Washington Legislature 2015 session: What’s alive, dead
By DERRICK NUNNALLY
OLYMPIA — Halfway through the Washington Legislature’s 105-day session, only three bills have made it to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law.
The state’s Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led House have each passed a series of bills seemingly at odds with the policy goals of the opposite chamber.
The bills Inslee has signed shot through the Senate and House with little controversy: a supplemental budget to cover expenses related to wildfires, the Oso mudslide and lost lawsuits over home-health workers and mental-health patients; permission to give the state Medal of Valor to several communities simultaneously for their work helping Oso; and a new 14-day deadline to conduct mental-health assessments in jails and hospitals.
The work that remains to reconcile the two chambers’ visions for Washington is thornier, and that’s even before the budget-related debates begin over competing visions for expensive transportation and education proposals.
MINIMUM WAGE: A measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next four years has passed the House and now heads to the Senate, where it is certain to have an unfriendly reception. Under House Bill 1355, the minimum wage would increase next year to $10 an hour next Jan. 1, $10.50 a year later, $11 a year after that and $12 at the start of 2019. Starting in 2020, further yearly increases would be adjusted for inflation as directed by a voter-approved initiative.
PAID SICK TIME: A bill that would require some employers to offer paid sick time away from work has passed the House and is heading to the Senate. House Bill 1356 also would allow employees time off to seek legal or law enforcement assistance if their safety, or that of a family member, was at risk. Employers with four or less employees are exempt under the measure. Employees that work for companies larger than that will accrue time based on hours worked and the size of the company.
POLICE BODY CAMERAS: A House bill to govern how police officers are outfitted with body cameras, and what happens to the footage, did not receive a floor vote but is likely still alive, since lawmakers on both sides consider the bill, which includes a framework for public records requests and fees, relevant to budgetary discussions.
INDUSTRIAL HEMP: A measure that authorizes the growing of industrial hemp as an agricultural activity in the state passed the Senate unanimously and awaits action in the House. Senate Bill 5012 also directs Washington State University to study industrial hemp production in the state, with a report due to the Legislature by Jan. 14, 2016.
INITIATIVE COSTS: A measure to note the potential financial effect of initiatives under a measure has passed the Senate and heads to the House for consideration. Senate Bill 5715 seeks to include the fiscal impact of the measure on the actual ballot if it costs or reduces spending by more than $25 million over two years. The wording on the ballot would tell voters that “other state spending may need to be reduced or taxes increased to implement the proposal.”
PROPERTY CRIME: A proposal backed by Inslee targeted at reducing Washington’s worst-in-the-nation property crime rate has passed the Senate. Senate Bill 5755 would reinstate community supervision for a year for convicts who finish their time behind bars. It moves to the House, where a companion bill did not receive a floor vote.
DRONE AIRCRAFT: Several bills to govern unmanned “drone” aircraft passed a side of the Legislature and now move across the Rotunda. Senate Bill 5499, which passed the Senate and heads to the House, creates a one-year sentencing enhancer for a “nefarious drone enterprise” crime abetted by use of a drone aircraft , which the bill’s Senate sponsors said could include offenses like burglary or drug smuggling. House Bill 1093, now headed for the Senate, prohibits voyeurism by drone and requires all drone aircraft to be labeled with the owner’s name and contact information. House Bill 1639, which requires government agencies to get the Legislature’s permission to buy drones and conceals government drone footage from public records, passed and moves to the Senate.
DISTRACTED DRIVING: A bill to expand the state’s ban on texting and hand-held cellphone conversations while driving passed the Senate and is headed to the House. Senate Bill 5656 would make it a $209 ticket for a driver to be caught using a cellphone by hand for any purpose except turning on voice operation, including dealing with map programs, while the car is on the road — even immobile at a stop sign or red light.
PAYDAY LOANS: A bill backed by Seattle-based Moneytree to reshape the state’s payday loan regulations and allow longer-term borrowing survived a contentious Senate debate. Senate Bill 5899, which would replace traditional two-week, high-interest consumer loans with “installment loans” that could extend — and accrue interest and monthly fees — over several months is headed to the House for consideration.
OIL TRAIN SAFETY: Competing House and Senate bills are still in play. Both measures try to improve safety as increasing numbers of oil trains move through the state. House Bill 1449 requires advance notice of oil transfers, allows the possibility of tug escorts and requires railroads and others to show they can pay for oil spill cleanup. Senate Bill 5057, meanwhile, calls for reviews of oil-spill response plans.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES: A pair of bills in the House and Senate would extend the sales tax exemption on electric vehicles for another 10 years. House Bill 1925 and Senate Bill 5445, requested by Inslee, extends a sales tax exemption that is set to expire in July 2015 to July 2025. It would also limit the tax break to the first $60,000 in purchase price.
COLLEGE TUITION: A bill that would decrease tuition at Washington’s colleges and universities has passed the Senate. Senate Bill 5954 would link tuition at state schools to a percentage of the average wage for Washington workers. It will now be considered by the House. Other proposals to just freeze tuition died but could become part of the budget debate.
