Guest opinion: Unexpected outcomes from 2020 legislative session

The 2020 regular legislative session is coming to a close.

It didn’t unfold the way anyone thought it would, nor is it ending as any predicted it might.

Democrats arrived in January with ambitions of using their majorities in the House and Senate to eliminate the death penalty, ban high-capacity gun magazines and expel rabble-rousing Republican Rep. Matt Shea. They also cautiously hoped to enact a clean fuel standard.

They missed on them all, frustrating many in the ranks in both chambers.

That’s not to say they didn’t have their share of hits.

This year Democrats pushed through laws requiring a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum in every school district, banning thin single-use plastic bags across the state, establishing protections for domestic workers and creating a new state office dealing with gun violence and firearm safety.

And Republicans arrived with their own ambitions.

They wanted to lower the cost of car tabs and cut the state’s property tax rate. They didn’t get either one, to no one’s surprise.

They did have ideas for tackling homelessness, expanding housing, supporting special education and improving the mental health care system, which found their way to the finish line.

With state bank accounts and reserves swelling from a strong economy, Democrats, along with a few Republicans, will be approving a supplement to the operating budget that boosts funding for child care, early learning, special education and social services. It will contain a sizable infusion of dollars to get homeless people off streets and out of cars and into shelter.

Lawmakers, again working across party lines, figured out how to fill a $453 million

sinkhole in the state transportation budget that appeared after voters passed Initiative 976. Partisan forces also united to legalize sports betting in tribal casinos.

And in one of the session’s unscripted developments, lawmakers are working to repeal a tax break for the Boeing Co. in hopes of helping resolve a global trade dispute. At the same time, they decided that when the international feud is over, they won’t reinstate the tax break completely.

But as lawmakers prepare to adjourn on March 12, the rapidly worsening coronavirus outbreak is overshadowing the scorecard of their collective accomplishments and making their final hours together among the session’s most important.

Concern is growing that the economy will slow and stall in the next few months as major events are canceled, schools are closed and residents reduce their activities to avoid contracting the virus. Legislators are working to ensure policies are in place and enough money is available for the state’s response, so Gov. Jay Inslee will not need to call them back into action before next January.

“We’ve done all we can to prepare today for the upcoming year,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said on March 11.

This wasn’t on the to-do list of either party when lawmakers arrived in Olympia two months ago.

Now it will be one of the last subjects they address before they depart.

Contact The Herald (Everett) columnist Jerry Cornfield at 360-352-8623, jcornfield@herald net.com or on Twitter, @dospueblos.

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