Budgets, school re-openings and data privacy

Here’s what’s happening on Day 78 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2021 Washington Legislature, Day 78 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, March 29, 2021 — Good Monday morning. Get ready for a week of budget debates.

We should see votes on transportation, capital and operating budgets in both chambers this week and weekend. Then, majority Democrats in each chamber can begin ironing out wrinkles in their respective spending blueprints.

All eyes tend to be on operating budgets. Senate Democrats, unlike previous years, put forth the larger two-year spending plan. They’re at $59.2 billion, with House Democrats at $58.3 billion. Both count on a bundle of federal dollars from the past two COVID-19 relief packages, a sweep of the Rainy Day Fund and presume there will be money from a capital gains tax — a revenue stream which will certainly face a challenge in court.

Ultimately, the most important decision may be how much federal money is left unspent. And whether they will agree on an approach to reconvene in special session, if needed, to spend it, or to let the governor handle things, as he did in 2020.

On the subject of money, the House, in a Palm Sunday session, approved House Bill 1277, which imposes a new $100 surcharge on the recording of many documents. An estimated $292 million would be generated in the next biennium, with most of the money going to help those facing eviction with rental assistance.

Road package ahead?

House Democrats are holding a hearing Thursday morning on a bill to generate revenue for transportation. Could this be their $26 billion transportation package? Hard to know, because House Bill 1564 is the session’s first “title-only” bill. (For newbies to the legislative process, this means its title is the only content.)

Re-opening rift

When Gov. Jay Inslee set deadlines for public schools to re-open for all grades, Democratic lawmakers and teachers were peeved as they felt, feeling his order usurped local control.

With the governor embracing CDC guidance that allows students to be closer together in classrooms, they may be grinding their teeth. The Democratic governor is now all in with the science, and politics, to get more students back in class, even as many in his party, and its powerful ally, the Washington Education Association, are not.

This Reason article, titled “Teachers Unions Hate School-Opening Science Now That They Can’t Influence It,” claims states with less than 50% of students back in class “tend to be populous and heavily Democratic.” It cites Burbio, a nationwide tracking site. In Washington, 43.8% of students are attending in person on average each day, per OSPI. You can see the latest figures here.

Data duel III

House and Senate Democrats are at odds again on how best to enforce a sweeping data privacy bill, Senate Bill 5062, which aims to strengthen consumer rights regarding control of personal information.

The version passed by the Senate earlier this month puts enforcement solely in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office. On Friday, the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee amended the legislation to include a private right of action to allow consumers to sue if they want. This has been the modus operandi of House Democrats three years running.

The debate of this lasted to the end of session the past two years. It’s looking like it will again in 2021.

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