A change in control of the state Senate from a one-vote majority for Republicans to a one-vote majority for Democrats won’t guarantee a big shift in policies. But it could mean these changes are possible:
Capital Budget: The state’s $4 billion budget for major and minor construction projects did not pass despite three overtime sessions this year. Senate Republicans tied a final vote on the Capital Budget to the passage of a bill to revise state water laws because of a state Supreme Court ruling that is restricting development of suburban and rural lands. Democrats will de-link those two issues and will try to pass the budget early in 2018, or in a special session later this year. A water-rights bill may wait until later in the 2018 session.
Women’s Health: Senate Democrats have introduced a “Reproductive Parity” bill for several years that would require a company’s health insurance to cover birth control. It often receives a committee hearing but not a vote in the full Senate, even though some Republicans support it.
Gun Control: The Republican Senate has steered clear of most gun control or gun safety legislation, agreeing only to give a proposal a committee hearing if it first passes the House. Gov. Jay Inslee recently called for a ban on “bump-stocks” a device that allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire so rapidly it approaches the speed of an automatic rifle. A Democratic-controlled Senate might be more likely to consider bills such as more extensive background checks for semi-automatic military style rifles and safe storage requirements, but passing them will still be difficult.
Carbon Tax: Gov. Jay Inslee has long advocated a tax on carbon pollution as a better way to raise money for the state as well as addressing what some see as a main factor in global climate change. Having Democrats in control of both chambers doesn’t guarantee such a tax would pass because the Democratic House hasn’t been enthusiastic about it in the past, but it could mean more discussion.
Campaign Finance Reform: Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, has pushed for better disclosure for “dark money” – contributions that can be hidden if they come through certain nonprofit organizations. It previously passed both chambers in slightly different versions but stalled in the final vote through a parliamentary procedure. The majority party controls such parliamentary procedures.
Challenging President Donald Trump’s policies: State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, has filed suits against Trump initiative ranging from immigration restrictions to health care. Senate Republicans have questioned his use of resources; if Democrats control the Senate, they’re unlikely to express concerns.
Public Schools: The Legislature passed a massive rewrite of state school policy, and the taxes needed to pay for them, in the summer. It was a compromise, with Democrats unhappy about the added property tax burden on some school districts and some aspects of the formula that provides money to the schools. Whether they have an alternative, and the time and votes to pass it, remains to be seen.