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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

So many bills, so little time and space to report them

OLYMPIA – Most bill-signing ceremonies only feature people happy a new law passed. Last Tuesday, however, opponents of the new state tax on vapor products showed their displeasure with “thumbs down” signals while supporters posed with smiles after Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

Although the 2019 session adjourned nearly a month ago, it took until last Tuesday to finish the work of the Legislature, which involves the governor signing or vetoing bills lawmakers passed.

After spending more than 100 days studying, discussing and debating hundreds of bills, the Legislature, as usual, crammed lots of meat through the sausage grinder in its last few days, creating about 300 prospective new laws before calling it quits just before midnight of Day 105.

A governor has 20 days, not counting Sundays, to decide whether to veto or put his John Hancock on each of them. Although that could happen in the privacy of his office, tradition calls for inviting the sponsor and any supporters who happen to be hanging around into the conference room for a ceremony where the governor makes brief comments about the great things each bill will do before everyone smiles, poses for a picture and gets a ceremonial pen.

Sometimes, opponents come in, too, as they did last week when Inslee signed the new tax on vaping products. Vapers unhappy with the tax showed “thumbs down” when Inslee read the summary and the photographer asked for a group smile.

Most years, the governor’s office spreads the post-session signings out with a dozen or so a day, which allows several bills to be highlighted in the daily news coverage. But Inslee spent part of this post-session period out of state on the presidential campaign trail, which meant that on days when he was in Olympia he was signing as many as 44 bills at a sitting.

On Tuesday, the last possible day for signing, there were 67 left, including the budgets, most new taxes and other major legislation. So many, in fact, his staff had to schedule a morning and afternoon signing session just to manage the traffic.

Sometimes bills get lost in the shuffle. On Tuesday, for example, Inslee signed the new school property tax levy provisions, which vied with new taxes and measles vaccines for the session’s most controversial issue. They were revised to increase the amount a district can ask voters to approve for programs and staff not connected to basic education. It was signed along with a package of education legislation, budgets and taxes, and districts all over the state are weighing their options between layoffs and higher levies.

Other legislation mentioned at some point during the session or that flew under the radar got short shrift in the crush of signings. Before the legislative lights go completely out, we’ll try to catch up with what their sponsors often called “good little bills”:

Birds, bees and other critters

Chickens will get more space in commercial egg-laying operations. Starting in 2024, businesses that sell or handle eggs will have to get them from operations that give their hens at least 116 square inches of space and access to areas for nesting, roosting and scratching.

Registered apiarists, or beekeepers, in urban areas aren’t liable for civil claims connected to their operations if they conform to all local ordinances and aren’t guilty of gross negligence or misconduct.

Bees and other “pollinators” will get more help from the state Agriculture Department, which was directed to come up with programs to protect their health and habitat, and develop a task force that will expand research and public education programs, and promote beneficial plant species

Wolf recovery and management efforts continue, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife directed to increase staff in Ferry and Stevens counties, develop mitigation plans for each recovery region and changes to membership eligibility on the Wolf-Livestock Management Grant Advisory Board.

Dogs and cats used for research by state universities must be available for adoption through a program the institution sets up or one it has with an animal control agency before they are destroyed.

Courts can allow specially trained dogs to be with witnesses, especially minors and those with developmental disabilities, if requested to help with stressful or emotional testimony.

Dogs or cats can’t be used as collateral on a lease or loan for their purchase, which means they can’t be “repossessed” from a family that buys the animal on a contract that starts with low payments that go up over time.

Airports can get three-year permits to trap coyotes and other fast-moving animals that can cause hazards to planes. Such trapping was banned for most of the state by an initiative in 2000.

Marijuana law updates

A person with a misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction after age 21 can ask a court to vacate – wipe it out so it can’t be used as a barrier to employment or housing. If the person meets certain qualifications, the court has to vacate the conviction.

Medical marijuana product labels can describe recommended uses, directions and warnings about psychoactive effects, but not claim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The labels can’t be designed to appeal to children.

Selling marijuana to minors at a licensed retail store will be upgraded to a gross misdemeanor, from a misdemeanor, which could be punishable by a $5,000 fine, 364 days in jail, or both.

A Cannabis Science Task Force, to set standards for the laboratories that must test marijuana sold legally in the state, will be set up.

Minority affairs

An LGBTQ Commission will be set up with 15 gubernatorial appointments to assess policies and programs affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities.

The state will try to reduce language barriers for students and their families, creating a work group and requiring districts to determine the preferred language for special education students, and whether a qualified interpreter was provided for certain meetings.

An Indian Health Advisory Council will be set up to develop a plan that will spend money in an effort to improve the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Washington.

Pacific Islanders from Palau, Micronesia or the Marshall Islands who live in Washington will be eligible for a dental care program if they are enrolled in Medicare or have an income below 133% of the poverty level.

October was declared Filipino American history month.

Law and order

DNA samples must be taken from people convicted of indecent exposure, and sent to the Washington State Patrol laboratory.

Hospitals must notify rape victims within two hours of their arrival if a sexual assault evidence collection cannot be performed or if staff is not available to do that work, and help the victim find a facility that does.

On the road, and off

Rest stop parking is getting a bit more restrictive. The state Transportation Department can post a limit of less than eight hours for parking, and the State Patrol can impound disabled vehicles that have broken down and not been moved within 48 hours.

New toll lanes were authorized in Western Washington. Because those aren’t common on the other side of the state, East Siders should be aware that express toll lanes were expanded on Interstate 405, state Route 167 and designated on state Route 509.

Motorcycle owners who also use that vehicle as a snow bike can get a single registration for that vehicle, providing the owner submits a declaration that it will conform to federal and state safety standards when it’s on the road.

Better government

Legislators or legislative employees who use their position to sexually harass someone can be sanctioned under the Ethics in Public Service Act.

County officials who get into a dispute with each other must go to mediation before filing a lawsuit. If they can’t settle on a mediator, the court will appoint one.

Political committees will have a harder time hiding who their big donors are by creating new committees and will have to report them in ads.

Financial statements for elected officials could soon be be available online. As part of revisions to the Public Disclosure Commission, lawmakers tried to block the agency from putting those records, which currently must be requested individually, on its website. Inslee vetoed that section, saying that while it may “create discomfort” it is “information the public is entitled to have.”

Consumer affairs

Most gift cards and gift certificates purchased after July 1, 2020, won’t be able to have an expiration date, and the exceptions to that rule will have to clearly disclose the date. They also won’t be able to charge dormancy or inactivity fees.

Hospitals and health care provider organizations must provide at least 60 days notice to the state attorney general of any major changes to their rules or coverage

Doctors and hospitals can’t discriminate against a prospective organ transplant patient solely because of physical or mental disabilities.

Drug manufacturers will have to notify the Health Care Authority before raising the prices of certain prescription drugs, and explain the factors that justify the increase.

Tenants of manufactured or mobile home parks will get 14 days, up from five days, to comply with a pay or vacate notice, and rent can’t be raised more than once a year. New rules can’t be enforced until a tenant is given 30 days written notice of the change and three months notice to comply.