Washington Legislature: What’s alive, dead?
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Before the 2016 legislative session began, a bipartisan group of lawmakers promised this year would be defined by work on education at the Capitol.
The state Supreme Court ruled four years ago, in what’s known as the McCleary decision, that the way the state pays for education is unconstitutional. Working toward court-ordered fixes was the first priority this session, many lawmakers have said. Also on the docket for some was finding a way for the state’s charter schools, ruled unconstitutional last year, to continue receiving state money and stay open.
But nearing the halfway point of the 60-day session, rejections on the Senate floor were making more waves this year in Olympia — Republicans rejecting the gubernatorial appointment of Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, for instance, firing her in early February.
Also rejected by the full Senate was Senate Bill 6443, which would reverse the state Human Rights Commission’s rule that allows transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity in public buildings.
One day after a key deadline for most bills to get voted off of the floor of at least one chamber, the Legislature passed what some call a “plan for a plan” to meet the high court’s requirements in the McCleary decision. It essentially puts off the decision on fully funding schools until next year.
Senate Bill 6195, in part, would commit in 2017 to solving what the Supreme Court says is an overreliance on local levies to pay for basic education.
Here are some other bills that still can pass, and others that appear to be dead.
CHARTER SCHOOLS: The main bill aimed at keeping charter schools alive in Washington state is still moving through the Legislature. Senate Bill 6194, approved by the Senate and up for consideration in the House, was brought in response to the Supreme Court’s September ruling that the state’s new charter school system is unconstitutional. The court centered its ruling on two things: the way these alternative public schools are financed and how they are not managed by a publicly elected school board. The Senate measure would tackle the financing question by using lottery proceeds to pay for charter schools.
STATE PATROL PAY RAISE: House Bill 2872, which would implement a series of changes to the unhappy Washington State Patrol state patrol including giving troopers a salary raise, is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the House Appropriations Committee. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jay Fey, D-Tacoma, said the bill is necessary to implement the budget, and is therefore still in play. Two other measures that seek to give troopers a pay raise, Senate Bill 6331 and Senate Bill 6547, have not been approved by committee.
COAL-FIRED PLANT-TAX EXEMPTION: The Senate has cleared a bill that would give a sales tax break to the state’s only coal-fired power plant if and when it converts to using biomass or natural gas for electric generation. Senate Bill 5575 now goes to the House for consideration. The measure would allow the TransAlta coal-fired plant in Centralia to receive a sales tax break on the construction of a new or renovated facility once it is converted to a natural-gas or biomass facility.
AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION: House Bill 2682, which has passed the full House, seeks to increase voter registration with automatic voter registration for some of the state’s residents. The measure would automatically register people who aren’t on the voter rolls but already have or apply for an enhanced driver’s license or commercial driver’s licenses, both of which require citizenship verification. Those who receive social services that verify citizenship or get health insurance through the state health exchange also would be automatically registered. Under the measure, people can opt out of the automatic registration.
TOXIC PRODUCTS: The House has approved a bill that would ban five chemical flame retardants from home furniture and children’s products such as toys, car seats and nursing pillows. House Bill 2545 would also give the state Health Secretary the ability to ban, through rule-making, the chemicals from children’s products or household furniture.
TEACHER SHORTAGES: Two similar bills would tackle the state’s teacher shortage by starting some new recruitment efforts. House Bill 2573 would allow some retired teachers to be hired as mentors for student teachers. Senate Bill 6455 would allow some retired teachers to return to the classroom as teachers or substitutes without hurting their pension benefits. Both are moving on to the opposite chamber.
COLLEGE SAVINGS: The Senate has passed a bill that would add a second state option to help people save for college. The proposal, Senate Bill 6601, would allow the group that runs Washington’s prepaid tuition program to start a more traditional 529 savings plan. The bill was requested by the group that runs the prepaid Guaranteed Education Tuition program, or GET.
STUDENT TESTING: A bill that would eliminate the need for students to pass a biology test to graduate and could cut back on the number of other tests required for high school students has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. A version of House Bill 2214 was also considered last year.
RAISING THE SMOKING AGE: The smoking age appears likely to remain at 18 in Washington. House Bill 2313 that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 was not approved by a House committee. A recent poll by independent pollster Stuart Elway said 65 percent of Washington voters surveyed were in favor of raising the smoking age.
TAX INCREASES: The state Senate voted on, but failed reach the required vote threshold to send voters a constitutional amendment asking if they want to require a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature for future tax increases. Senate Joint Resolution 8211 failed in the Republican-led chamber because only 26 senators — 25 Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them — voted in support, shy of the 33 votes needed. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House before they can be sent to the ballot for a public vote.
FREE COMMUNITY COLLEGE: Senate Bill 6481 that would ensure free community or technical college for most students did not receive a hearing.
HOMELESS HELP: A measure in the Senate would use money from the state’s so-called ‘rainy day fund’ to provide a host of services and aid for homeless people in the state. Senate Bill 6647 hasn’t received a hearing in committee.
POT DELIVERY: House Bill 2368 would create a limited, two-year pilot program allowing marijuana delivery services in “a city with a population of over 650,000” — i.e., Seattle. Under the measure, up to five licensed pot retailers would be allowed to deliver marijuana to customers, rather than require them to come into the store. The bill never came up for a vote in the House.
POLICE DEADLY FORCE: House Bill 2907 that would make it easier to charge law enforcement for improper use of deadly force was not approved by committee. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington has said Washington is one of the hardest states to charge police for shooting people.
FIREARM STORAGE: House Bill 1747 sought to create a new crime of child endangerment if a gun owner fails to properly store a firearm and a child has access. The bill sponsors sought to encourage responsible gun ownership and cited the mass shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School as an example of how unsecured guns can cause harm. The bill had a hearing but never got approved in its first committee.
FIREARM DESTRUCTION: House Bill 2372 would have made it mandatory for law enforcement agencies to destroy firearms that are seized in criminal cases. Some law enforcement agencies sell forfeited guns and use the funds for the agencies.
SEX-SELECTIVE ABORTION: A bill that would ban abortions sought because of the gender of a fetus passed out of committee but never came up for a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Bill 6612 would have made it a Class C felony, carrying a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, for a doctor to knowingly perform or attempt an abortion sought solely because of the sex of the fetus.
NO CARBON RULES: The measure takes aim at Gov. Jay Inslee’s carbon policies by prohibiting state regulators from adopting rules that limit greenhouse gas emissions without legislative direction. It never came up for a vote in the Senate. Senate Bill 6173 targets the Democratic governor’s ability to take executive action on the issue. Last year, Inslee directed the Department of Ecology to limit carbon pollution using its existing authority under state law.