How our lawmakers voted

  • Wednesday, March 17, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion

State lawmakers debated and voted on a number of controversial issues this week ahead of the March 9 house-of-origin cut off deadline.

On March 6, the Senate passed SB 5096 to impose a state income tax on capital gains by a narrow 25-24 mostly partisan vote.

It also passed SB 5273 to broadly expand state child care and early learning programs by a 28-21 vote.

According to Democrats, passage of these bills on the same day was intentional to link funding for the proposed child care programs to the new proposed income tax.

The House also worked on March 6, passing HB 1213, a companion measure to the Senate’s child care expansion bill, by a 58-38 vote.

It also passed HB 1310, to establish new state standards for police use of force by a 55-42 vote.

On March 10, House members spent most of the day debating nearly two dozen amendments to HB 1236, to limit landlords’ ability to evict tenants; the bill passed 55-44 along mostly partisan lines.

Senate Bill 5096 — Concerning an excise tax on gains from the sale or exchange of certain capital assets

Passed the Senate on March 6 by a vote of 25-24

As passed by the Senate, this bill would impose a 7 percent tax on income derived from the capital gains resulting from the sale of long-term assets. The tax would exempt some assets, such as real estate, and would be levied on income over $250,000 for all taxpayers required to file for the tax.

The tax would be calculated on the basis of a taxpayer’s federal income tax return, which would be required to be included in the state filing.

The bill is controversial because Washington’s state constitution prohibits the kind of graduated tax on income the bill would impose.

Proponents have maintained that the tax would not be on income but would be an excise, or “transaction” tax, despite clear findings by the IRS and all 50 states that show that capital gains are income.

Much of the debate and some of the proposed amendments centered on this issue, with some Senators questioning, for example, why taxpayers would have to submit a federal income tax return to file a state capital gains tax return if it is not, in fact, an income tax.

Opponents, including some Democrats, also argued that the new tax is not needed right now, because expected revenue projections, to be released on March 17, anticipate a greater than expected increase in state tax collections for this biennium.

The bill was sent to the House Finance Committee, which had scheduled a public hearing on the bill for March 15.

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

House Bill 1236 — Limiting the reasons for eviction, refusal to continue, and termination a tenant’s lease by a landlord

Passed the House on March 7 by a vote of 54-44

This bill would revise the state’s Residential Landlord Tenant Act to require landlords to provide valid reasons for evicting a tenant as specified in the bill, including failure to pay rent, unlawful activity and nuisance issues.

Current law allows landlords to end month-to-month leases after 20-days notice without providing a reason. If tenants don’t leave, landlords could evict them.

The bill provides that tenants could not be evicted for failure to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the moratorium on evictions Gov. Jay Inslee imposed last year until the end of the public health emergency is declared by federal and state authorities.

Supporters said the proposal would cut down on arbitrary or biased lease terminations and evictions even after the public health emergency ends.

Opponents said the bill would force rental property owners to renew a tenant’s expiring lease and allow occupants to stay on the property even if they damage the property. This would increase burdens on landlords struggling to cover their costs during the pandemic and make it harder to remove problem tenants, they said.

The bill was sent to the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee for further consideration.

Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) No

Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) Yes

Senate Bill 5237 — Expanding accessible, affordable child care and early childhood development programs

Passed the Senate on March 6 by a vote of 28-21

Called the “Fair Start for Kids Act” by its sponsors, the bill would increase subsidies for licensed child care providers, reduce co-pays, and expand eligibility for programs like the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. The cost for this expansion would be about $720 million over the next four years.

Supporters said much of this cost could be covered by federal funds to be made available to the state by the COVID Relief bill passed by Congress.

Opponents argued against the expanded mandates and entitlements proposed by the bill, saying they would result in new taxes. The best way to expand access to child care, they said, would be to reduce regulations on child care providers.

The bill was sent to the House Committee on Children, Youth and Families, which has scheduled a public hearing for March 18.

Sen. Van De Wege Yes

House Bill 1213 — Expanding accessible, affordable child care and early childhood development programs

Passed the House on March 9 by a vote of 58-38 (two members excused)

This is the companion measure to SB 5237 with essentially the same provisions. It would increase eligibility and decrease co-payments in the Working Connections Child Care Program and expand eligibility in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.

It would also provide for increased rates, training, grants, and services for child care and early learning providers.

The bill was sent to the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee for further consideration.

Rep. Chapman Yes

Rep. Tharinger Yes

House Bill 1310 — Concerning permissible uses of force by law enforcement and correctional officers

Passed the House on March 6 by a vote of 55-42 (one member excused)

This bill would establish a statewide standard for the permissible use of force by law enforcement and corrections officers.

Under the bill, a peace officer may use physical force against another person when necessary to effect an arrest, prevent an escape, or otherwise protect against an imminent threat of bodily injury to the peace officer or another person.

A peace officer may use deadly force against another person only when necessary to protect against an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer or another person.

The bill was sent to the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which had scheduled a public hearing for March 16.

Rep. Chapman No

Rep. Tharinger Yes.

Legislators set telephone town hall

District 24 legislators Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) and Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) host telephone town hall at 6 p.m. Monday, March 22.

Shortly before 6 p.m., a random cross-section of district constituents will be telephoned and invited to participate in the town hall; to participate, simply stay on the line. Those who don’t receive a call can join the town hall by dialing 877-229-8493 toll-free and using the ID code 116281.

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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
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