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The Washington Legislature adjourned for the year. Here’s a look at what they did the last 60 days

UPDATED: Sat., March 12, 2022

Sen. Andy Billig, clockwise from top, D-Spokane, talks Thursday with Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, and Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, on the floor of the Senate in Olympia.  (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)
Sen. Andy Billig, clockwise from top, D-Spokane, talks Thursday with Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, and Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, on the floor of the Senate in Olympia. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Spokane will get a boost for buses, selling gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds will be banned and pickleball likely will be the new official state sport, thanks to this year’s work by the Washington Legislature.

The Legislature adjourned for the year Thursday just before the midnight deadline, with more than half of its members – masked and mostly socially distant – in person on the floor after starting the session in January almost fully virtual.

Most election year sessions are quiet as lawmakers spend 60 days adjusting a budget passed the previous year. This year, as lawmakers came in with more state and federal money than they expected, was not quiet.

It was a session Democrats called “historic and transformational,” having passed the largest supplemental budget in state history, a 16-year transportation project focused on transit and preservation, and a number of other significant pieces of legislation.

Similar to last year, a focus for Democrats was helping the state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re coming out of a very tough time with this pandemic and the recovery hasn’t been positive for everyone,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane. “But we do have a lot of progress ahead of us.”

Lawmakers looked to tweak bills passed in previous sessions on police reform and a long-term care tax, ban large gun magazines, address climate change and fix the state’s housing crisis, among a host of others.

A number of other bills, including creating a safe staffing standard for hospitals, limiting the governor’s emergency powers and requiring all cities to remove single-family zoning in much of their limits did not make it this year.

Gov. Jay Inslee praised lawmakers for their work this session.

“Sixty days ago, I asked legislators to take big, bold action, and they delivered big, bold action 60 days later,” Inslee said in a news conference following the end of the session.

Republicans came into the session with priorities to address public safety concerns, make Washington more affordable and restore trust in government. Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said they had some wins and some losses on those areas, but overall Democrats missed the mark.

“We missed generational opportunities,” Braun said. “There was an unprecedented amount of money. That’s the sort the thing you can make really generational change on.”

Here’s a look at what happened the last 60 days.

Bigger-than-normal supplemental budget, transportation package

Lawmakers came into the session with $5 billion more in state revenue than anticipated and $1.2 billion more in COVID-19 relief federal funds that had not yet been spent. The $64 billion supplemental budget passed Thursday makes investments in K-12 education, behavioral health, COVID-19 pandemic recovery, housing and more.

The operating budget passed both chambers on party lines late Thursday.

The budget leaves $800 million in reserves for the next two years plus an additional $2.75 billion left in an account set aside to help Washington recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, or a similar emergency.

With the unusual amount of extra money this year, Republicans had called for significant tax relief statewide, but the Democratic budget does not include any broad tax cuts.

Some Democratic tax proposals, including a three-day sales tax holiday around Labor Day weekend and making state fairs and state parks free, did not make it in the final budget.

“People are generally aware that there was a ton of extra money out there and they didn’t get any of it,” House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, told reporters Thursday.

Lawmakers also used their extra cash to add projects into the transportation and capital budgets, which fund transportation, infrastructure and construction projects across the state.

The budget transfers $2 billion plus $56 million a year into the transportation package also passed Thursday.

The $17 billion, 16-year transportation package will fund maintenance, transit and other projects across the state, including a rapid bus route on Division Street in Spokane.

Republicans pushed against the package, criticizing the fee increases included in the proposal and claiming they did not have any say in the negotiation of the final package.

Large gun magazine ban

Making, distributing or selling gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition passed the state Legislature and awaits Inslee’s signature.

The bill bans the manufacture, distribution and sale of magazines for rifles, as well as for a number of pistols that can hold more than 10 bullets.

Possession is not prohibited in the bill. Law enforcement and armed services members are exempt.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted regulations on large capacity magazines, according to Giffords Law Center, a gun control organization started by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head. Those states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. California’s ban was recently upheld in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals but could be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Long-term care tax

Legislators worked quickly at the beginning of the session to pass a delay in the implementation of a long-term care payroll tax that started in January. The 0.58% payroll tax goes toward a program called WA Cares, which provides a benefit of up to $36,500 to those who qualify to use on professional care at home or in a facility, home safety evaluations, equipment and transportation.

The collection of the tax is now delayed until July 2023, giving legislators time to fix the program that many have said is insolvent.

Along with the delay, legislators made some changes, including allowing more exemptions to the tax for people who live outside of Washington but work in the state and some veterans with a service-connected disability of 70% or higher.

Police reform

The Legislature also worked quickly to debate some tweaks to police reform bills passed last session. Two proposals received broad support, including one to add more clarity to allow law enforcement officers to respond to mental health calls and one to allow agencies to purchase some nonlethal weapons.

One bill to redefine use of force passed the Legislature, giving law enforcement the ability to use physical force to stop a person from actively fleeing a scene. Many Democrats wanted the definition to include “intentionally and actively” fleeing a scene, but that was taken out in the final version.

