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Senate Floor Session and debates for the week of March 1

This week is the second week in a two week stretch of floor action in the House and Senate. These bills make it to the floor after passing out of committees controlled by the Democratic majority. but that doesn’t mean that they will pass the floor as easily. In the early part of session, legislators typically bring less controversial bills to the floor that pass with bipartisan majorities. But some bills still attract significant debate before they pass.

Here is a round-up of the bills that had the most debate in the Senate during the floor sessions this week:

Monday March 1st:

SB 5036

Topic: Conditional commutation

Chair/Sponsor: Pedersen/Dhingra

Vote: 27-21-0-1

What the bill does: Expands the membership of the Clemency and Pardons Board (CPB) and provides for member salaries. Authorizes persons to petition for conditional commutation after serving 15, 20, or 25 years of total confinement depending on the person’s underlying conviction. Charges the CPB with hearing petitions for conditional commutation and making recommendations to the Governor.

The Debate:

Votes against party majority: None

For:

  • Sen. Manka Dhingra (D, 45th District)

I really do hope that everyone was able to hear how well balanced this bill is, and that’s a word I’ve heard mentioned over and over from so many different people. And this is why we were able to get the support of prosecutors and community members on the bill. I will say that there are people who do not believe this bill goes far enough. There are people who believe they got the false promises because they really don’t think this process will do what they wanted to do so you want to acknowledge that this is a balanced bill and this is why you have people on you know both ends who are unhappy with it but that’s why we have to balance and I really do hope that people have heard about all the factors that will be considered but there have been. There have been tragedies in the past and there are tragedies that unfortunately I’m sure continue to happen but we have to have a pathway moving forward where you can take a look at the entire individual and evaluate that individual and see if there is a different reaction that the community has to have. And this is what this bill is about, understanding and acknowledging that people change. That there is more to someone than what happens on one particular day during one particular incident and it’s about making sure we have the opportunity to evaluate that in a holistic way from all sides and to really make sure we’re being thoughtful and deliberate and ensuring that we get people second chances.”

Against:

  • Sen. Mike Padden (R, 9th District)

I agree with the lady from the forty fifth district that people change. But there is a process now that they can go to the governor and ask to be pardoned. So it’s not as if there isn’t any opportunity. Having said all that I probably would have been fairly close to considering a yes vote if amendment 266 had been adopted. But that really bothers me that we have a presumption for release and I definitely think that is the wrong approach. I don’t think there should be a presumption. That the person should be released or you know whether or not they’re more or less likely I think the standard there is very weak.”

SB 5164

Topic: Persistent offenders/robbery

Chair/Sponsor: Pedersen/Darneille

Vote: 28-21-0-0

What the bill does: Requires resentencing of offenders previously sentenced to life without parole as a result of a conviction for robbery in the second degree.

The Debate:

Votes against party majority: None

For:

  • Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D, 27th District)

A lot has changed though with the way the prosecutors today can look back on the cases that came out of their jurisdictions in years past and people have had their sentences reduced. We’re looking more and more at data and we know that this is a crime robbery two where no weapon is used and no person is harmed physically. And we know that this is an entry level crime and we know that people can be served and lives can be changed without looking at these cases as if they deserve a life sentence in prison. We seem to be disputing today the number of people that are covered by this crime, but I feel very confident Mr President in the number 64, as that’s as many people as were hand counted by very competent DOC staff two years ago. And I’ve looked at this entire list of people and it comes with demographic information, we also know that 46% of these persons are African-American and that 45% are over the age of fifty five. There is no question that hope is necessary to build the coping skills for individuals who are incarcerated. And we can restore hope by passing this bill now in 2021. It is a different year than we were two years ago. We now have the endorsement of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, that is a huge shift from what we were debating two years ago. And furthermore we need to recognize that the sentencing guidelines commission has been advocating for the removal of robbery two from a three strikes list for 21 years. We’re not just realizing today or even two years ago that this crime is disproportionately applied and that it should not result in a person’s lifetime sentence.”

Against:

  • Sen. Mark Schoesler (R, 9th District)

When that ballot measure passed, I was a member of the other body in this Capitol. Ironically the Speaker of the House and myself all supported the bill. Part of this is, this is repeat criminals, habitual. You are sentenced based on your convictions how many people that commit these crimes get caught the first and only time they ever do it. Really? Usually there are repeat offenses before somebody is caught and convicted. That’s just the facts, whether it’s King County or Spokane County, it’s very seldom if ever the first and only time you were caught these are habitual criminals and as a good gentleman from the 4th District said many times the cases are plea bargained they were actually more serious. So if we’re not going to trust the people we should just say no.”

