5 wrinkles for lawmakers to iron out in session’s last days

Here’s what’s happening on Day 92 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2021 Washington Legislature, Day 92 of 105

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, April 12, 2021 — Good Monday morning. Only 14 days left. Tough conversations and tricky negotiations lie ahead in this penultimate week of the 2021 regular session.

Many will be between Democrats in the House and Senate — they hold majorities in both chambers — and with Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee. Democrats have some challenging wrinkles to iron out amongst themselves. Republicans aren’t going to sit idly by and in some instances may provide the political steam required to smooth things out.

Here are five wrinkles. Please send the Cornfield Report others that you’re keeping an eye on.

Budgets: Lawmakers will pass two-year operating, transportation and capital budgets. These deals may be the easiest to close. Those latter two spending blueprints should move along smoothly because their initial drafts passed with huge bipartisan votes in each chamber. Regarding the operating budget, Republicans’ distaste for the levels of taxation and spending are well enunciated. Influencing how federal COVID-19 relief dollars are used may be a focus of their energy in the waning days.

Capital gains tax: This is still in the House Finance Committee. If Democrats keep it in their budgets, they must watch the clock. Time is an increasingly precious commodity, and the bill’s arrival on the House floor will incite a lengthy debate. Unless, of course, Democrats are recalculating on this matter.

Housing: A dispute is emerging over legislation to ensure low-income tenants facing eviction have access to a lawyer, if needed. The House amended Senate Bill 5160 to set a hard end date for the state’s eviction moratorium. That didn’t sit well with Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer, the bill’s author, as Brandon Block of The Olympian reports.

Transportation package: If any matter pushes the Legislature into special session, it will be this one.

Right now a transportation package of some magnitude is the linchpin of the so-called grand bargain. Two climate-change bills — one targeting pollution from industries through a carbon emission cap-and-trade program and the other targeting tailpipe emissions through a low carbon fuel standard — are contingent on the transportation budget’s passage.

The proposed package is a 16-year, $17.8 billion undertaking. It is funded with revenue from cap-and-trade plus a gas tax hike, a new assessment on development and 28 other fees. A public hearing on the plan will be held at 10 a.m. today in the Senate Transportation Committee, whose chair, Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, is the driving force.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 5126, the cap-and-trade bill, will gets a first hearing in the House at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Blake decision: The current legislative response, Senate Bill 5476, encountered headwinds Saturday from those opposed to provisions allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of narcotics for personal use.

The Democrat-led Senate Ways and Means Committee pondered then punted the bill to the Rules Committee without recommendation. Amendments from three Republicans and a Democrat sought to restore penalties for possession and craft a comprehensive response before the next session.

Meanwhile, Gov. Inslee is helping speed the release of people affected by the state Supreme Court decision from state prison by granting them clemency. On Friday, he commuted the sentences of seven men in custody solely because of a conviction under the invalidated statute. More commutations are expected. Across the state, dozens of people are out of jail and thousands are getting charges dismissed or sentences vacated as a result of the court’s February ruling.

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