By any measure it was a productive legislative session, very nearly too productive.
Among a record list of bills passed during the short, 60-day session of the Washington Legislature, was a bipartisan bill that largely exempted state lawmakers from the state’s venerable Public Records Act and had received veto-proof majorities in the Senate and House.
A raft of front-page editorials by state newspapers and calls and emails to the governor’s office — and late grudging admission from lawmakers themselves that the two-day process to pass the bill offered nearly no opportunity for public comment and lawmaker review — prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to veto SB 6617. Rather than override the veto, lawmakers now say they’ll work with media and other stakeholders on legislation that after decades of escaping a standard of public disclosure expected of almost all other public officials should finally make their emails, communications and other documents available to the public.
Aside from that drama, what follows is a look at what got done, what didn’t and a few “yeah, buts”:
Done: About a $1 billion more for K-12 education was allocated, including $776 million more for salary increases for teachers and other school employees, widely seen as necessary to satisfying the state Supreme Court and its McCleary mandate, as well as more funding for special education.
Not done: School districts may need more direction from lawmakers on what the state considers to be the “basic education” it will pay for and what local districts can request in levies. School districts also need to be rid of the requirement to pass school construction bonds with 60 percent approval, rather than the simple majority needed for levies. Growing student populations are in need of new schools, and the 60 percent requirement is forcing more kids into portables.
Done:One-time property tax relief is coming that will take some of the sting out of last year’s swap of property taxes from local school district levies to the state’s property tax for school funding, a move that will reduce the state’s property tax by 30 cents per $1,000 of value for 2019.
Not done: Lawmakers missed an opportunity to make at least some of that relief permanent by adopting a capital gains tax that would have expanded the property tax exemptions offered to seniors, disabled veterans and others and used the balance of that revenue to reduce the property tax levy. Democratic supporters might have won some Republican support had they backed one of a couple of proposals to offer a break in business and operation taxes to manufacturers that was vetoed by Inslee last year.
Yeah, but: In delivering the property tax relief and the additional funding for education — as well as for mental health services, state psychiatric hospital and community health centers — Democrats took advantage of a windfall of about $1.3 billion in additional revenue over the next three years. To do so, they diverted some funds that would have gone to state reserves, a move criticized by Republicans who say not enough has been put away for an emergency or the next recession. And they missed an opportunity to make a larger dent in the state’s $19 billion bond debt.
Done: The Legislature took action to increase voter participation with passage of the Voting Rights Act, which allows for citizens to challenge and change election systems in their communities; teen voter registration that will allow those 16 and 17 years of age to pre-register to vote; and same-day voter registration.
Done: Following the move by the Federal Communications Commission to end net neutrality rules that prohibited internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to some content providers, the Legislature made Washington the first state to set its own rules and reestablish net neutrality within state borders.
Yeah, but: Expect a federal challenge under the Commerce Clause, but also expect other states to join in.
Done: The Legislature, in the aftermath of the massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school that claimed the lives of 17, passed a ban on bump stocks, the devices that allow a semi-automatic firearm to fire at a rate similar to that of an automatic weapon. Lawmakers also passed a bill that will allow individuals concerned for their safety and that of others to voluntarily waive their right to own or purchase a firearm.
Not done:Legislation did not advance that would have raised the age for purchase of semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21 and require enhanced background checks for those firearms. Nor did legislation advance that was requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and others to ban assault-style weapons altogether.
Not done: A bill seeking to raise the age to purchase cigarettes and tobacco from 18 to 21 also did not advance, again the result of a state that believes it can’t kick the habit of tax revenue that sales to young adults provide.
Not done: Gov. Inslee again failed to find enough support for his carbon tax, which could have provided revenue for environmental programs.
Not done: Though it got farther than it had previously, passing in the Senate, a bill repealing the state’s death penalty failed to get to the House floor for a vote.
Yeah, but: Neither carbon tax nor death penalty issues are going away, and both may return as citizen initiatives.
Republicans at the start of the session lamented their loss of control of the Senate as a blow to measured action and bipartisanship. Democrats took advantage of their majorities, slim as they were, and passed a record number of bills, pushing legislation forward that had been bottled up in the Senate for several sessions.
It’ll be up to voters this fall to judge whether this session represented over-reach or a welcome burst of lawmaking.