SB 5141

Topic: Environmental justice task force recs

Chair/Sponsor: Carlyle/Saldaña

Vote: 28-21-0-0

What the bill does: Establishes environmental justice plan implementation, equitable community engagement and public participation, tribal consultation, assessment, and budget and funding obligation requirements for the departments of Health, Ecology, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Commerce, and Transportation, and the Puget Sound Partnership. Establishes the Environmental Justice Council to adopt guidelines in coordination with an interagency workgroup to be considered by agencies, evaluate the progress of agencies implementing environmental justice requirements, recommend the identification and prioritization of actions for assessments, and provide a forum for the public to testify on environmental justice concerns.

The Debate:

Votes against party majority: None

For:

  • Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D, 37th District)

Hopefully this will be a bill that becomes a cornerstone about how we build back better. How we recover in a way that brings all Washingtonians with us and especially those that have been hardest hit from pollution, from air quality, and underlying health issues and not being able to have economic opportunity. And this is the type of bill that is one that I hope as we implement and as this moves forward through this process we will all come to recognize that it has a benefit to our constituents and allows us to do a better job of making sure that we are putting people first in Washington state.”

Against:

  • Sen. Mark Schoesler (R, 9th District)

In the state of Washington we have the G.M.A., the State’s Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, some of the strongest pesticide crop production product regulations in the United States and on and on and on. What we also have is a stifling of job development in all four corners of the state. Look at Whatcom County, look at the coastal counties, look at Northeast, Southeast jobs are stifled repeatedly. There’s a myth that green energy jobs are going to do it. They come in and they build one hundred acres of solar panels, put up a hundred windmills, they leave. There’s one job left. It’s kind of a myth. I thought about this and I thought well what are the problems, well I guess we’re still flushing into Puget Sound pretty regularly that’s probably not good for the people live there or the fish. I thought about this and I thought what really is this? This is an excellent bureaucrat development project and a really good way to develop the bureaucracy. It’s not something that’s going to help minority communities in my district with jobs or yours it’s going to stifle them with no real benefits.”

Tuesday March 2nd:

SB 5399

Topic: Universal health care commission

Chair/Sponsor: Cleveland/Randall

Vote: 28-20-0-1

What the bill does: Establishes the universal health care commission.

The Debate:

Votes against caucus majority: Sens. Sheldon (D.), Mullet (D.)

For:

  • Sen. Emily Randall (D, 26th District)

There are still as of Nov. 2020 541,440 uninsured Washingtonians. That number has been even higher over this past year, when we saw over one million without coverage. I think we can all agree that no family, regardless of their income or financial situation, should face bankruptcy or losing their home in order to take care of their family members in order to get health care coverage. Especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Our system is good but it’s not good enough. We’ve continued to move the ball forward by passing just two years ago, in establishing the universal health care workgroup to do a comprehensive study to work with stakeholders across industry. Amongst all experts in the field to bring their voices together and to do an economic analysis of the options available to us.”

Against:

  • Sen. Lynda Wilson (R, 17th District)

I’m looking at this right now and I see the cost shifts here from that goes from model A to the status quo in the difference. You’re looking at a 32 billion dollar difference, 14 billion dollars comes from individual contributions right now, and 18 billion dollars comes from employer contributions. That’s what has to be made up by the state is 32 billion dollars, just the swaps and that’s of course including the assumption that Medicaid and Medicare will increase when there’s not that assurance of the single payer plan. So I really need to look at this very deeply before we go into something where we don’t know where 32 billion dollars is coming from.”

SB 5377

Topic: Standardized health plans

Chair/Sponsor: Cleveland/Frockt

Vote: 30-18-0-1

What the bill does: Establishes, subject to availability of funds, a premium assistance program for individuals purchasing health insurance on the Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange). Establishes network participation requirements in public option plans for certain hospitals. Requires carriers to offer all the standardized plans designed by the Exchange and limits the number of non-standardized plans a carrier may offer.

The Debate:

Votes against caucus majority: Sens. Rivers (R.), Sheldon (D.)

