OLYMPIA — With a third of the legislative session nearly gone, lawmakers are starting to focus on matters of most importance.
Exactly what are those?
With 1,341 bills introduced since Jan. 13 — 715 in the House and 626 in the Senate — plus everything left over from 2019, it’s hard to know. Certainly, each bill is considered vital and critical by its author. Otherwise, why would they expend their energy and the public’s resources to write them. Right?
To help discern, let’s apply a test first espoused to me by former Snohomish representative Dan Kristiansen. Is a piece of legislation addressing a want or a need? Short sessions, he’d say, should be all about the latter. This session is a mere 60 days.
I put a few topics to the test. Here are the results:
Need: A game plan for Initiative 976, the approved ballot measure which, among other things, caps the annual registration fee for most passenger vehicles at $30.
The state stands to lose $450 million from its transportation budget if the measure is found legal. That would trigger program cuts and project delays. Since it’s not known when the courts will act, lawmakers need a blueprint to slow-walk transportation spending now and slash spending later.
Want: A low carbon fuel standard.
Climate change is real. Carbon emissions from autos, trucks and the transportation sector contribute big-time to the problem. A clean fuel standard would curb them. The House planned to pass one Wednesday. But a carbon fee, cap-and-trade or an expanded Clean Air Rule could, too. The best outcome is an agreement on something that won’t get the state sued.
Need: Funding financial aid entitlement.
Lawmakers promised last year that the state would cover most or all of a college student’s tuition. But a new surcharge on tens of thousands of businesses isn’t going to raise enough money to keep that promise. A fix is required, and soon, as initial payments from those businesses are due soon.
Want: Limiting the capacity of gun ammunition magazines.
Voters in Washington keep passing restrictions on gun sales and rules aimed at reducing firearms violence. A bill to limit the capacity of magazines to 10 rounds is a winning idea with them. And an emotional one across the political spectrum. It doesn’t have to be done, however.
Need: A clearer approach to homelessness.
What a conundrum. Lawmakers direct hundreds of millions of dollars to help those without or in need of shelter and pass laws to promote housing and keep people from getting evicted. Yet many perceive nothing is happening. Action precipitating immediately visible results is a must. They’re searching for how to do this.
Want: A statewide ban on plastic bags.
A bill barring stores from giving out single-use plastic carryout bags has passed the Senate for the second straight year. We’ll see what the House does. It won’t be a huge lifestyle change, since many cities already prohibit them. Then again, not a huge deal if nothing happens.
Need: Compacts to share sales tax revenue with tribes.
This is a late add. The Tulalip Tribes have reached a revenue-sharing deal with the state and Snohomish County. It hinges on passage of a law letting the governor enter into compacts with tribes. If there is no law granting that authority, the parties go back to federal court. If the dispute reaches the U.S. Supreme Court and the tribes prevail, it will be a lot more costly to the state.
Want: Expulsion of Rep. Matt Shea.
As you know, the Spokane Valley Republican is accused in a House-sanctioned investigation of taking part in acts of domestic terrorism, allegations he rejects. House Democrats want him gone but can’t lure enough GOP members to vote with them.
At least not yet.
Need: To finish on time.
Some years a special extended session cannot be avoided. This isn’t such a year. Failure to finish in 60 days could be awkward with no crisis to manage. Though, to be honest, everyday folks probably wouldn’t notice.
Want: To get re-elected.
It should not be a matter of importance now. It will be around November.