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Jinkins & Wilcox discuss their main takeaways from the 2020 session

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox sat down for separate interviews today with Mike McClanahan of TVW to discuss their main takeaways from the 2020 legislative session. 

Speaker Jinkins outlined four areas that she directed her caucus to focus on this session: housing & homelessness, the cost of childcare, the cost of health care, and climate change. The speaker credited Washington’s “booming economy” with allowing lawmakers to make significant investment across all four areas in the supplemental operating budget.

Speaking about the budget, Minority Leader Wilcox warned that the degree to which spending increased could spell trouble in the future due to the coronavirus and a potential concomitant recession.

Clearly we’ve got storm clouds in the distance and the spending increases are not going to be sustainable,” said Wilcox. “This was a session of turmoil. We came in with huge expectations and we leave session with a great deal of uncertainty regarding the coronavirus and its social and economic impact on life in the state.”

Jinkins highlighted the optimal ending fund balance achieved by lawmakers as session comes to a close.

We have over $3 billion in savings in this final budget, and $815 million in ending fund balance, which is the largest ending fund balance we’ve had in years.”

Moving on, Jinkins cited the Legislature’s response to the coronavirus as one of the biggest bipartisan wins of the session.The bipartisan tone in dealing with the coronavirus has been observed on both the federal and local levels.

Both the Speaker and Minority Leader Wilcox did not take a strong stance on whether or not a special session might be required to further address the coronavirus outbreak. 

When asked about protests in response to the controversial sex-education bill which awaits Gov. Inslee’s signature, Jinkins said that the source of controversy can be traced to misinformation.

This reminds me of a quote I just read in a story about the coronavirus — ‘misinformation is passed between people faster than a virus could ever move.’ A lot of what’s going on with this bill is disinformation. The truth is, 90 percent of schools are already doing [what the bill mandates], this bill just says all districts will do this. If parents have concerns they should work with local school boards, because school boards have the authority to decide what is the right curriculum for the community. Parents also have the ability to opt out if they don’t feel comfortable with it.”

While agreeing that misinformation was a problem, Wilcox argued that the primary issue with the sex-education bill regards the state government overstepping local boundaries.

There is no prohibition on this point against any part of the curriculum. Local school districts have adopted many of these things. What we don’t think is right is for a small number of people in Olympia to decide what children should have. I don’t think that Olympia has the answer for every community.”

On concerns regarding undue state oversight, Jinkins noted that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is only responsible for ensuring that the locally adopted curricula is medically and scientifically accurate. 

When asked about the most notable missed opportunities of the session, Jinkins expressed regret that legislation regarding data privacy and a low carbon fuel standard did not make it across the finish line.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle’s consumer data privacy bill — dubbed the “Washington Privacy Act” — to identify patterns of data privacy abuse among companies died today. 

The main sticking point in reaching a consensus on the legislation involved a disagreement over the ideal enforcement mechanism for holding companies accountable.

Carlyle and a group of other lawmakers, including Sen. Ann Rivers, Sen. Manka Dhingra, Sen. Jamie Pedersen and Majority Leader Andy Billig, asserted that the Attorney General’s office should be the primary legal channel for action against companies in violation of data privacy laws.

An oppositional group of lawmakers, including Rep. Zack Hudgins, Rep. Drew Hansen and Speaker Jinkins favored legislation that would allow direct individual legal action against companies.

From the House’s position we want individuals to protect consumer rights. The argument that there shouldn’t be any ability for individual consumers to protect their rights, that would be unprecedented,” said Jinkins.

Jinkins expects the issue to re-emerge as a legislative priority next session. 

A low carbon fuel standard was absent from the $10.4 billion transportation budget lawmakers approved Wednesday. The Legislature was able to fill in budget gaps and prevent, at least for now, significant cuts to transportation and infrastructure projects as a result of the passage of I-976.

Going into negotiations of a new tax package, some Democrats have said that a low carbon fuel standard is a “precondition.”

On transportation, Wilcox said he would have preferred the Legislature to have just implemented I-976. Nevertheless, he reaffirmed his support for a proposal that suggests taking a portion of the sales tax on motor vehicles from the general fund to backfill budget gaps which could affect the status of transit projects. 

Looking ahead to next year, Wilcox said he was bracing himself for a session with far less rosy fiscal conditions. 

I think we’ll have a far more serious budget discussion. This year it was euphoria, next year there could be deep concern.”

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