Democrats elect new Speaker of House as 2020 legislative session gets underway

  • Tuesday, January 21, 2020 1:46pm
  • News

Washington state legislators last week returned to Olympia last week for the 2020 legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn March 12. The legislature meets for a scheduled 105 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years.

Here’s a recap of a busy early first week for Washington’s lawmakers:

Jinkins picked for House Speaker

Majority Democrats elected Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) as the new Speaker of the House on Jan. 13, shortly after the 2020 session of the state legislature convened. She succeeds Rep. Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) who served as Speaker for 20 years, one of the longest-serving state House Speakers in the country. He resigned as Speaker last May but continues to serve as a member of the House.

Speaker Jinkins is the first woman to hold the position in the state’s history. The Speaker plays a powerful role in setting the Legislature’s agenda, not only as presiding officer of the House, but as chair of Executive Rules (House administrative committee), and chair of the House Rules committee.

The Speaker also appoints other elected members to standing and statutory committees, signs all bills in open session, and oversees all employees of the House.

Jinkins’ election is seen as a shift toward more extreme liberal policies by House Democrats, especially on tax and spending issues. She has sponsored legislation in the past to enact a capital gains income tax, which would likely get more traction under her leadership, even though such a tax would be a violation of the state constitution.

Inslee’s State of State

Gov. Jay Inslee delivered his State of the State address before a joint session of the legislature on Jan. 14, outlining what he sees as key legislative priorities this year, including reducing homelessness and imposing new fuel environmental standards.

On homelessness, he said that a statewide response is needed and stressed the importance of prevention, rent assistance and supportive housing to reduce homelessness. Inslee’s proposal includes using $319 million from the state’s “rainy day” fund, a diversion that would need a two-thirds majority vote of approval by the Legislature. Democrats control both chambers, but would need Republican support in order to use the emergency funds.

Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) said that these funds should be saved for when the state economy is in recession, as voters intended, and that the governor should look elsewhere if the money is needed to combat homelessness.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville echoed Braun’s position at a Republican leadership news conference after the speech.

“Using the Rainy Day Fund is a non-starter,” he said.

Republicans said they would like to give local governments the authority to raise local sales taxes by as much as a fourth of a cent more, and lower the state tax by an equal amount, for homelessness programs. They would place conditions on the money, including a ban on drug injection sites and a ban on unauthorized camping within 500 feet of schools, parks or playgrounds.

Sen. Schoesler also responded to Gov. Inslee’s proposal for new restrictions on oil and gas producers, calling the new fuel standard “a gas tax with no roads,” because motorists would pay more for gasoline, but the money would not be used to fund transportation projects.

Democratic lawmakers wasted no time on the first day of the 2020 session in filing a legal brief with the state Supreme Court asking justices to reverse nearly a century of case law and allow a graduated income tax to be imposed in Washington state.

Bag ban passes senate

Majority Democrats in the state senate moved quickly on Jan. 15 to pass sweeping new environmental regulations that would affect consumers statewide.

A bill to ban stores from giving single-use plastic carryout bags to their customers (SB 5323) passed the Senate last March but failed to advance in the House before the 2019 session ended. Majority Democrats in the Senate brought the bill back up for a vote last week with less than 24 hours’ notice and no opportunity for public input. It passed without amendments by a 30-19 vote. Democrats have a 29-20 majority in the Senate, but Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Mason County) works and votes with Republicans, giving Democrats a 28-21 margin of control.

The ban would also bar the use of paper and recycled plastic bags unless they meet stringent recycled content requirements. Retailers would also be required to collect an 8-cent per bag tax for each recycled content large paper or plastic carryout bag provided. These provisions would supersede local bag ordinances, except for ordinances establishing a 10-cent per bag charge in effect as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Led by majority Democrats, the Senate also passed SB 5811 on Jan. 15 by a 26-23 vote. It would impose California’s automobile emission rules on vehicle owners in Washington. Under the bill, car makers would be assigned credits based on the kind of fuel-efficient cars they bring into the state. Those credits would then be used to set quotas for how many zero-emission vehicles manufacturers must ship into the state and for dealers to offer for sale, regardless of whether consumers want them or not.

The stated goal of the bill is to have about 2.5 percent of all cars brought into Washington be the equivalent of zero-emission vehicles. This bill also passed the Senate last year but did not advance before the end of the 2019 session.

