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Morning Wire: Floor action, Rep. Noel Frame, Sen. Shelly Short

The House adopted a resolution celebrating Black History Month yesterday and Rep. David Hackney delivered prayer, which we encourage you to check out. Equity is on the agenda this session, as you’ll read below.

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1. Legislature sees early floor action

After passage in both chambers, ESSB 5061 is headed to Gov. Inslee’s desk. This bill, which we’ve covered in depth, will prevent $1.7 billion in automatic unemployment insurance (UI) tax increases from taking effect from 2021 to 2025. The Senate has another floor session scheduled for Wednesday, with several more bills on deck.

Last week, the Senate passed a bill that will add “equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism” to existing cultural competency training standards in schools. Sens. Ron Muzzall and Tim Sheldon crossed caucus lines to support the legislation. Sen. Steve Hobbs delivered an impassioned floor speech: “I wonder what would’ve happened to me had this bill been passed in the early ‘70s,” said Hobbs. “Maybe I wouldn’t have been beaten down so many times.”

2. Rep. Frame: “Sure revenue looks good, but on the backs of whom?”

Last week Rep. Noel Frame introduced the “Washington State Wealth Tax” – a bill which would assess a one percent tax on “extraordinary intangible financial assets.” The tax would exempt the first $1 billion of wealth as defined the bill. According to the fiscal note, this proposal will impact “fewer than 100 taxpayers. The number of taxpayers impacted may vary significantly from year to year.” By one estimate, Jeff Bezos would be set back about $1.9 billion per year. 

According to Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price, who is helping shore up support for the bill in the small business community, the tax would “singlehandedly make up our state’s $3.3 billion budget shortfall.” In an interview with me, Frame outlined the economic, legal and moral theories behind the proposal. The bill will be heard in the House Finance Committee today at 1:30 pm. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the tax would only impact 10-14 people. The fiscal note says the proposal will impact “fewer than 100 taxpayers.”

3. Rep. Ormsby says using rainy day reserves would leave the state vulnerable

The Democratic COVID-19 relief package passed off the House Floor last night. Five out of six Republican amendments were voted down. The plan is for the bill to arrive in the Senate in time for the Ways & Means Committee to hear the House version today. Majority Leader Andy Billig hopes to bring it to the Senate floor next Wednesday. I caught up with the proposal’s prime sponsor, Rep. Timm Ormsby, after he left the House floor Friday evening for an update on this a few other economic recovery bills. 

When asked why the Democratic package does not not dip into the state’s rainy day reserves since, as Rep. Drew Stokesbary put it, “It is hard to imagine a day that could be rainier than the one we have right now,” Ormsby held firm.

“The uncertainty we’ve been through over the last 10 months may very well continue. I do not relish the prospect of not having a cushion for the state to be able to continue the programs and services we are currently operating without anything to fall back on. While there may be an economic benefit to putting a lot of money into the economy in the short term, it does nothing to enhance our prospects during the uncertainty of the future.”

4.  Sen. Shelly Short’s legislative agenda for rural Washington 

As bills moves through the Legislature to address covid and economic recovery, Sen. Shelly Short told the Wire that her legislative agenda will ensure rural communities have a seat at the table. The bill she thinks is mostly likely to pass is a bipartisan one that updates the Growth Management Act to expand the boundaries set almost 30 years ago for areas of intense rural development. This could allow for more affordable housing in rural areas for essential public employees.

“If you think about local areas of more intense development, the boundaries aren’t consistent with water and sewer utility boundaries. The environmental community usually says that we can’t keep allowing growth outside of urban growth areas. To me it makes sense in these instances to at least allow growth within those utility service areas because you’re not growing the utilities, the utilities are already there.”

5. Health care legislative roundup 

Health care reporter Sydney Kurle found that a bill to remove incentives for prescription drug price manipulation received favorable testimony, but also pushback against some of the metrics it uses. The bill would require the Health Care Authority (HCA) to assess a penalty against drug manufacturers on revenue that was generated on price increases not supported by clinical evidence. 

Some patient advocacy groups object to the use of Quality-Adjusted Life Years in judging price increases. This methodology suggests price increases are justified by how many quality years of life the drug allows, rather than pricing based on the cost of production. Patient advocates say the metric institutionalizes discrimination against people with disabilities. Kurle also has a rundown of health care bills heard in the House last week on topics like the establishment of the new federally mandated “988” crisis response system, measures to improve quality of life for long-term care residents and data and security protections for COVID-19 health data.

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