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Nurse staffing standards, Spokane sewer tax limit are among proposals that won’t become state law this year

Washington State Legislative Building in Olympia.  (Albert James/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Legislative Building in Olympia. (Albert James/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Controversial proposals that would have created a check on a governor’s power during a declared emergency and set staffing standards for nurses at hospitals are among numerous bills that won’t be approved this year as the legislative session nears its end.

A number of bills, including priorities for majority Democrats, failed to make it past the most recent cut off, joining hundreds of other bills that died earlier this session.

With only 60 days and three larger-than-normal budgets to write, even leaders acknowledged there was not enough time to get to everything.

Still left for lawmakers to do: pass a two-year supplemental budget, a 16-year transportation package and agree on changes made to a number of bills throughout the process. The legislative session is scheduled to end Thursday.

Here’s a look at what didn’t make it:

Emergency powers

A closely watched Senate proposal would have amended the rules surrounding the governor’s emergency powers.

Gubernatorial emergency powers have been a hot topic for Republicans over the past two sessions. With Washington being in a state of emergency since February 2020, Republicans have said changes to emergency powers laws are long overdue. Their proposals to reform the governor’s powers failed in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, but a proposal by some Senate Democrats made it through to the House.

The proposal would have allowed the Speaker of the House, House minority leader and the Senate majority and minority leaders to come together and end a state of emergency if the Legislature is not in session and if the state of emergency has been going on for longer than 90 days. Legislative leadership could have also ended the governor’s prohibitive orders if the Legislature is not in session.

Republicans made it clear that the Democratic proposal was not far reaching enough. In the Senate and the House, they introduced amendments to strengthen what Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, called a “watered down version.”

“They didn’t prioritize true emergency powers reform, they never have,” MacEwen said at a news conference Monday.

In the Senate, amendments by Republicans failed. In the House, debate on the bill started early Friday morning and abruptly stopped after 20 minutes. The debate never resumed before the day’s critical legislative deadline, leaving the bill to die.

“Apparently they didn’t want to have a debate about it,” MacEwen said.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins said her caucus was ready to move the proposal forward, but Republicans indicated that they wanted to have a long debate. The House didn’t have the time to have a lengthy debate and get to other bills before the deadline, she said, so they moved on and left the door open for the debate to resume later.

Safe-staffing standard

A bill that would have required hospitals to implement nurse-to-patient ratios died last week in the Legislature, a win for hospitals and a blow to nursing unions who said the bill would help prevent burnout in staff.

The bill needed to be out of a Senate committee by Monday, but it never came up for a vote. It would also have addressed issues surrounding meal and rest breaks, overtime and accountability for implementing hospitals’ staffing plans.

Hospitals argued there was not enough nurses to fill the ratios, meaning they would begin cutting care for patients because they did not have enough staff.

Unions said nurses need to be able to offer proper care for their patients and one way to do that is by implementing staffing ratios, such as only allowing eight patients to every one nurse in emergency departments.

“Washington healthcare workers have been clear that the only way to solve the staffing crisis is to address the unmitigated burnout with safe staffing standards that ensure manageable workloads so healthcare workers can give patients the care they deserve,” union leaders said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW executive Vice President Jane Hopkins, United Food and Commercial Workers 3000 president Faye Guenther, and Washington State Nurses Association Executive Director David Keepnews said they would not be give up and would continue fighting for safer staffing standards.

Wastewater tax

in Spokane

A Spokane-specific bill that would have prohibited the city of Spokane from levying taxes on a wastewater facility operated by the county but located within the city limits did not pass the Legislature.

The bill would have exempted county-owned sewer and water facilities revenue from taxes imposed by a city or town. It came out of a conflict between the city of Spokane and the county and city of Spokane Valley.

Members of the Spokane City Council want the city to begin collecting a 20% tax on the revenue generated by the Spokane County Regional Reclamation Facility, which opened in 2011 on Freya Street inside the city’s borders. The city’s utility tax has never been imposed on the county sewer plant. The facility serves almost all of Spokane Valley’s residents.

The county calls it taxation without representation. Only 24 residents of the city of Spokane would be affected by the tax, according to testimony. Most customers are located in other areas of the county, and because they don’t elect anyone in the city, they would have no say in how that money is used.

Spokane City Council members, on the other hand, say it must tax the county facility the same as it does a city facility located within the city borders.

The bill received a public hearing in January but never made it for a vote.

Deep fakes

A Senate bill would have imposed restrictions on the use of synthetic media, commonly referred to as “deep fakes,” in campaigning material, but the House did not take up the bill before the deadline last week to advance legislation.

The Secretary of State’s office worked with Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, to craft the proposal. Brian Hatfield, legislative director for the office, said the bill falls in line with their priority to secure elections “both in the physical realm and in cyberspace.”

Any piece of campaign material utilizing deep fakes would have had to include a clear disclosure that it contains manipulated media. The bill would not ban deep fakes outright. Anyone depicted in a campaign-related deep fake without a disclosure would have had the opportunity to take legal action against the distributors of the media – if they could prove a violation of the disclosure requirement by “clear and convincing evidence.”

Some legislators had concerns about the effects the bill would have on political speech. The bill provided exceptions for satire and parody, but legislators took issue with those terms not being defined in the bill.

Uniform name, image and likeness rules for college athletes

A Senate proposal would have created statewide standards regarding college athletes’ ability to profit off their persona. But the bill failed to make it to the full House ahead of a deadline last week to advance legislation.

After a June 2021 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the NCAA opened the doors for athletes to engage in name, image and likeness activities. Some states had laws in place to guide schools and athletes through the changed landscape, but Washington is not one of them.

“One of the problems here is that the federal government is not enacting a standard of legislation for us to follow that would apply to everybody,” sponsor Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said at a House committee hearing last month. “So states are acting on their own.”

The bill would have guaranteed the right for college athletes to participate in name, image and likeness activities. Schools would have been allowed to provide “good faith advising and evaluation” to students interested in marketing themselves. Any bad actors who hurt an athlete or a school through a violation of the law could have been taken to court or even fined by the attorney general.

University athletics officials supported the proposal, saying a statewide standard would put schools “on the same playing field.” In the absence of a state policy, Washington’s universities are left to develop their own guidelines.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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