Another bill that dealt with vehicular pursuits did not make it out of the Senate in time on the last day. It would have allowed officers to engage in vehicle pursuits when there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person has or is committing a violent offense, nonviolent sex offense, escape or driving under the influence offense and when not pursuing has serious risk of harm to others.

The bill was a priority for Republicans, who made fixing police reform bills top of mind this session.

Emergency powers

As Washington enters year three of a state of emergency, another proposal to reform the governor’s emergency powers failed to clear the Legislature.

A proposal from Senate Democrats allowing legislative leaders to end an emergency after 90 days, and end the governor’s prohibitive orders when the Legislature is not in session, made it to the House, where it ultimately died after a short early morning debate.

The best chance to enact emergency powers reform, legislative Republicans criticized the proposal as “half-hearted” and as doing “virtually nothing.” They attempted to amend the bill to line up with their previous proposals, but ultimately failed.

“Apparently they didn’t want to have a debate about it,” Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, said at a news conference last week. “They didn’t prioritize true emergency powers reform. They never have.”

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said House Republicans wanted to spend a lot of time on amending the bill – time the House needed to consider other bills ahead of an impending deadline. Debate was suspended, she said, but could’ve been resumed if Republicans had asked.

“It was always open right up until cut off for us to be reapproached, and we would’ve brought it back up,” Jinkins said at a news conference last week. “We didn’t get asked to do that, so it didn’t get brought back up.”

Anti-hazing legislation

Moved by the death of Washington State University freshman and fraternity pledge Sam Martinez, the Legislature unanimously passed a bill that would strengthen anti-hazing efforts at all colleges and universities across the state.

“We know it’s not the end of this journey, but at least we know it’s the end of this bill,” Hector Martinez, father of Sam Martinez, told The Spokesman-Review when the bill passed the Senate. “It’s not easy to do it … but we always think this is what Sam would’ve wanted us to do.”

The “Sam’s Law Act” expands the definition of hazing and requires colleges to provide hazing education to students and employees. Findings from misconduct investigations into student groups would have to be published online by colleges. National social fraternity and sorority organizations would also have to publish a list of hazing violations on their websites. If an organization launches an investigation into a local chapter, they would have to notify the college and provide the findings to the school.

Student loan program

A bill to create a state student loan program was debated late into the night Thursday, right up until the final deadline.

The proposal, sponsored by House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, establishes a program to issue student loans with 1% interest rates to resident students with financial need who are pursuing an undergraduate or high-demand graduate degree.

The loans will be awarded starting in 2024-25. The loans should have a 1% interest rate, no lending fees and be dischargeable in the event of the borrower’s total and permanent disability or death.

For undergraduates, the loan amounts can range from $3,000 to $12,000. For graduate students, it ranges from $5,000 to $10,000.

Election reform

A series of election reform bills passed the Legislature with varying levels of bipartisan support.

One bill would protect voter information on ballot return envelopes – signatures, email addresses and phone numbers – from public disclosure. Another would establish zones around voting centers and ballot drop boxes where individuals are prohibited from influencing or interfering with voters. A third bill would require the attorney general to draft an impact statement that would appear with ballot measures that modifies a tax or fee impacting state revenues.

“This has been the most positive legislative session for productive outcomes in my entire 24 years,” Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton told The Spokesman-Review.

Collective bargaining

for legislative staffers

A proposal to allow legislative staff to start the process of collective bargaining received attention this session after more than 100 staffers called in sick to protest an early version of the bill dying.

Legislative staff is not currently covered by state civil service laws that grant some state employees the right to unionize.

A new version was revived halfway through the session, although it doesn’t go as far as many supporters were hoping.

The bill creates an Office of State Legislative Labor Relations, which would be charged with conducting collective bargaining negotiations for the Legislature, as well as consider frameworks for grievance procedures and disciplinary actions. The office also would study the issues related to the implementation of bargaining and give a report to the Legislature by Oct. 1, 2023.

The Legislature could come back in the 2024 session and pass additional legislation outlining the bargaining process recommended by the office. If they do not, however, staffers’ bargaining rights would automatically go into effect beginning May 1, 2024. Agreements would take effect on July 1, 2025.

Nursing and health care worker shortage

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

The bill also would have addressed issues surrounding meal and rest breaks, overtime and accountability for implementing hospitals’ staffing plans.

Hospitals argued there are 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 ratio requirements, such as only allowing eight patients to every one nurse in emergency departments.

Although the Legislature did not pass the ratio bill, they did include a number of other proposals and funding in their final budget to address the nurse and health care worker shortage.

Those include funding for more nursing slots statewide, a new nursing program at Eastern Washington University, new lab equipment at some colleges and universities and a loan forgiveness program for nurse educators.

Pickleball

An effort to designate pickleball as Washington’s official state sport passed with broad, bipartisan support.

“I can’t think of anything that has generated more interest and more fun comments,” bill sponsor Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, said at a Senate hearing in January.

The sport could soon have a place among an impressive list of state symbols, including petrified wood as the state gem, bluebunch wheatgrass as the state grass and the marmota olympus (Olympic marmot) as the state endemic mammal.

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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