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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Pre-filed bills try to get a jump on session

The Washington State Capitol dome in Olympia, Wash., shines against the evening sky on Friday, Dec. 7, 2001. (TONY OVERMAN / Associated Press)

A good indicator of a coming legislative session can be the bills lawmakers are so eager to file they can’t even wait until everybody is back in Olympia.

Known as pre-filed bills, these proposed laws and resolutions can be near the front of the line when committee hearings start in early January. That’s apparently what Senate Democrats, newly returned to control of that chamber, seem to be signaling with proposals tossed into the hopper last week.

There’s a new version of the Voting Rights Act, which would make it easier for communities that currently elect people at-large to be split into districts that could allow greater representation by racial or ethnic minorities.

There’s a bipartisan proposal to ban trigger modification devices, like the bump stocks used in the Las Vegas shooting.

There’s a proposal to ban non-disclosure agreements in settlements for complaints about sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace, and to void any previously signed non-disclosure agreements in old cases. It would also make firing a worker who reports sexual harassment an unfair labor practice. The prime sponsor, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, has called for even the Legislature – which is, itself, an employer of a significant number of people – to be required to reveal cases of sexual harassment or assault that have been reported or settled in the past.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, has a new campaign finance proposal, one that would require non-profit organizations that set up political committees to file complete reports on where they get and how they spend their money. Billig has been thwarted in recent years from getting final votes on some of his bills to shine light on “dark money,” but this proposal starts with 25 sponsors, a majority of the Senate which includes some Republicans, so it could fare better.

Members of both parties get their ideas in early. In reponse to the shooting this fall at Freeman High School, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, pre-filed a memorial resolution to name a portion of state Highway 27 for sophomore Sam Strahan, who was killed trying to stop the shooter.

A pre-filed Senate bill would reduce the impending property tax increase for 2018 that was enacted as part of the financing package for improvements of the public school system to get out from under a state Supreme Court order. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, the author of the 2017 legislation, signed onto that one with Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah.

A bipartisan group of nine senators introduced what may be the shortest pre-filed bill, an effort to rearrange their calendar. The seven-line proposal would start the session on the first Monday of February rather than the second Monday of January. Over in the House, another proposal would shift the state’s fiscal year from the beginning of July to the beginning of May in an effort to force budget deals earlier, rather than dragging on like they did earlier this year.

In response to the escape of Atlantic salmon from a fish farm in the Puget Sound, another House bill would ban the net pens in Washington.

Admittedly, pre-filed bills and resolutions sometimes go nowhere when backed solely by members of a minority caucus. One might recall the kerfuffling last year around this time over a proposal to split Washington between east and west and call the part on the dry side of the Cascades “Liberty.” It was based on a pre-filed resolution last year, and despite intense interest in some parts of the would-be 51st state, it got almost no attention and zero hearings or votes during the 2017 session.

What’s the X factor?

The state Department of Health is working on a possible change to the state administrative code that would allow Washington birth certificates to list sex as M, F or X.

Most people know what M and F stand for. But X? In math, the letter often stands for an unknown value. In Christian religious shorthand, it sometimes is used for the Greek letter Chi, which makes the first sound in Christ. So Xmas isn’t a slight to the “reason for the season”; don’t pitch a fit when you see it on a reader board or an Xmas card.

The proposed change says it can apply to “intersex, agender, amalgagender, androgynous, bigender, demigender, female-to-male, genderfluid, genderqueer, male-to-female, neutrois, nonbinary, pangender, third sex, transgender, transsexual, Two Spirit, and unspecified.” That’s a pretty wide range of options, none of which start with X. So where does this come from?

Danni Askini, of the Gender Justice League, said it goes back to 1947 when some countries were streamlining their passport system and not listing M or F. They’d list X for everyone.

While there were other suggestions, Oregon and the District of Columbia have already approved the X option, so Washington would at least be consistent if it goes with the rule change.