For:

  • Sen. David Frockt (D, 46th District)

But a major problem that they had in the course of this contracting environment because we didn’t have enough carrots and sticks in the bill [Cascade care bill] was that several of the major hospital systems and some of the biggest ones in the state simply refused to participate. And we’ve got to have for this market which is so vital to 200,000 people or more actually. There’s more than 220,000 thousand people, 40,000 more in it than were just a year ago and the exchange just opened up again because of the need. They have to have options to look at these plans in every corner of the state and we don’t have that. So Section five of the bill is designed to improve the network coverage and ask our hospitals to participate in this, with protections that we’ve worked out with the hospital association and others and the plans to ensure that the negotiating is fair. and we work hard to get to something we may have some more work to do on that. The subsidy part of this bill, section one, which Senator Muzzall talked about is really vital because it goes to affordability of the premiums that people will be paying. You may recall that in the first Cascade Care bill we did a study, we authorized a study to look at what a state subsidy program would look like. And that study came back and showed that if we offer some additional money on top of the federal subsidies and expand it a little bit we can bring thousands more people into coverage and as a result the risk pools get better and premiums will likely drop.”

Against:

  • Sen. Ron Muzzall (R, 10th District)

I personally feel that this would have been a better choice for next session, so that we could have seen what Cascade Care One would have done. And allowed us to just step back and see how well it worked. But today I will be voting no on this just for the reason that I think that we should have taken more time to consider what the outcome was going to be.”

SB 5022

Topic: Recycling, waste, & litter

Chair/Sponsor: Carlyle/Das

Vote: 31-17-0-1

What the bill does: Establishes minimum recycled content requirements for plastic beverage containers, plastic household cleaning and personal care product containers, and plastic trash bags. Prohibits the sale and distribution of certain expanded polystyrene products. Establishes optional single-use food service requirements for food service businesses. 

The Debate:

Votes against caucus majority: Sens. Holy (R.), King (R.), Rivers (R.)

For:

  • Sen. Mona Das (D, 47th District)

I’m so excited about this bill and it’s our chance to reduce our climate impact and to take a huge step away from plastic waste and towards environmentally friendly packaging. I’ve always said it’s 2021 if it’s not recyclable or usable or compostable it should no longer be produced.”

Against:

  • Sen. Keith Wagoner (R, 39th District)

Speaking against the bill and it’s always an uncomfortable position when you’re speaking against recycling because it has such positive connotations. And recycling works great in some areas. Senator Das mentioned aluminum recycling has been extremely successful, as has cardboard and paper, extremely successful because it makes fiscal sense. Recycling is not a panacea and we need to look at each type of product with a critical eye to where it makes sense. What this bill is doing is forcing a false economy to get an outcome that some people think is desirable. But I think we ought to look at other options that make sense where we don’t have to force an economy upon our manufacturers and our people.”

Wednesday, March 3rd

SB 5227

Topic: Diversity, etc./higher ed.

Chair/Sponsor: Randall/Randall

Vote: 35-14-0-0

What the bill doesEstablishes a professional development program on diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism for faculty and staff at public institutions of higher education to participate in beginning with the 2022-23 academic year. Requires all public institutions of higher education to conduct campus climate assessments on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Establishes a program on diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism for students at public institutions of higher education to participate in annually beginning with the 2024-25 academic year. 

The Debate:

Votes against party majority: Sens. Braun (R.), Gildon (R.), Hawkins (R.), King (R.), Warnick (R.), Wilson, J. (R.)

For:

  • Sen. Emily Randall (D, 26th District)

I’m excited to extend this policy to our campuses so that the institutions that are already doing this work can have a little more have to behind the work that they’re doing. And the institutions who haven’t yet started it will be inspired and required to do so. This is about ensuring that our conversations, not just on campus, but throughout our communities and across our state are more robust, and kinder, and more culturally safe.”

Against: 

  • Sen. Jeff Holy (R, 6th District)

The issue is that we’re spending about 5 million dollars a year. And adding to our education costs without having a direct impact on student outcomes. Again it’s funny how we seem to work around that. And two thirds of this 5 million a year that we’re going to spend, approaching five million, is going to be assigned to community technical colleges. Right now we’re approaching thirty thousand dollars a year for a four year state schools, and the last bastion of affordable education is Community and Technical Colleges that allow for the unintentional but existing social stratification of access to higher education. I see these things, subject matter aside, as being off topic of attempting to have a direct impact and provide the advantage to student outcomes and higher education, as funds that could be better applied. It’s because of the cost of this bill that I’m going to withhold my support today, not because the so the topic or subject matter.”

Thursday, March 4th

SB 5203

Topic: Generic prescription drugs

Chair/Sponsor: Cleveland/Van De Wege

Vote: 28-21-0-0

What the bill does: Allows the Health Care Authority (HCA) to enter into partnerships with other states, state agencies, or nonprofit entities to produce, distribute, or purchase generic prescription drugs and purchase and distribute insulin. Requires state purchased health care programs to purchase generic drugs and insulin through the partnership and allows other entities to purchase through the partnership voluntarily.