WSU MEDICAL SCHOOL: — The Senate and the House have passed identical bills that would pave the way for a new Washington State University medical school in Spokane. Now they have to decide whether Senate Bill 5487 or House Bill 1559 moves forward for a final vote. The proposals eliminate a restriction dating from 1917 that gives the University of Washington in Seattle the exclusive right to operate a public medical school in the state of Washington.
INVOLUNTARY TREATMENT ACT: A measure that would change the timeline for holding a person under the Involuntary Treatment Act has passed the House and is on the way to the Senate. House Bill 1536 states that once a person’s medical issues are treated, only then would the clock start ticking for them to receive a mental health evaluation within a three-hour limit. A measure that sets up a system that allows families to petition the court for review if a designated mental health professional refuses to detain a person under the Involuntary Treatment Act is also alive. Two different versions of “Joel’s Law” — House Bill 1258 and Senate Bill 5269 — have passed in their respective chambers, and lawmakers will now reconcile any differences before a final vote.
PSYCHIATRIC BOARDING: A Senate bill that establishes rules for people held under single-bed certifications under the Involuntary Treatment Act was approved and had its first reading in the House Judiciary. Senate Bill 5649 addresses the need to find beds for mentally ill people held in hospitals following a Supreme Court ruling that said they must get treatment. The bill also says regional support networks must provide services to ensure treatment for people held under the Involuntary Treatment Act.
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY: A bill requested by Secretary of State Kim Wyman to move up the state’s default presidential primary date from May to March, beginning in 2016, and give clout to the primary vote instead of party caucuses has advanced out of the Senate. Besides changing the primary date, Senate Bill 5978 says that if either party declines to commit at least one delegate to the winner of a closed primary, then all candidates would go onto a single, wide-open ballot open to any voter. Republicans — Wyman is one — already divide their delegates between caucus and primary results, but national Democratic bylaws forbid that.
POT MARKET OVERHAUL: The Senate passed a measure, Senate Bill 5052, to reconcile the state’s unregulated medical marijuana stores with its heavily taxed recreational marijuana market. The bill, making its way through the House, aims to crack down on medical dispensaries and the “collective gardens” that serve them. Meanwhile, a related bill in the House, HB2136, would make Washington’s legal pot shops more competitive with the black market by cutting the state’s marijuana excise taxes.
DEATH PENALTY: A bill to abolish the death penalty received a public hearing but never came up for a vote in committee. House Bill 1739 sought to build on the momentum of the moratorium on capital punishment issued last year by Inslee.
VACCINES: A bill to remove personal or philosophical opposition to vaccines as an authorized exemption from childhood school immunizations died in the House. It passed a committee but never came to the floor for a vote. Currently, Washington allows parents to claim school-vaccination exemptions for children at public or private schools or licensed day care centers based on medical, religious and personal or philosophical beliefs. House Bill 2009 would have removed the personal or philosophical belief allowance for an exemption.
LAWMAKER LOBBYING: A measure to bar state elected officials and their top aides from lobbying state government for a year after leaving their jobs has died in the House. House Bill 1136 passed a committee but was not brought to the floor for a vote of the chamber. The bill would have applied the one-year cooling-off period to all statewide elected officials, legislators and directors of cabinet-level agencies. It would also cover top staff of the governor, attorney general and other statewide elected officials, as well as senior legislative staff.
SIMPLE MAJORITY FOR SCHOOL BONDS: A proposed amendment to the state Constitution to allow school districts to pass construction bonds with a simple majority, instead of requiring 60 percent of the vote, is likely dead. House Joint Resolution 4210 was heard in a House committee but didn’t come up for a vote. Lawmakers said this bill would help school districts unable to accommodate all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes without more buildings have an easier time of raising construction money.
CETACEAN CAPTIVITY: Bills in the House and Senate that would have made it a crime to capture, breed, import or export whales, dolphins or porpoises failed to advance beyond the committee level in either chamber. Senate Bill 5666 and House Bill 2115 both proposed to make cetacean captivity for performance or entertainment purposes a misdemeanor. Both were opposed by lobbyists paid by Sea World and other aquarium interests.
FANTASY SPORTS: House and Senate bills to legalize playing fantasy sports for cash and prizes by calling them contests of skill failed to get out and died at the committee level. Senate Bill 5284 did not receive a committee vote after a hearing in which concerns arose over whether fantasy leagues that reset rosters every day are closer to gambling than skills competitions. House Bill 1301 did not receive a committee hearing.
CIGAR BARS: A third attempt in the Legislature to bring back Washington state’s cigar bars, shuttered by a state Supreme Court ruling on the 2005 voter-approved smoking ban, gasped its last in the House without ever coming up for a floor vote. House Bill 1296 made it through the Commerce and Gaming committee, but was referred into the Health Care and Wellness committee, where it never received a hearing.