pay out $50,000 per year of imprisonment stemming from a wrongful conviction has been passed by the Legislature and awaits the governor’s signature. The bill provides for a $50,000-per-year death row bonus and $25,000 for each year wrongfully on parole, in community custody or registered as a sex offender. (HB 1341)
Not passed – Gov. Inslee priorities
Transportation revenue: A proposal to raise the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon to help pay for maintenance of existing roads, as well as for a handful of pending big-ticket projects, has the support of House Democrats but faces skepticism from the Republican-dominated Senate majority. The plan would also allow local governments to raise taxes and fees to help pay for mass transit. Inslee said Sunday it should be on the table during the special session. (HB 1954, HB 1955)
Abortion insurance: Washington would become the first state to require insurers to cover abortions under a measure that advanced from the House but stalled in the Senate Health Care Committee. Supporters say it would ensure that women continue to have access to abortions when the federal Affordable Care Act comes into effect in 2014. Opponents say it would infringe on religious freedoms. Noting that a majority of senators have signed a letter in support of the bill, Inslee said Sunday that he hopes it will be revived during the special session. (HB 1044)
Dream Act: A measure to make young immigrants living in the country without legal permission eligible for college financial aid passed from the House but died in the Senate Higher Education Committee, where it did not receive a vote. Inslee said Sunday that the bill should be in play during the special session. (HB 1817)
Background checks: The most prominent gun control measure of the session, to expand mandatory background checks to private gun transactions, came a few votes short of advancing from the House. A similar Senate bill didn’t get a hearing. Supporters plan to pursue a ballot initiative, though Inslee says lawmakers should pass it during special session. (HB 1588)
DUI laws: A proposal to increase jail time for repeat drunken driving offenders and to bar some of them from drinking is being hashed out by a group of lawmakers from both parties in both chambers. Inslee said Sunday that a deal was close and he hopes to get a bill through the Legislature during special session. (HB 2030, SB 5912)
Not passed – Senate majority priorities
Workers’ compensation: A package of bills to make workers’ compensation rules more business-friendly advanced from the Senate but stalled in the House. Senate majority leaders say the measures will be among their top priorities during the special session and should factor into the budget debate. (SB 5112, SB 5127, SB 5128)
Third-grade reading: A measure to require third-graders with inadequate reading skills to be held back if they don’t improve in time to enroll in fourth grade passed out of the Senate but failed in the House. Senate leaders say it should be revived during the special session. (SB 5237)
Principal veto power: A bill to give veto power to principals over teachers assigned to their schools passed the Senate but died in the House. Under that bill, teachers without a school assignment could be deployed as substitutes or used in non-teaching roles and could eventually be fired. Senate leaders said the bill will be among their non-budgetary priorities during the special session. (SB 5242)
Paid family leave: A measure to repeal an unfunded law giving Washington state parents five paid weeks off to care for a new child if a task force can’t find a way to pay for it by the end of 2015 passed the Senate but was not taken up by the House. House Democrats have said they don’t want to repeal the underlying law, but Senate leaders say it should be on the table during the special session. (SB 5903)
Not passed – long shots
Flame retardants: The House and Senate passed different versions of a measure to ban two chemical flame retardants from children’s products – and, in the case of the House, from upholstered furniture – starting in 2015. (HB 1294)
Voting Rights Act: A bill to make it easier for minorities to get elected to local government posts advanced from the House but stalled in the Senate. Modeled on the California Voting Rights Act, it would encourage 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 underrepresented. (HB 1413)