By ALEXIS MYERS / Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Washington state lawmakers are more than halfway through this year’s 105-day legislative session, and fully funding education has been the top issue at the Capitol, with Senate Republicans and House Democrats having each passed their own education funding proposals but still working toward negotiating a final plan.
Lawmakers must comply with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling requiring them to fully fund the state’s basic education system by Sept. 1, 2018. The court has said that the details of how to do that — as well as how lawmakers will pay for it — must be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.
Meanwhile, both chambers have passed hundreds of bills before this past Wednesday’s deadline for many bills to be voted off of the chamber floor of their house of origin in order to advance. Only two bills so far have made it to the governor’s desk. Gov. Jay Inslee last month signed a bill that allows tribes to use federal funding for dental therapists, who provide preventative care and procedures such as cleanings, fillings and oral exams. Another, delaying a deadline for a reduction in the amount of money school districts can collect through local property tax levies, was passed by the Legislature on Thursday. Inslee said he’d sign that bill as soon as possible.
Of the more than 2,700 bills introduced this year, just over 650 made it past cutoff.
Here’s a look at some other bills that have been considered by the Legislature:
• REAL ID: A measure that seeks to bring the state into compliance with federal identification requirements has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House. For years, lawmakers have struggled on how to best comply with the REAL ID Act, a 2005 federal law that requires state driver’s licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they are legally in the United States. Senate Bill 5008 would create a two-tiered licensing system, keeping the current enhanced license that is compliant with REAL ID, while marking standard state licenses as not valid for federal purposes.
• SEXUAL ASSAULT: House Bill 1384 aims to protect victims of sexual assault in Washington state by allowing courts to issue permanent protection orders. Currently, victims can only be granted a protection order for up to two years. The measure was voted through the Democratic-controlled House last month and a similar bill passed the Senate.
• DISTRACTED DRIVING: Bills that attempt to reduce distracted driving in Washington state are still alive. House Bill 1371 and Senate Bill 5289 would rewrite current law to make it illegal for a driver to hold a hand-held device while driving on a public roadway, including while in traffic. Currently, it is illegal if caught texting or holding a phone to the ear while driving and is a $136 infraction. Under the new measure the penalty for caught holding a cellphone, tablet or other electronic device would double for second and subsequent offenses within five years. Exceptions to the new measure would include contacting emergency services, operating amateur radio stations and while operating tow trucks and other emergency vehicles.
• STUDENT FREE SPEECH: The Senate approved a measure that would protect high school and college students’ freedom of speech rights in school-sponsored media. Senate Bill 5064 passed the Senate chamber on a strong bipartisan vote and is now awaiting action in the House. Under the bill, student editors would be fully responsible for determining what goes into their publication, broadcast or other media. School administrators would not be allowed to censor or review any content before publishing unless it contains libelous or slanderous material, or incites students to commit unlawful acts on school grounds. School officials would be exempt from any civil or criminal liability resulting from school-sponsored media.
• WOLF ATTACKS-PUBLIC RECORDS: A measure that would exempt from public disclosure personal information about people who report or respond to wolf attacks in Washington state has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other supporters have cited death threats received by state employees, ranchers and others and say the measure is needed to protect those who deal with wolves.
• WATER RIGHTS: A bill that seeks to reverse a recent state Supreme Court decision involving water rights and the use of domestic wells has passed the state Senate and is awaiting consideration by the House. Senate Bill 5239 would allow so-called permit-exempt wells to be used for development. Supporters say a legislative fix was needed after a ruling known as the Hirst decision prompted some counties to temporarily halt certain rural development and left hundreds of property owners who wanted to build homes in limbo. Opponents say the bill undercuts current state water law and allows development with little to no review of its impact on those with senior water rights.
• SEX-TRAFFICKING: Victims of sex trafficking would be allowed to vacate prostitution convictions in Washington state under a new measure passed in the Senate. A similar bill was also proposed in the House but didn’t make it onto the floor for a vote. Senate Bill 5272, passed unanimously in the Republican-controlled chamber, and now awaits action in the Democratic-controlled House. Under the bill, a victim would be able to vacate a prostitution conviction if he or she can prove it was a result of being trafficked, even if they have been convicted of other crimes since the date of the prostitution conviction, which current law does not allow.
• LAW ENFORCEMENT USE OF DEADLY FORCE: Bills that would have lowered the bar for prosecuting police who use deadly force didn’t make it out of key committees this session, but the sponsor one of the House measures insists the issue is still alive this session. The original measures would have changed the existing statute that makes it almost impossible for prosecutors to criminally charge law-enforcement officers who wrongfully use deadly force. Current law states that an officer can’t be charged if he or she acted in good faith and without malice, or “evil intent,” when using deadly force. Under the measure, the word “malice” would have been removed and a clearer definition of what “good faith” means would have been added. The bill also would have included a dedicated state account to fund officer training, community outreach and a system to collect data on deadly use-of-force incidents.
• DEATH PENALTY: An effort to abolish the death penalty in Washington state got a new push this year with strong backing from the governor and attorney general, but House Bill 1935 stalled in the Democratic-controlled House, receiving a public hearing but not getting a vote out of committee. Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in Washington state in 2014. As long as it’s in place, death row inmates will remain in prison rather than face execution.
• WINE GROWLERS: House Bill 1039, and a similar measure in the Senate, would have allowed wine lovers to fill reusable containers known as growlers from taps at grocery stores, wine boutiques and other places licensed to sell wine in the state, but neither measure came up for a vote on the floor in their house of origin.
• SAFETY BELTS ON SCHOOL BUSES: A bill that sought to require seat belts on school buses stalled in the Senate this year. Senate Bill 5054 received a public hearing but didn’t make it out of the Transportation Committee. Other states that have existing variations of a seat belt law on school buses include California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
• SASQUATCH: A Senate bill that would have made Sasquatch — also known as Bigfoot or Forest Yeti — the “official cryptid” state symbol never received a public hearing in the Senate. A cryptid is defined by Oxford dictionary as an “animal whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated.”
• DRONES NEAR ORCAS: Lawmakers considered a bill that would make it illegal for drones and other unmanned aerial systems to fly within 200 yards of an orca whale. Southern resident orca whales are the only known resident population in the United States, and are listed as an endangered species under federal and state law, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. House Bill 1031 received a hearing but didn’t make it out of committee.