The Debate:

Votes against party majority: None

For:

  • Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D, 24th District)

For the last few years I’ve been concerned about the cost of generic prescription drugs. I see people that struggle to pay those costs in my other job with the fire department. Senator Kaiser and Senator Cleveland also have shown concern and so we’ve been working on ways that the states could potentially look at getting larger amounts of cheaper prescription generic drugs. And we’re not the only ones and California has started the process of potentially making that happen. I doubt they’ll produce them themselves or probably enter a new upon track with a generic drug manufacturer. And generic drug manufacturers don’t have really any concerns with this legislation because they often cite the middleman, benefit managers as being the reason their drugs get so costly so quickly. This legislation will allow the H.C.A. to centrally enter into an agreement with California, another state government, to procure generic prescription drugs.”

Against: 

  • Sen Ann Rivers (R, 18th District)

What makes our system work is the competition that drives prices down. So say we do go out to bid and we choose one bidder. Suddenly we’re fairly captive. If we were running the state like a business this wouldn’t be acceptable. But we haven’t even gotten the result back from all the work that we’ve done on transparency and what’s really driving cost. So this bill seems a little bit premature to me but the underlying premise is also quite disturbing that now we’re going to go with one entity who without competition might be able to ask for whatever they like.”

Friday, March 5th

SB 5043

Topic: School employee housing

Chair/Sponsor: Wellman/Salomon

Vote: 25-24-0-0

What the bill does: Allows any school district to build teachers’ cottages or other single or multifamily housing for school district employees when directed by a vote of the qualified electors of the district to do so. Eliminates the requirement that a board of supervisors review plans regarding second-class districts’ use of school property for public purposes. Exempts all leasehold interests in facilities owned or used by a school district which provides housing for school district employees from leasehold excise tax. 

The Debate:

Votes against party majority: Sens. Carlyle (D.), Hobbs (D.), Mullet (D.)

For:

  • Sen. Jesse Salomon (D, 32nd District)

It’s no secret that housing costs have skyrocketed in my district and in many of the districts on the west side surrounding my area. One of the challenges many of the schools face in attracting teachers and other school employees in this area is the high cost of housing. Many of our teachers are required to commute very far and  just aren’t able to live in the districts that they work and serve. And I think it would be better for our communities to be able to have our school employees intermingled with our kids, our parents, and our p.t.a. programs. So what this does is simply adopt what we have done for a very long time in second class school districts, meaning school districts with less than two thousand people.”

Against: 

  • Sen. Brad Hawkins (R, 12th District)

I just don’t feel in my heart that that’s something that the school districts should be taking on. School districts have a lot of challenges, especially as we pull out of the COVID pandemic. I know there’s a local option that factored into this bill but you know just to think about all the significant facility needs that our school districts have and the fact that they can potentially be bonding in some capacity for housing needs. I just don’t think it fits and I’m also concerned that when we start continuing to transfer a lot of the community its responsibilities into our K-12 system. Our K-12 system continually is asked to do more and more and really to take on more and more of the community and families responsibilities. And I think it is impacting our ability to provide high quality education to the students.”

SB 5188

Topic: State public bank

Chair/Sponsor: Mullet/Kuderer

Vote: 27-21-0-1

What the bill does: Activates a public financial cooperative as a cooperative membership organization to lend to state, local, and tribal governmental entities. Establishes the public financial cooperative to issue debt in the name of the bank rather than the state of Washington.

The Debate:

Votes against party majority: Sens. Carlyle (D.), Robinson (D.)

For:

  • Sen. Patty Kuderer (D, 48th District)

This bill would create a public cooperative financial institution that would provide additional options for local and tribal governments to fund critical infrastructure and economic development needs. You know our current banking system is largely for profit which means the banks are mostly accountable to their strong shareholders and I don’t mean to be negative on the banking industry. I think it’s because municipalities and other public agencies are accountable to the people they serve just like we are.”

Against: 

  • Sen. Lynda Wilson (R, 17th District)

We don’t have a deficit in abilities for our banks in our private sector. Regardless of whether you call this a bank or a co-op we don’t have a deficit in some in the private sector for the abilities to get loans for these types of purposes. What’s happening now is that the state is in direct competition with our credit unions and our banks and without a worry that the states on the hook for liabilities. Because if you borrow from a bank or a credit union, then the state doesn’t have any worries for that. And so I feel like there’s too much risk here for taxpayer funds that could possibly wind up, if the co-op fails or beyond, if any of the funding that they actually share with or in the entities beyond, I think that there is concern there that if they failed then the state is the on the hook. The money that they have lent this bank for a start up could possibly be more than just the original start up money.”


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