By Brian Everstine Associated Press
OLYMPIA — The 60-day regular session was characterized by budget challenges and frustrations, forcing lawmakers to return to Olympia next week.
Though lawmakers have been called back into special session to finish the state’s budget, major policy changes did take place over the last few months.
Here are some measures the Legislature was able to pass before the end of regular session.
Shooting response: Lawmakers passed a package of bills drafted in response to November’s shooting deaths of four Lakewood police officers. Most notably, a constitutional amendment would let judges deny bail to suspects who face a charge that carries a possible life sentence and, based on evidence, are deemed a danger to the community. The amendment now heads to voters in November. Also, the Legislature expanded benefits for survivors of officers and firefighters killed on duty, strengthened the charge of rendering criminal assistance and ended the practice of allowing suspects to post bail without going before a judge. Those measures now await Gov. Chris Gregoire’s approval.
Initiative 960: The Legislature’s most controversial move this session was temporarily suspending Initiative 960 through July 2011, making it easier for the Legislature to raise taxes. The initiative required the Legislature to pass tax hikes with a supermajority.
Transportation budget: An updated transportation budget was approved. The $8.5 billion budget, which is waiting for Gregoire’s approval, is about $1 billion more than last year’s biennial budget. The increase is mostly thanks to federal money, including a $590 million rail corridor from Oregon to British Columbia.
Drug overdoses: A new law exempts people who seek help for someone suffering a drug overdose from prosecution for possession of drugs, although they could still be charged with the manufacturing or sale of drugs. The measure also exempts the person suffering the overdose from prosecution, along with anyone implicated only because medical assistance was called. The law takes effect in June.
Shackled inmates: Restraints on pregnant inmates who are in labor or recovering after giving birth would be illegal under a bill awaiting the governor’s signature. It also limits the use of shackles on pregnant inmates who are being taken to or from a court proceeding or medical visit.
Bisphenol A: The chemical bisphenol A would be banned in baby bottles and other food and drink containers intended for young children, as well as sports water bottles. Exposure to bisphenol A has been linked to brain problems in children. The bill awaits Gregoire’s signature.
Offender computer use: Computer use by sex offenders at the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island would be limited to word processors that can’t display images. The bill awaits Gregoire’s signature.
Education reform: In a bid to position the state for a better chance at the Race to the Top competition for a share of new federal dollars, lawmakers extended the probationary period of teachers from two years to three; approved a new school accountability plan from the State Board of Education; and established the first state evaluation criteria for principals.
School levies: From 2011 through 2017, school districts would be allowed to increase the amount of their budgets they raise through local tax levies by 4 percentage points. Under current law, most districts may raise up to 24 percent of their budget through levies. Districts grandfathered in at higher rates can also raise their levies by 4 percent.
Medical marijuana: Lawmakers approved a measure that lets more medical professionals, including physician’s assistants and advanced registered nurse practitioners, prescribe medical marijuana. Under current law, only physicians can write the recommendations.
Distracted drivers: Both talking and texting on a cell phone without a handsfree device would now be a primary offense, meaning a police officer can pull a driver over and issue a ticket without any other offenses. The bill awaits the governor’s approval.
Did not pass
Here are some high-profile measures that did not survive the session:
Paid surrogacy: A measure that would have allowed women to be paid for serving as surrogate mothers was approved by the House but died in the Senate.
Marijuana legalization: A measure to legalize and regulate marijuana, and sell it in state-run liquor stores, got a public hearing but was voted down in the House committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness early on in the session.
Privatize liquor sales: An effort to get the state out of the business of selling liquor never made it out of committee. The measures would have sold the state liquor distribution center, and would allow private licenses to sell liquor.
Assault weapons ban: An attempt to ban “military style” assault weapons died in a Senate committee early in the session. The bill was introduced in response to high-profile killings in Seattle.
Wrongful death: The Senate and House could not agree on a measure that would let the family members of a child file a wrongful death claim if they were financially dependent or involved in raising the child.