Legislature: What’s alive, dead as budget looms

OLYMPIA — Last December, Sen. Rodney Tom announced that he would leave his caucus to helm a majority consisting of himself, another like-minded Democrat and 23 Republicans.

The Medina lawmaker said the new coalition would focus on a discrete set of goals.

“This is about jobs, education and the budget,” Tom said.

House Democratic leaders don’t deny the importance of Tom’s core issues, saying they stand ready to work with the upper chamber in the coming weeks. Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, however, sounded a more discordant tone.

“It’s a right-wing Republican agenda, as you’ve seen with the bills they’ve passed,” Murray said. “I keep waiting for the moderate part of that agenda to show up.”

With the session halfway gone, the biggest fight remains on the horizon: how to plug an estimated $975 million budget hole while adhering to a state Supreme Court decision requiring more money for public schools.

Beyond that, a wide range of measures, from expanding abortion coverage to strengthening gun laws to making workers’ compensation rules more business friendly, have sparked fierce debate between — and at times within — the parties and caucuses.

With the caveat that no bill in Olympia is truly dead until the session has been gaveled to a close, here is a look at bills that have survived and those that haven’t.

Still alive

Workers’ compensation: The Senate has advanced a package of bills to make workers’ compensation rules more business friendly. Most prominent is one to overhaul the voluntary “compromise-and-release” settlement agreement system for injured workers first approved by the Legislature in 2011. House Democratic leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee have said they oppose the changes. (SB 5128)

Firearm offender registry: House lawmakers advanced a bill to require firearm offenders – people convicted of felony firearm offenses – to register with the county sheriff. Unlike a registry for sex offenders, the information would not be publicly available. (HB 1612)

Abortion insurance: Most insurers would be required to cover abortions under a measure that has advanced from the House. Supporters say it would ensure that women continue to have access to abortions when the federal Affordable Care Act comes into effect in 2014. Opponents say it would infringe on religious freedoms. (HB 1044)

Repealing paid family leave: A Senate measure to repeal a long-unfunded program giving parents five paid weeks off to be with a new child advanced from committee but never received a floor vote. Sponsors say they are revising the measure, which could be tied to the budget. (SB 5159)

Wolf kills: The Senate has advanced a measure allowing livestock and pet owners to shoot endangered gray wolves without a permit when the wolves are attacking or threatening their animals. Supporters say they have the right to protect their property. Opponents say it would hurt the state’s wolf recovery efforts and contradicts years of effort put into hashing out a state wolf plan. (SB 5187)

Amending I-502: A House bill to require those seeking to grow, process or sell cannabis to pay for the opportunity to obtain the necessary license has not received a hearing but is alive because it could be considered necessary to implement the budget. It would also let cannabis businesses be located closer to schools, daycares and parks. A two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers is required to amend the initiative. (HB 2000)

Medical marijuana tax: A House measure to impose a 25 percent sales tax on medical marijuana — and so to undermine a potential black market once the sale of state-taxed recreational marijuana starts at the end of this year — hasn’t advanced from committee. Because it could be considered necessary for the budget, it’s still alive. (HB 1789)

Mandatory school age: Washington is one of only two states with a compulsory school age over 7. A measure to lower the mandatory school age from 8 to 6 has advanced from the House. (HB 1283)

Grading schools: The Senate has advanced a measure to assign A-F letter grades to schools based on factors including improvement of student test scores. Supporters say it gives parents a clear sign of how a school is doing. Opponents insist it would be punitive and often unfair. (SB 5328)

3rd grade reading: The Senate has advanced a measure to require third-graders with inadequate reading skills to repeat a grade, attend summer school or otherwise improve their reading before enrolling in fourth grade. The measure would also authorize K-3 teacher training to help improve students’ reading. (SB 5237)

Climate change: A stripped-down version of a measure championed by Gov. Jay Inslee to study the best practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions has advanced from the Senate. Under the bill, an outside consultant would review both Washington state’s ongoing efforts to cut carbon emissions and similar endeavors elsewhere. (SB 5802)

Toxic products: A measure to ban two chemical flame retardants from sofas and children’s products starting in 2015 has advanced from the House. Supporters note that the chemicals have been identified as carcinogens. Opponents say they help reduce fires. (HB 1294)

Voting rights act: A bill to make it easier for minorities to get elected to local government posts has advanced from the House. Modeled on the California Voting Rights Act, it would encourage court challenges to cities, counties and school districts to push them to switch from at-large to district elections in areas where large minority groups are present. (House Bill 1413)

Wrongful convictions: A measure to pay out $50,000 per year of imprisonment stemming from a wrongful conviction has advanced from the House. The bill provides for a $50,000-per-year death row bonus and $25,000 for each year wrongfully on parole, in community custody or registered as a sex offender. (HB 1341)

Nonparental visitation: Grandparents-rights advocates are championing a measure that has advanced from the House to make it easier for a third party enjoying substantial a relationship with a child to get visitation rights. Opponents say it threatens parental rights. (HB 1934)

Alcohol tasting: Both chambers have moved ahead with a plan to allow students under 21 to taste wine in college classes. The idea would give students in alcohol-related programs, such as culinary classes, to taste but not ingest alcohol as part of their studies. (HB 1459, SB 5774)

Social media passwords: The Senate has advanced a bill that would prohibit employers from asking employees and job seekers for the credentials to personal social media accounts. (SB 5211)

Likely dead

Background checks: The most prominent gun control measure of the session, to expand mandatory background checks to private gun transactions, came a few votes short of advancing from the House. A similar Senate bill didn’t get a hearing. (HB 1588)

Tax amendment: After the state Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved rule making it difficult for lawmakers to raise taxes, a state Senate committee voted to enshrine it in the constitution. It didn’t make it to the Senate floor, where it would require a two-thirds majority. (SJR 8205)

Training wage: A Senate bill to allow small businesses to pay a lower “training wage” to up to 10 percent of their workforce for up to 680 hours per worker advanced from committee but never received a floor vote. (SB 5275)

Welfare drug testing: A measure to add a potential drug testing requirement to those seeking family welfare benefits in Washington state received a public hearing in the Senate but did not advance out of committee. (SB 5585)

Parental notification: A bill to require minors to notify their parents before terminating a pregnancy did not advance out of committee. The measure would have denied a pregnant minor an abortion unless she’d given at least 48-hours’ notice to a parent or legal guardian. (SB 5156)

Divorce waiting period: A Senate bill to extend the waiting period for finalizing a divorce from 90 days to one year received a public hearing but never made it out of committee. (SB 5614)

Expanding paid family leave: A measure to expand the long-postponed paid family leave law to include caring for a family member or an employee’s own disability received public hearing in the House but never advanced out of committee. Under the bill, workers would have received up to $1,000 a week for up to 12 weeks. (HB 1457)

Marijuana convictions: A House bill to make it easier to get misdemeanor marijuana convictions erased from a criminal record advanced from committee but never received a floor vote. The bill would have applied to those over 21 at the time of their offense who possessed less than an ounce of marijuana — activity that’s legal under I-502. (HB 1661)

Death penalty: A bill to abolish the death penalty received a public hearing but never made it out of committee. (HB 1504)

Going to the voters

GMO foods: Lawmakers took no action on an initiative to the Legislature to require genetically engineered foods to be labeled beginning in 2015, effectively sending it to the November ballot. (I-522).

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