Virtual Conversation | Recapping the 2021 Session: Legislative Republicans, May 18, 2021 Register

Morning Wire: Cap gains passes House, Climate Commitment Act, Health legislation

Four days left in this year’s session, with some big questions left on the table. Will the Senate go along with the House capital gains tax? Will the House go along with the Senate cap-and-invest bill? Are we getting a big transportation package or a more modest one? And, notably absent so far is any meaningful conversation about amending the emergency powers of the governor, a topic with bi-partisan interest in addressing. 

It’s a good reminder of former House Republican leader Rep. Richard Debolt’s guidance during new member orientation: “Forget what you have heard. The other party is not the enemy. The Senate is the enemy.”

With help from Michael Goldberg

1. Capital gains tax passes House, heads to Senate for concurrence 

After several hours of debate, the House passed the capital gains tax bill in a 52-46 vote yesterday, sending it to the Senate for final concurrence. Democrats rejected 18 of 19 Republican amendments. Republican Rep. Bruce Chandler mistakenly voted yes the first go around, which caused a re-vote. Five Democrats broke with their caucus to vote no. While an emergency clause was not added back in, the question now is whether moderate Democrats will sign off on language calling the tax “necessary” for the support of the state government and its existing public institutions.

As the tax aims to balance Washington’s tax code and address deficiencies in the child care system, Rep. Tana Senn said the language is not an emergency clause, but rather a “necessity clause” emphasizing important government priorities: “Why would we deny funding for early learning and child care?” Senate Minority Leader John Braun said an initiative, an alternative to a referendum, would probably not make it on the ballot this year, but he left open the possibility of putting the question to voters in the 2022 cycle.  

2.  The arguments for and against the Climate Commitment Act 

The House may vote on the Climate Commitment Act today. The Order of Consideration is not yet published. Proponents say this legislation is stronger and more equitable than any piece of climate legislation that has passed in the country to date. The “cap-and-invest” bill would clamp down on pollution from carbon and other greenhouse gases and raise revenue for transportation, energy, and conservation projects. 

The bill is opposed by Republicans and has been criticized by progressives, who want more environmental justice provisions added to the final version. Republicans say the legislation is one component of a “full meal deal” of carbon and gas taxes that will fall hardest on people who commute to work. “Very, very regressive in spite of the rhetoric you hear,” said House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox. Democrats are also hoping to pass of a transportation package as part of a “grand bargain” on climate, a possibility which Senate Democrats said yesterday is “very much alive.”

3. Two bills that signal the direction of health policy in Washington State

In what some are calling “Cascade Care 2.0,” the Legislature passed a bill that aims to compel more robust participation in the public option. If a public option plan is not available in plan year 2022 or later, the bill requires hospitals that receive payment from public health plans to contract with at least one public option plan upon receiving an offer. The Health Care Authority (HCA) must also contract with one or more carriers to provide public option plans in every county of the state or in each county within a region of the state.

Another bill passed by the Legislature aims to align Washington’s push for universal coverage with federal health reform, which may be included in the second part of President Biden’s infrastructure plan.  The Universal Health Care Commission will submit a baseline report to the Governor and the Legislature by November 1st, 2022 analyzing Washington’s health care finance and delivery system. They will also asses “steps the state should take to prepare for a just transition to a unified health care financing system.” 

4. Reaction to Chauvin verdict

After former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, reactions came pouring in from elected officials. In a note to Black families published on the Wire, Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda wrote that the verdict cannot be about one officer nor about one police department. Since March 29, “at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide, with Black and Latino people representing more than half of the dead.” 

The Legislature’s Black Members Caucus wrote that the Legislature “set down a foundation that we must continue to build on, but the work to bring restorative justice to our communities has just begun in Washington state.” At a press conference yesterday, House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox said the legal process restored hope for a lot of people. “If we’ve had any ray of hope in this arena, it’s the fact that the process handed down to us can be this effective, under this kind of stress.”

And, this piece from Seattle-based Convergence Media’s Omari Salisbury is really a must-watch, particularly if you’re working to build an anti-racist organization or community.

5. Legislature racing to address Blake Decision 

The compromise bill passed by the Senate last week to address the Blake Decision was advanced in executive session yesterday. After the state Supreme Court denied a motion Tuesday to reconsider its decision, the Legislature is under increased pressure to come up with an answer before the clocks runs out. The central sticking point to reaching an agreement is whether the bill will direct people to access substance use treatment through the criminal justice system or the health care system.

The amended compromise bill recriminalizes the possession of hard drugs, but as a gross misdemeanor instead of a felony. Some local officials, as well as the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Manka Dhingra, believe the amended version will create a confusing, “patchwork of enforcement.” In voting against her bill, Dhingra said it no longer reflects a treatment-first approach: “Too many lives, especially Black and brown lives, will continue to be shattered by a criminal justice approach to what is fundamentally a public health problem.”  

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