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Morning Wire: Floor debates, Transportation packages, Conservation spending

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1. Clean Fuel Standard, police reform, and Death with Dignity bills pass with narrow majorities

With the March 9 house of origin cutoff looming, the Legislature is just over halfway through a two-week stretch of all-day floor action. In the House, two of the most hotly contested bills — the Clean Fuel Standard and a ban on certain police use-of-force tactics — passed this Saturday. Five Democrats voted against the fuel standard and four voted against the ban on chokeholds and military equipment. Rep. Bruce Chandler was the lone Republican to cross party lines, as he cast a vote in favor of the police reform bill.

Clean Fuel Standard Sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon said the state hasn’t taken the steps necessary to create a cleaner transportation sector, which accounts for 45% of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions. Rep. Mary Dye says the bill places too much power in the hands of the Department of Ecology – “The very agency that says that Northwest Innovation Works cannot permit a plant that would help the economy of the state and provide environmental benefits.”

Republican Rep. Skyler Rude managed to wrangle five members of his caucus to support his bill with Rep. Nicole Macri which expands the scope of the Death with Dignity Act to include advanced registered nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and osteopathic physician assistants.

2.  Senate passes bills to address political violence and ESD failures

On the Senate floor last week, members debated a ban on the open-carry of weapons at public demonstrations and the state Capitol. In her floor speech, sponsor Patty Kuderer invoked the Kyle Rittenhouse shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin and the January 6th Capitol insurrection as cause to clamp down on vigilante activity and intimidation. Sen. Phil Fortunato said the bill “turns legal gun owners into criminals.” The bill passed in a party line vote. 

A number bills also passed with bipartisan majorities, including SB 5115 (establishing health emergency labor standards) and SB 5193, which requires the Employment Security Department (ESD) to create a training program for unemployment insurance claim adjudicators. Lots of eyes are on Sen. June Robinson’s capital gains tax proposal, which is sitting in Rules. 

3. Transportation packages: What’s on the table this session 

The contours of the transportation package debate this session have been set. Sen. Rebecca Saldaña proposed a $14.3 billion, 12-year plan that would levy fees on carbon, vehicle emissions, and luxury yachts to invest $1.9 billion in infrastructure maintenance and $2.5 billion in clean fuel and just transitions. House Transportation Chair Jake Fey introduced a $26 billion, 16-year package that includes 18-cent gas tax increase and a $15-per-ton carbon fee to pay for investments in transportation choices and carbon reduction. Sen. Steve Hobbs’s Forward Washington plan invests $18-19 billion over 16 years.

On the Republican side, Sen Curtis King’s $10 billion, eight year proposal would raise the state’s gas tax by 3 cents, raise the bicycle parts and sales tax by 2%, and add a 20-cent surcharge for transit and light rail riders. But the new Senate Freedom Caucus is calling for a shift in how the state pays for transportation projects by relying on revenue from the state’s sales tax on motor vehicles, rather than revenue from the state’s gas tax. Minority Leader John Braun says he appreciates both approaches, but he disagrees with utilizing the revenue sources that King’s proposal includes. 

4. What conservationists want to see in the budget

While about 27 to 40 percent of Washington’s Capital Budget has historically gone towards projects with a high environmental benefit, the Operating Budget is a different story, says Adam Maxwell, Campaign Manager for Audubon Washington. In an interview, Maxwell told reporter Michael Goldberg about the structural deficit faced by agencies that support the state’s natural resources and what Washington’s Environmental Priorities Coalition would like to see prioritized in upcoming budget proposals.

“Once we were out of the recession, the Legislature continued to pass laws that required the agencies to continue to grow their portfolio. It developed a real structural deficit. Between the things they were being asked to do and the amount of money that was being appropriated to them, and the declining revenues from the sale of hunting and fish licenses, a big structural deficit had been created that took about 2-3 legislative sessions to fix.”

5. Is ranked choice voting headed to a locality near you?

“The number of possible permutations seems nearly infinite,” a representative from the Secretary of State’s said of a bill that would permit the use of ranked choice voting in local elections spanning about 1,086 eligible jurisdictions. As the bill now awaits getting pulled from Rules, supporters say it will decrease negative campaigning and strengthen faith in elections. 

A 2020 study by the University of Technology Sydney found that the introduction of ranked choice voting improved the civility of debates with candidates in some municipalities. In 2006, Pierce County voted to implement ranked choice voting. But three years later, after the 2008 election, voters repealed the system. Some voters reportedly felt that it helped elect an unqualified assessor-treasurer. While opponents cite a high cost burden for localities, advocates from FairVote Washington point to support for the bill from the cities of Olympia, Bellingham, Gold Bar, Spokane, and Seattle.

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