Bills aplenty

Meanwhile, lawmakers have already introduced nearly 1,000 new bills for the 2020 session, including measures that would restrict the power of the people to vote on initiatives and referenda (HB 2529), and to dictate what kids can eat and drink in restaurants (HB 2383). A bi-partisan sponsored measure (SB 6462) would re-affirm the constitutional prohibition against imposing local income taxes.

Lawmakers also established the cut-off deadlines for action on bills in this year’s session. The last day to move bills (other than budget and transportation measures) out of committee is Feb. 7, the last day for consideration of bills in their originating chamber is Feb. 19, and the last day to consider policy bills from the opposite house is March 6.

After that, only proposed initiatives, budget bills and bills necessary to implement the budget will be considered.

How our lawmakers voted

The House and the Senate passed a number of bills this week that had passed during last year’s session, but did not make it through both chambers. Most cleared with unanimous or near-unanimous votes, but following are the measures that passed this week with significantly split votes.

Senate Bill 5323, Reducing pollution from plastic bags by establishing minimum state standards for the use of bags at retail establishments

Passed the Senate on Jan. 15 by a vote of 30-19

This bill would ban stores from giving single-use plastic carryout bags to their customers. The ban includes paper and recycled plastic bags unless they meet stringent recycled content requirements. Under the bill, retailers would also be required to collect an 8-cent per bag tax for each recycled content large paper or plastic carryout bag provided. These provisions would supersede local bag ordinances, except for ordinances establishing a 10-cent per bag charge in effect as of Jan. 1, 2019.

The bill was sent to the House Environment and Energy Committee for further consideration. SB 5323 passed the Senate by a 31-14 vote (4 members excused) last March, but did not advance in the House before the session ended. Majority Democrats brought the bill back up for a vote with less than 24 hours notice and no opportunity for additional public input. Re-passage of SB 5323 by the Senate is the furthest that statewide bag-ban proposals have advanced in the legislative process, since the idea of regulating and taxing shopping bags were first proposed in 2013.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) Yes

Senate Bill 5811, Reducing emissions by making changes to the clean car standards and clean car program

Passed the Senate on Jan. 15 by a vote of 26-23

This bill would impose California’s automobile emission rules on vehicle owners in Washington. Under the bill, car makers would be assigned credits based on the kind of fuel efficient cars they bring into the state. Those credits would then be used to set quotas for how many zero-emission vehicles manufacturers must ship into the state and for dealers to offer for sale, regardless of whether consumers want them or not.

The stated goal of the bill is to have about 2.5 percent of all cars brought into Washington be the equivalent of zero-emission vehicles. The bill was sent the House Environment and Energy Committee for further consideration. SB 5811 passed the Senate by a 26-22 vote (one member excused) last March but did not advance in the House before the session ended. No opportunities for additional public input were provided ahead of this week’s vote.

Sen. Van De Wege (D-Sequim) Yes

Senate Bill 5947, Establishing the sustainable farms and fields grant program

Passed the Senate on Jan. 15 by a vote of 32-17

This bill would establish a grant program intended to help agriculture reduce its carbon output. Subject to funding, the Washington State Department of Agriculture would be required to develop a sustainable farms and fields grant program that would allow more producers to enroll in conservation programs, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use, and to help reduce the overall carbon footprint of the state.

Sustainable farms and fields grants could be applied towards down payments on equipment or other types of loans; blended use of fossil-fuel based pesticides and fertilizers and non-fossil-fuel based pesticides and fertilizers; or costs associated with installation of carbon farming practices or agroforestry practices. The bill was sent to the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee for further consideration.

SB 5947 also passed the Senate by a vote of 32-15 (two members excused) last year but did not advance further before the session ended. Again, no opportunities for additional public input was provided ahead of this week’s vote.

Sen. Van De Wege (D-Sequim) Yes

Senate Joint Memorial 8014, Concerning logging and mining in the upper Skagit watershed

Passed the Senate on Jan. 15 by a vote of 29-19 (one member excused)

This memorial would request that British Columbia work with the city of Seattle and the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission to prevent logging and mining in the Upper Skagit watershed, in order to ensure the area’s environmental and recreational resources are permanently protected.

Proponents of the measure say it is important to let the British Columbia government know that Washington state is concerned about logging and mining operations in the Upper Skagit watershed. They say that proposed mining activities in this area pose a significant risk to the health of fish and wildlife species, and that waste from mining activities can be toxic to juvenile salmon. The Skagit river provides important habitat for the various species of salmon, including chinook, steelhead, and bull trout.

The memorial was sent to the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee for further consideration.

Sen. Van De Wege (D-Sequim) Yes.

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