Hazing penalties, firearm lawsuits and what happened to home grows

It’s Day 54. An end to the mask mandate is near. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 legislative session

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2023 Washington Legislature, Day 54 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, March 3, 2023 — Welcome to the Friday edition.

We’ve got about five days, and nights, to go before the next cut-off. Lots of marquee bills yet to be voted on.

Topping the news is this morning’s announcement that the last vestige of the state’s mask mandate is going away.

Starting April 3, workers, patients and visitors will be encouraged but not required by the state to wear a face-covering in healthcare, long-term care, and adult correctional facilities. This is for people age 5 and older. You can read the full state Department of Health press release here.

Local or tribal governments, as well as facilities and providers can keep mask-wearing rules in place if they want.

Why now? Per the department, COVID-19, RSV, and influenza disease rates and hospitalizations have been on the decline since the end of 2022. And it lines up with Oregon which is rescinding its requirement the same day.

Now, turning back to the legislative grind here are 3 bills I’ve kept an eye on that moved Thursday.

House Bill 1694, to ease the shortage of home care providers by expanding who can be a family caregiver, advanced on a 96-0 vote minutes before midnight. Home care aides and providers work in private homes, adult family homes and assisted living facilities. The average wait time to obtain a home care provider is now about two months.

Senate Bill 5078, to enable legal action against firearm makers and retailers, cleared the Democrat-led Senate on a mostly party-line 28-21 vote. It requires firearms industry members “take reasonable precautions” to not sell to gun traffickers and individuals buying a weapon for someone else who is not legally allowed to own one. The state attorney general can investigate and enforce violations.

House Bill 1002, to reclassify the crime of hazing from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, passed 96-0 in the House Thursday. And hazing that causes “substantial bodily harm” is upgraded to a class C felony under the legislation. The changes, if enacted, mean a person convicted of either offense could face between 364 days and five years in jail plus a fine.

Up in smoke

Washington voters legalized marijuana use for adults in 2012, retail stores opened in 2014 and the year after that came a merging of recreational and medical marijuana industries under one regulatory scheme.

The next logical step seemed to be allowing residents an option to legally grow a few plants at home without threat of arrest.

Six years ago that conversation got going in earnest. There’s been studies, hearings, and bills introduced. Still no decision. This year’s vehicle, House Bill 1614, lapsed in the House Appropriations Committee, a victim of lawmakers’ disinterest and discomfort with home grows.

A few even worried about the state losing out on valued cannabis tax revenues if too many folks stopped buying buds and started growing them instead. Cannabis retailers didn’t see it as a threat and backed the bill, said the prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Shelley Kloba.

This year brought a new voice on the side of home grows: the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force. Members spent two years studying how best to get more Blacks and Latinos involved throughout the industry. In December, they issued nine recommendations, including allowing home grows of six plants per adult and 15 plants per household.

Their report cited FBI data that Black and Latino individuals are much more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be arrested for homegrow-sized activity.

“Legalizing residential cannabis cultivation for recreational use would reduce arrests and felony convictions that disproportionately harm Black people, while also potentially increasing social equity applicant eligibility,” they concluded.

The report didn’t turn the tide leaving Kloba to ponder a different strategy for next session.

“I am disappointed that once again, this common sense bill was prevented from moving forward,” she said. “Once again, we have ignored the needs and desires of people who want to pursue this as a hobby, and patients who want to have a particular type of cannabis that might not be able to be found on the market, or is unaffordable in the retail stores.”

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