The 2013 session of the Washington state Legislature reached its first milestone last Friday, the cutoff for all non-fiscally focused state House and Senate committees to either approve the bills in their docket or allow them to die on the vine.
The list of casualties and survivors contains a mix of good news and bad.
In the Democrat-controlled House, bills that would have established a 90-day standard for decisions on government-issued permits (House Bill 1236), required transparency and accountability for regulatory agencies (HB 1163), required cost burden analyses for new regulations (HB 1162), and moved to expand the definition of renewable energy to include naturally self-renewing hydroelectric power (House Joint Resolution 4200) will not see a vote this session.
Also among the departed, a trio of House measures (HBs 1463, 1464 and 1465) that composed an overhaul of the state’s inefficient and costly workers’ compensation and industrial insurance system. On the other hand, the less partisan-divided Senate passed its companion bills. Those hopeful for reforms to workers’ comp can look to at a split Legislature as a possible good omen for movement on the issue.
The Legislature’s attempt to solidify and protect the 2/3 vote requirement to raise taxes that statewide voters have passed five times with an amendment to the state constitution survives in both bodies. (HJR 4206 and SJR 8205)
Ahead of what many predict will be a wave of new environmental regulations and executive orders led by Gov. Jay Inslee, HB 1113 sets forth a simple requirement before action can be taken: supply the scientific, peer-reviewed evidence on which the actions are predicated.
Also, among bills still breathing, the creation of a state income tax is alive and well in the House (HB 1545) though it is unlikely that the income tax measure has enough votes for passage in the Senate. The swing coalition represented by Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom (D) is less likely to vote against the wills of their districts as represented by the voters shooting down of a state income tax when it was last on the ballot in 2010 (Initiative 1098). Even in strongly Democratic districts (including Tom’s district of Medina), voters firmly rejected the creation of a state tax on individual earnings.
The proposal to replicate Seattle’s costly mandates for minimum paid family and sick leave for all workers statewide is also still lurching forward in the House (HB 1313), though a companion bill in the Senate did not emerge from committee.
Most Budget and Tax Bills Still Under Construction
Fiscal and transportation committees have until Mar. 1 to report out bills to their respective bodies. So, most issues of taxes and spending – including the House Democrats’ tax-increasing transportation proposal, extension of a beer tax (SB 5039) that was originally promised to be temporary, among bills that could have a dramatic and negative impact on private sector employment – still have time on the clock.
Another measure that still has sand in the top half of the hourglass,HB 1877,would require the direct election of Sound Transit’s board of directors may not be sexy, but the impact of such a law if passed is undeniably huge. As Sound Transit’s influence over regional transportation planning (and spending, by extension) a straight line of accountability between taxpayers and decision-makers just makes sense.