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Morning Wire: Rep. Mike Sells, Blake decision bill, Debt-based license suspensions

My Gonzaga Bulldogs went down in a stunningly flat performance last night to Baylor in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball National Championship. It was a brutal way to end a season for a team that was considered, up until 24 hours ago, perhaps the greatest college basketball team ever.

After 22 years of continuous post-season play, we have just two national championship appearances and no titles. It’s frustrating. But, then I look at the Mariner’s and I remember what real frustration feels like… Thanks for the season, Zags. Let’s play ball, M’s!

With help from Michael Goldberg

1. Q&A: Rep. Mike Sells on labor legislation in 2021

Rep. Mike Sells (D – Everett) chairs the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. He is a former teacher, AFT member, and long time figure in the Snohomish County Labor Council. He gave reporter Michael Goldberg an update on where labor legislation stands this session. He also offered his take on the ongoing unionization push at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

Sells was particularly focused on ensuring Lyft and Uber contribute to a system that their workers are benefiting from. “We went into a pandemic, and we ended up with all of these Uber and Lyft drivers getting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) without the company paying into the system. There needs to be something that gives in this particular situation. The Employment Security Department has already said these companies are the ’employer of record,’ and yet they’re fighting back and saying they’re not. At the same time, they haven’t stepped up around the PUA issue.”

2.  Public hearing on State v. Blake bill 

In February, in the State v Blake decision, Washington’s statute making possession of drugs illegal, even if you didn’t know you had the drugs in your possession, was ruled unconstitutional. In response, Sen. Manka Dhingra’s legislation would create a statewide law enforcement assisted diversion program (LEAD).  The model, based on a King County program, provides for alternative sentencing for low-level crimes when issues of behavioral health may have been an impetus for the illegal action.  

At a public hearing yesterday, advocates of the bill said the threat of strict recriminalization measures on the local level is an impetus for statewide action. The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (WAPA) testified as “other,” but prosecutors support almost all of the provisions in the bill, said Executive Director, Russell Brown, but it appears they would go further. According to Pierce County Prosecutor Mary Robnett, prosecutors are near unanimous that possession of a controlled substance “should be recriminalized to some level.” The bill does make it unlawful for individuals to hold a controlled substance in quantities above personal use amounts.

3.  House Democrats rebuff calls from advocates to change debt-based license suspension bill

House Democrats appear unlikely to make changes requested by the ACLU of Washington and other advocates to a bill that aims to decriminalize “driving while poor” by ending debt-based license suspensions. These advocates say that an amendment from Sen. Annette Cleveland undermines that goal by authorizing driver’s license suspension for an individual who fails to appear at a hearing. House Transportation Chair, Rep. Jake Fey (D – Tacoma), told Reporter Michael Goldberg that changes requested by advocates would prevent the bill from passing.

In a statement to the Wire, Rep. David Hackney, who helped shepherd the bill through Transportation, also said the amendment was a necessary compromise to secure the support of a majority of the Legislature. “As written, the bill will result in 64,000 people being able to immediately have their suspended licenses reinstated and approximately 46,000 people annually would not become suspended in future years as compared to current law. This last minute attempt to relitigate these negotiations jeopardizes the bill, and threatens to leave tens of thousands of Washingtonians without relief.”

4. Latest Forward Washington transportation package 

The Senate Transportation Committee is holding a work session this morning on the latest version of the $18 billion Forward Washington transportation package. Of note in the updated revenue summary is a $9.8 cent increase in fuel taxes that would go into effect on July 1. This up from the 6 cent increase proposed in the January version. The tax would raise an estimated $5.2 billion in revenue from FY 2022 – FY 2037. A cap-and-trade proposal would raise another $5.1 billion. 

The package would transfer the 6.5% sales/use tax on electric vehicles and hybrids from GF-S to transportation funds starting on July 1, 2025. A revised project list released yesterday includes a vast array of infrastructure projects that these revenues would go toward. On a related note, two major pieces of climate legislation, Sen. Reuven Carlye’s  cap-and-trade bill and Rep. Joe Fitgibbon’s low carbon fuel standard are both still in Rules.

5. Delayed cancer diagnoses led to death at DOC Facilities

report released by the Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO) found that delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment in Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities led to death for at least one incarcerated patient, and terminal diagnoses for several others. While experts have identified a one-month target time for making a diagnosis, the average time to diagnose for the eleven cases included in the report was approximately 6.5 months.

In a written response to the report, DOC said the experiences of patients do not meet their goals for the quality of care: “It is not acceptable for those under our care to experience waits for diagnostics and treatments that could potentially impact their well-being.”  DOC says they have asked the Legislature for increasing funding to pay for more staffing and an electronic medical record system. 

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