How our lawmakers voted

  • Wednesday, February 12, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion

Lawmakers were busy with committee work this week ahead of a Feb. 7 deadline for passing policy bills out of their originating committees.

Non-fiscal related bills that don’t make this cut-off are likely dead for this session and for the 2019-20 legislative cycle.

Both chambers did, however, take time out to bring up significant legislation for a vote by the full House and Senate. After last week’s passage in the Senate, the House approved SB 6492, to replace surcharges on the taxes paid by service businesses with permanent increases in the Business and Occupation (B&O) tax. The bill passed by a 52-45 vote. All Republicans and five Democrats voted against it.

Some three-dozen amendments to exempt various businesses, especially health care providers, were voted down after lengthy debate that lasted well into the evening.

SB 6492 is the first bill this session to pass both chambers. The Senate once again approved SB 5339, to repeal Washington’s death penalty, by a 28-18 vote, led by majority Democrats. The bill passed during last year’s session by a similar vote.

Also last week, the House approved HB 1521, to provide for transparency and accountability in government contracting by a 65-32 vote.

Senate Bill 6492, Addressing workforce education investment funding through business and occupation tax reform

Passed the House on Feb. 6 by a vote of 52-45 (one member excused)

This bill would replace the Business and Occupation (B&O) tax surcharge to fund aid for college students that was enacted last year. Instead of surcharges, it proposes an increase in the general service business and occupation tax rate from 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent for businesses with gross annual income in excess of $1 million. It would also impose a separate 1.22 percent surcharge on large advanced computing businesses. The new tax would be collected starting in April of this year.

Proponents of the bill said that last year’s enactment of B&O tax surcharges was intended to make a dramatic investment in higher education, but that the program is too complicated to administer and doesn’t generate enough money. This bill, they said, would provide critical funding for state financial aid programs, ensure educational opportunities for students across the state, and encourage expansion of high-demand programs.

Opponents said the bill is not a practical model for most businesses and could increase healthcare costs, because independent health care practitioners are not exempt from the proposed increases. They also said that not all higher education institutions would receive benefits under this bill.

The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) Yes

Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) Yes

House Bill 1521, Providing for accountability and transparency in government contracting

Passed the House on Feb. 5 by a vote of 65-32 (one member excused)

This bill would narrow contracting-out requirements under statute to apply only to contracts for services that have been customarily and historically provided by classified employees on or after July 1, 2005. It also creates additional criteria, with exemptions, for contracting out, including a comprehensive impact assessment, maintenance of certain records, and additional terms in agreements to contract out.

Proponents of the bill said it would require management to make more thoughtful decisions about when and what to contract out.

Opponents argued that the problem that this bill is trying to fix would be solved by bringing contractors back to fix their work in cases where they did not meet the expectations of the contract. Current law already requires agencies to address management issues, they said.

The bill was sent to the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee of further consideration.

Rep. Chapman Yes

Rep. Tharinger Yes

Senate Bill 5339, Reducing criminal justice expenses by eliminating the death penalty and instead requiring life imprisonment without possibility of release or parole

Passed the Senate on Jan. 31 by a vote of 28-18 (three members excused)

This bill would remove capital punishment as a sentencing option and instead mandate a life sentence without possibility of parole for the crime of aggravated murder. It is the third time in as many years that a measure to repeal the death penalty has passed the Senate. Each time, the bill has stalled in the House, but this year, the new Democratic Speaker, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, has said that she supports the measure. A moratorium imposed by Governor Inslee in 2014 has blocked imposition of the death sentence, and a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling stated that capital punishment, as applied under current Washington law, is unconstitutional. The court, however, also said that the legislature could pass a law to impose the death sentence in a way that meets constitutional requirements.

The bill was sent to the House Public Safety Committee for further consideration.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) No

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