With the first policy cut-off looming this Friday, February 22, this week is sure to be a blur of hearings and committee votes that will finalize the issues we’ll track for the rest of session.
Of course, there’s more going on in the Legislature than we can wrap our arms around. In this email, we feature a few of the bills we’ve been following alongside coverage from other outlets on the topics dominating conversations at the Capitol.
With help from Emily Boerger
1. Bill to eliminate the death penalty moves to the House
Last Friday, the Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the death penalty in Washington State. I noted who voted across party lines and highlighted some moments of the debate, which got heated at times, here.
The bill, which will now start its journey in the House, comes in the wake of actions by the other branches of government. The Washington Supreme Court ruled the death penalty invalid last October, “because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” and Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014.
2. This year’s public records bill has public hearing
The Legislature’s whirlwind passage of a bill last year that would’ve exempted the body from the Public Records Act is a fresh wound. That’s been made clear since Sen. Jamie Pedersen introduced a bill this session approaching the same issue. Pedersen’s bill would, unlike last year’s bill, subject lawmakers to the PRA and carve out several exemptions that differ from other bodies that are subject to the law.
The bill got immediate media attention (read this from The Seattle Times editorial board). Pedersen responded with an op-ed explaining the bill and asking for a “reasonable dialogue on the bill’s merits.” Many media representatives (and Tim Eyman, who’s also been making Seattle Times headlines) spoke against the bill at its public hearing. If this tweet from The Herald reporter Jerry Cornfield is any indication, the bill is not likely to move this session.
3. Ferguson warns sheriffs who refuse to enforce new gun law
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued an open letter last week to law enforcement regarding I-1639, the comprehensive gun safety initiative that voters approved by almost 60 percent in 2018. The letter was in response to the “at least 13” county sheriffs in the state who say they will refuse to enforce the new law.
Ferguson specifically points to the enhanced background checks in I-1639, stating that if a police chief/sheriff refuses to perform the background checks, they will be held liable if someone uses the firearm to do harm. Ferguson writes, “In short, the taxpayers of your city or county assume the financial risk of your decision to impose your personal views over the law.”
4. Presidential candidates’ tax returns are up for debate
A bill that would require presidential hopefuls to publicly release a copy of their last five federal income tax returns before they could appear on Washington’s primary ballot had its public hearing last week. These kinds of bills, which have been introduced in “at least 25 states,” have been described by one outlet as nothing more than a way for Democrats to “troll Trump.”
However, in Washington, the bill received near unanimous support in the public hearing, except from Jay Jennings of the Secretary of State’s office, who argued that the bill would invite a legal challenge and “jeopardize our ability to successfully conduct presidential elections.” Gov. Inslee commented that, while he supports the policy included in the bill, he is hesitant about fully endorsing the legislation until he knows whether it’s constitutional.
5. Dems’ 34-bill affordable housing package
Democrats held a press conference recently to present a package of 34 House bills aimed at affordable housing and homelessness. Rep. Nicole Macri, the point person for coordinating the bills, emphasized a handful of them that are “really high priority” for passing this session, including several that would amend the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. I listed those high-priority bills in this article.
The article also includes input from Rep. Andrew Barkis, who has introduced his own four-bill “eviction prevention package” from the other side of the aisle. Barkis, who owns a property-management company, doesn’t see a path to compromise considering the Dems’ strong majority this session. One of his eviction-prevention bills has passed out of committee.
6. Public weighs in on a simple majority for school-district bonds
The House Education Committee heard public testimony last week on a bill that would allow a simple majority of voters to pass school district bonds, rather than a supermajority. Pursuing such an effort was one of the top five recommendations from the Improving State Funding for School Construction Legislative Task Force, which toured school districts last year.
A similar bill in the Senate passed out of committee last week, and the House bill is scheduled for executive session ahead of the first cut-off. The bills would require an amendment to the state constitution, so would have to be approved by two-thirds of the lawmakers in each chamber and be approved by voters in the next general election before taking effect.
7. Washington politicos respond to Trump’s national emergency announcement
Since Trump announced his intentions to declare a national emergency in order to fund a border wall, Washington politicians from both major parties have been denouncing the decision. Notably, Republican Congresswomen Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers have both spoken out in opposition.
NPR reports that 16 states filed a lawsuit against Trump’s declaration. Washington is not among the states, but Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a statement saying that his office would take steps if the declaration harms Washington. Yesterday, Gov. Jay Inslee reiterated that, saying, “We are not filing a lawsuit today. But one, I’m confident, will be filed the moment that we know there’s any potential damage to the State of Washington in any dimension.”