With less than a month to go in this year’s 105-day regular session of the Legislature, state lawmakers are poised for lengthy floor actions through April 11 — the last day for both houses to pass legislation sent to them by the opposite chamber.
Budget-related measures, however, are not subject to cutoff deadlines.
Highlighted votes by the full House and Senate last week include passage of a bill to ban open-carry of weapons on state capitol grounds (SB 5038), a bill to impose a $100 surcharge on recorded document fees (HB 1277), and a record $59.2 billion 2021-23 state operating budget proposal.
Senate Bill 5038 — Prohibiting the open carry of certain weapons at public demonstrations and the state capitol
Passed the House on March 28 by a vote of 50-47 (one member excused)
The bill would prohibit the open carry of a firearm or other weapons at or near public demonstrations, the west state capitol grounds, capitol grounds buildings, and other legislative locations. It provides an exception for federal, state,and local law enforcement officers, and would not apply to persons with a valid concealed pistol license. It would make violation of these prohibitions a gross misdemeanor.
The bill passed after a five-hour debate during which more than a dozen amendments were voted down.
An amendment by Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Kitsap) to add an emergency clause to the bill was adopted by voice vote.
Critics of the bill said it violates the federal and state constitutional rights of citizens, and that the emergency clause is designed to prevent a referendum vote by the people on this new restrictive measure.
House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said that the Washington State Patrol (WSP) asked for the emergency clause to be added to the bill due to “the violence that has been seen on or around the Capitol campus over the course of the last year.”
However, the WSP issued a statement that it “did not make, and was not planning to make any such request.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) later said that the claim about a WSP request for the emergency clause was a misunderstanding due to the virtual nature of this year’s session.
The bill passed the Senate a month ago, but because the House added amendments, it must now return to the Senate for approval or rejection of the amendments before final passage.
(Note: Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) refused to cast a vote on the bill, stating that the proposal is unconstitutional. Because House rules require that a member present must vote, Rep. Walsh’s vote was recorded as a “no” vote.)
Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) Yes
Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) Yes
Senate Bill 5092 — Making 2021-2023 fiscal biennium operating appropriations
Passed the Senate on April 1 by a vote of 27-22
This is the Senate Democrats’ proposal for the 2021-23 state operating budget. The plan would spend a record $59.2 billion on state programs in the next two years, nearly $8 billion more than the $51.5 billion budget for the current 2019-21 biennium.
As passed by the Senate, the plan assumes passage of a constitutionally questionable capital gains state income tax and would significantly reduce the state’s “rainy day” reserve funds.
Senate Republicans offered a floor amendment to replace the proposal with a plan that would spend $55.2 billion over the next two years, saying it would pay for needed state programs without new or increased taxes. It would also keep more than $1.8 billion in the state’s reserve fund, compared to the $400 million the bill as proposed by Democrats would leave. The amendment was rejected by an unrecorded voice vote.
Senate Democrats said their spending plan would “respond to the needs that the pandemic highlighted, and include millions for the state’s public health system, child care and early learning and efforts on affordable housing and efforts to reduce homelessness.”
Republicans argued that lawmakers should not impose new taxes in the midst of a pandemic, and that the capital gains income tax is illegal under state law and litigation is certain if the legislature ultimately approves the tax.
The House was expected to vote on the $58.3 billion plan proposed by House Democrats (HB 1094) on April 3; thereafter, legislative leaders will work to iron out the differences between the versions passed in each chamber before sending a final version to the governor’s desk.
Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) Yes
House Bill 1277 — Providing for an additional revenue source for eviction prevention and housing stability services
Passed the House on March 28 by a vote of 57-40 (one member excused)
This bill would add a $100 surcharge on fees collected by county auditors when a document is recorded. All of the money collected would go to the state to help pay for various housing programs, including the Affordable Housing for All Account, the Landlord Mitigation Program Account, and the Eviction Prevention Rental Assistance Account.
In addition, funds may be used for project-based vouchers for nonprofit housing providers, foreclosure prevention services, rental assistance for people experiencing homelessness, and tenant education and legal assistance.
Proponents said the bill would provide needed assistance to renters affected by the COVID epidemic and help ease homelessness and affordable housing concerns.
Opponents said the surcharges would impose millions of dollars in added costs to housing providers already struggling with restrictions on their businesses, such as ongoing eviction moratoriums.
The bill was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee and was scheduled for a public hearing on April 5.
Rep. Chapman No
Rep. Steve Tharinger Yes.