By The Herald Editorial Board
After multiple attempts since the 2019 legislative session, Washington state should soon have an official state dinosaur. Suciasaurus rex — a two-legged dinosaur from the Cretaceous period believed to be an ancestor of its younger cousin, Tyrannosaurus rex — is expected to take its place in the state pantheon of official stuff, alongside the apple, western hemlock, rhododendron, pickleball, orca whale and “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On,” among many others.
Legislation to name S. rex — whose fossilized femur was found on Sucia Island in the San Juans — as a state symbol has now passed House and Senate, and after concurrence in the House will be sent to the governor for his signature.
Suciasaurus’ five-year saga started as a lesson in government for students at an elementary school in Parkland. But it’s also a reminder that good ideas, even ones with seemingly little controversy, rarely have an easy path to becoming law.
With S. rex making the case for sticking with it, consider these four pieces of legislation that didn’t advance this year but ought to win further consideration in 2024:
A state Commission on Boys and Men: The statistics showing increasing struggles among boys and men of all ages won’t surprise many.
In Washington state, among children, most boys in grades 4 through 8 are a full grade level behind girls in English, and only 49 percent are meeting expected standards in that subject by middle school, compared to 60 percent for girls; and boys account for 75 percent of all school suspensions. At the same time, 9 in 10 youths in juvenile rehabilitation facilities are male; men and boys account for 71 of all suicide deaths in the state; and 70 percent of unsheltered homeless persons are male, while two-thirds of those who die from either drug overdoses or excessive alcohol use are male.
“There is a growing recognition that these problems need to be taken seriously, not only for the sake of boys and men, but also for the sake of women, children, the economy, and even the health of our political life,” writes Richard V. Reeves, author of “Of Boys and Men,” in an article earlier this year for Brookings.
Reeves notes legislation filed this session in the state legislature that calls for creation of a Commission on Boys and Men. Filed by Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, House Bill 1270, called for a establishment of a commission — similar to the Washington State Women’s Commission, which was created in 2019 — that would look into the risk factors experienced by boys, male youths and men and use that information to inform policy and practices to improve their outcomes in five areas related to education; fatherhood and family; mental and physical health; careers and financial health; and experiences in criminal justice and the courts.
The legislation, while touted nationally by Reeves for leading the way among state legislatures, got no further than introduction, and received no hearing before a House committee, let alone a vote. That might have been out of concern that such a commission might be seen as detracting from recent efforts to improve the standing of girls and women, particularly in education, but Reeves warns against that bias.
“We can hold two thoughts in our head at once,” he writes in his book. “We can be passionate about women’s rights and compassionate toward vulnerable boys and men. … It is not a zero-sum game.”
Dye’s legislation, which did have bipartisan sponsorship, deserves hearings and fuller consideration next year.
A state commission on domestic violent extremism: Again, borne out by statistics, further study and consideration of the threats from domestic extremism in the state are necessary, and was requested by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Of 562 reported hate crimes in Washington state in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Justice — 372 against persons, 150 against property and four against society — about 58 percent were motivated by hatred of race, ethnicity or ancestry; 11 percent regarding sexual orientation; 10 percent on religion; and 4 percent on gender identity.
House Bill 1333 would have created a two-year commission to develop a preventative public-health approach to hate crimes and domestic terrorism. A report from the attorney general’s office recommended measures through which the state Department of Health could work with community groups to support intervention teams that would allow families and others to refer someone suspected of being on the path toward radicalization and violence redirected through voluntary intervention.
The legislation was the subject of hearings, but didn’t receive a floor vote in the House.
Objections were raised during hearings regarding potential conflicts with freedom of speech rights, but as this editorial board noted earlier, there is room during the commission’s two-year process and its public meetings to be transparent about proposals so that its intent and protections of rights are clearly defined.
Gathering more information that can address legitimate concerns about violent extremism warrants reconsideration next year.
Eventual replacement of gas tax with a per-mile fee: Simply put, the state’s gas tax — among the highest in the nation at 49.4 cents a gallon — is not a sustainable source of revenue for the state’s highway and other transportation needs. Gas stations in Washington state sold an average of 1.56 million gallons of gasoline a day in 2002. Thanks to more fuel-efficient vehicles, changes in driving habits and increasing numbers of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road, those sales numbers dropped dramatically to an average of 334,000 gallons a day by 2010 and have held near that level since then.
That’s great for climate change goals and cleaner air, but lousy when you’re trying to pay for roads, bridges and more.
That falling consumption of fossil fuels will only quicken with the state’s goal to transition to zero-emission vehicles for all sales of new vehicles by 2035, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission standards, announced this week, that will mean up to 67 percent of new vehicles sold by 2032 will have to be electric or zero-emission.
House Bill 1832 would have established a voluntary program for owners of EVs that would have charged a fee of 2.5 cents per mile for use of all public roadways in the state. Those who participated in the program would have the state’s $225 in registration fees for EVs and plug-in hybrids waived. The legislation offered this as a path to instituting a comprehensive and mandatory per-mile fee, also called a road-usage charge, by 2030.
Proposed by Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, the legislation had hearings before the House transportation committee, but did not advance further.
Fey urged action during the February hearing: “We could do pilot programs for the next couple of decades. It won’t change the underlying problem. We have to have a policy that is fair to all users of the roadway. We have to set a date to try to start implementation.”
That implementation, unnecessarily, now has to wait another year.
Washington Future Fund: Advanced as an innovative program that can break the cycle of poverty in the state, the Washington Future Fund, advocated by state Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti, sought to establish a program similar to what are called “baby bonds.”
Senate Bill 5125 would have had the state set aside $4,000 from the general fund for each child born who is eligible for Apple Health, Washington state’s Medicaid health care program. Those funds would then be invested by the state’s investment board. Between the ages of 18 and 36, adults who qualify, would be allowed to draw on the accrued value of that original investment for use for college education or pre-apprenticeship training costs, seed money to start a small business or as a down payment on property.
The difference between financial stability and poverty, Pellicciotti said in testimony to a Senate committee, is one of access to capital, particularly for young adults. The major milestones of young adulthood — education and training for careers, investment in a small business of one’s own or the advantage of home and property ownership — all rely on access to capital.
While requiring an upfront investment, the future fund should be seen as a path toward reducing poverty and inequities in the state that are becoming increasing drains on state finances and in its communities.
“If we don’t get out ahead of this issue, we’re going to have major challenges on our state treasury and the weight of different obligations on our state treasury in two to three decades,” Pellicciotti told the editorial board last year.
The fund’s legislation had a hearing and was voted out of committee, but did not advance further and was not seen as likely to get further consideration as lawmakers complete budget negotiations this month.
As with the other pieces of legislation, the Washington Future Fund — as an investment with substantial dividends for the decades ahead — merits greater consideration next session and a shot at joining Suciasaurus rex in its legislative success.
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