The first policy cutoff came and went, and lawmakers passed over 1,000 bills and resolutions out of the committees subject to the cutoff (all committees aside from House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees). We cover some of the legislation we’ve been tracking in this email, and will continue to add to and refine that list as session moves forward.
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With help from Emily Boerger
1. An increase in Senate bills passed out of committees
Before last Friday’s policy cutoff, some Senate committees passed out more Senate bills this session than they did during the last two sessions combined. For instance, the Health & Long Term Care Committee voted out 55 Senate bills this year. In the entire last biennium, the committee moved 31. The Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee voted 38 Senate bills out in the last biennium and passed out 49 this session.
When I brought this up with Sen. Sam Hunt, who has chaired the State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee this session and last session, he mentioned a mix of likely contributing factors. Partly, the increase could be due to a shifting party split. In 2017, the first year of the last biennium, Washington had a split Legislature. Hunt said this “led Republicans to move fewer bills out of committee.” Democrats claimed a majority in the Senate for the 2018 session, and then widened it leading into this year. Hunt also said, in his committee’s case, a “substantial package of election bills” took up a lot of time last year. And this year, there are several new members and plenty of minor, “housekeeping” measures.
2. The Long-Term Care Trust Act cleared another hurdle
The House passed the Long-Term Care Trust Act, which would create a public long-term care benefit, off the floor last week. Under the bill, Washington workers would pay 0.58 percent of their wages into a trust program, then eventually would be able to claim up to $36,500 in benefits for services like meal delivery and home health, if needed.
Opponents to the plan argued against it from several angles during floor debate, but the bill ultimately passed in a 63-33 vote. A companion bill is also alive in the Senate. Rep. Laurie Jinkins, the House bill’s lead sponsor, was positive about the bill’s progress: “The stress and the pain and the suffering of families right now, combined with the financial stress on both families and our state budget has made this into a crisis,” Jinkins said. “We should’ve done this a long, long time ago. But we’re doing it now.”
3. In the midst of Measles outbreak, vaccine exemptions are center-stage
Both chambers moved vaccine-exemption bills out of committee ahead of the first cutoff. In the House, Rep. Paul Harris’ bill that would get rid of the philosophical/personal exemption for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine is now in Rules. And a broader bill that would get rid of the same exemption for every vaccine required to attend school or day care is in the Senate Rules Committee.
Public hearings for the bills attracted passionate crowds to the Capitol (see the signs sitting outside one of those meetings in the above photo). The already-contentious issue has taken on extra meaning this session, while the number of confirmed cases in a Washington Measles outbreak climbs. As of yesterday, the Washington State Department of Health reported 65 cases in Clark County and one case in King.
4. Climate remains in-focus as bills move
The centerpiece of Gov. Jay Inslee’s clean-energy plan—a bill that would, among other things, require Washington utilities to eliminate fossil fuels from their supply entirely by 2045—is moving in the Senate and the House. At a press availability last week, Republican Senators Doug Ericksen and Sharon Brown stressed a lack of support for the “New Green Deal” they say Democrats are pushing this session.
When I asked Republican leadership if they could get behind any environmental legislation this session, House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox said he could support recent bills that involve sequestering carbon, reforesting marginal farmland, and biochar. We recently ran an op-ed from Carbon Washington supporting a bipartisan bill that’s moving through the House and takes an approach similar to what Wilcox described. “I think that there’s a lot of room to be creative,” Wilcox said. “Where we’re not going to go is massive taxes that usually fall on people that are not really contributing that much to the problem and are the least able to pay for it.”
5. Tobacco 21 bill heads to Senate
It may soon be illegal to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under age 21 in Washington. The House passed the “Tobacco 21” bill, prime-sponsored by Republican Rep. Paul Harris, in a 66-30 vote last week.
12 of the yes votes came from Republicans, a prediction Harris made in a Q&A with the Wire earlier this session. That’s fewer R votes than a similar bill from Harris got last year. He credits that to a couple members who were absent, and to new lawmakers who he thinks were being cautious in voting against the bill. “‘No’ is the easiest, safest vote, always,” Harris said. “I get that, and that’s alright. The bill passed easily.”
6. A welcome change of pace: this one-woman play about redistricting Washington State
After we published our recent series of articles about redistricting in Washington State, we got an offer we couldn’t pass up: a ticket to a one-woman play about former State Rep. Mary Ellen McCaffree and her role in the 1960s efforts to redistrict Washington. I went, and found it impressively engaging and educational.
Rep. McCaffree‘s granddaughter, Alison McCaffree, produced the play and recently launched a non-profit with an aim to increase citizen engagement. We interviewed her for this Q&A , which offers a refreshing change of pace and perspective in the middle of a hectic session. We talked about her memories of her grandmother, what it was like helping Rep. McCaffree write down her life’s story, and what lessons can be learned from the play that apply to today’s politics. (Tickets for the next showing are available here.)
7. How the evolving public option has changed so far
Bills that would create a statewide public option for health insurance are on the move in both the Senate and the House. Both have changed at least a bit since they were initially introduced. I wrote about those changes here.
In the Senate, the plan now allows insurance providers more flexibility in the options they’d be able to offer, and gives critical access hospitals and sole community hospitals a higher reimbursement rate than other health care providers. Both of the bills’ prime sponsors have said the bill is a work in progress. “God only knows what you’re going to do by the time this is over,” Rep. Eileen Cody, the House bill’s prime sponsor said. “It’s a long time between now and the end of session.”
8. The latest on Gov. Inslee’s potential presidential bid
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee appeared on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” Sunday alongside the Democratic Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham. In the interview, Inslee stuck with a typically vague answer for when he might announce a presidential bid, but admitted it could be as soon as this week when pressed. Meanwhile, some national outlets (like Rolling Stone) are writing about him as if he’s already joined the race.
“I’ve been pleased by what I’ve been hearing across the country,” Inslee said. “That people do want a president that will act on a real emergency, which is climate change.” Inslee was in the other Washington last weekend for the National Governors Association’s Winter Meeting — his office wrote a Medium post about that trip you can read here.