Reopening schools, reviving a drug law and debating taxes

Here’s what’s happening on Day 64 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112

2021 Washington Legislature, Day 64 of 105

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, March 15, 2021 — Good Monday morning.

Gov. Jay Inslee continues to ratchet up the pressure on teachers to get back into classrooms. He intends this week to issue a legally enforceable emergency proclamation requiring school districts to offer at least two days a week of in-person instruction in every grade by no later than April 19.

This is not a directive Inslee can effectively enforce — if he will even try. Rather, its value could be in armoring school board directors and superintendents in difficult negotiations with teacher unions on terms and conditions for resuming face-to-face education.

A couple dozen good-sized districts have state-approved reopening plans containing no timeline for getting middle- and high-school students back into classrooms. Inslee’s proclamation sets dates, which should serve to focus talks. Keep watch for a steady stream of announcements from your local district.

In the meantime, this proclamation is certain to sour Inslee’s relationship with many teachers. While some may applaud his get-tough attitude, many will regard it as offensive political interference. Long-term, it probably doesn’t matter a great deal since this is Inslee’s last term and he won’t need their votes or their union’s money.

Drug dealings

As state lawmakers decide whether to make drug possession a crime again, some cities and counties aren’t waiting and are doing so on their own.

The Marysville City Council adopted an ordinance March 8 to make it a gross misdemeanor to possess a controlled substance without a prescription. Snohomish County and Lewis County could be next. Read more on Marysville here and Lewis County here.

Washington had a law making simple possession a felony until last month, when the state Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional because it didn’t require prosecutors to prove someone knowingly, intentionally possessed drugs.

Bills to fix the language were introduced, but many Democrats don’t want to see the law’s return. Members of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses are chatting on a possible course of action.

Talking taxes (and fees)

Two signature priorities of Inslee and Democratic lawmakers — a capital gains tax and a cap-and-trade carbon pricing program — receive public hearings this morning.

At 10 a.m., the House Finance Committee tackles the capital gains legislation. It squeezed through the Senate on a single vote, which was secured by an amendment stripping off the emergency clause. House Democrats who wanted that clause may have to live without it to get this bill signed. This tax could generate $357 million over the next budget cycle — presuming it survives potential fights on the ballot or in court.

At 4 p.m., the Senate Ways and Means considers the Washington Climate Commitment Act, which, if enacted, could bring in $263 million in the 2023 fiscal year and $1 billion during the ensuing biennium. Nearly every one of those dollars is earmarked for transportation under the current version of the bill. It is set for a committee vote Thursday.

Also today, House Bill 1277, to impose a new $100 document recording fee collected by counties, will be heard at 3:30 p.m. in the House Appropriations Committee. This surcharge could net $292 million for housing assistance programs in the next budget. That is serious money on top of hundreds of millions of federal dollars already received for the same purpose.

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