Lawmakers poised to approve hundreds of bills as this year’s regular session heads into its final week

By FRANZ WIECHERS-GREGORY  | 
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Mar 4, 2020

Olympia’s version of “March Madness” is underway, with lawmakers in both chambers scrambling to consider hundreds of bills in marathon floor sessions ahead of this Friday’s 5:00 p.m. deadline for approving legislation passed by the opposite house. Thereafter, lawmakers will only work on budget-related bills and resolving differences between House- and Senate-passed bill versions. Counting the weekend, legislators have eight days to complete the work of this year’s 60-day session, which is scheduled to end on March 12th.

Lawmakers introduced some 1,500 new bills this year in addition to the more than 2,000 measures left over from the 2019 session. About 600 bills are still under active consideration leading up to Friday’s deadline. So far this week about 90 bills have now been approved by both houses.

A new bill to help fund the state’s response to the coronavirus quickly passed the House Tuesday by a unanimous vote. Under HB 2965, introduced Monday with bi-partisan sponsorship, the state would spend an additional $100 million from the Disaster Response Account to be distributed to local governments and federally-recognized tribes for a response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. The bill is headed to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved. Because it contains an emergency clause, HB 2965 would take effect immediately once enacted.

Also apparently headed for approval in the Senate is HB 2638, an “emergency” measure to allow sports betting in tribal casinos. Owners of non-tribal casinos would be barred from participating.

The bill passed the House last month with an emergency clause that would make it effective immediately and prevent any effort to submit it to a referendum vote by the people. The bill was approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee Monday and placed on the calendar for action by the full Senate before Friday’s deadline.

A controversial bill to mandate expanded sex education for young grade school children, SB 5395, is before the House this week. The bill passed the Senate by a mostly partisan 28-21 vote in January, but House members opposing the measure have submitted more than two hundred amendments—a move that could effectively kill the bill, because full debate on these amendments would take days. A similar move on a gun-limitation bill last month resulted in removal of that bill from further consideration.

Senators yesterday afternoon spent more than an hour debating three amendments to HB 1551, a bill to lower penalties for the intentional transmission of HIV. The amendments by Republicans to make intentional transmission of HIV a felony rather than a misdemeanor were voted down, and the bill passed 26-23, with all Republicans and three Democrats voting against it.

Mail-in voting in Washington State’s March 10th presidential primary is underway, but tens of thousands of early ballots have already been rejected because voters failed to declare their partisan affiliation on the outside of the ballot envelope as required by a law enacted last session. According to news reports, hundreds of thousands more voters are not participating in the election, because they feel the mandatory declaration is a violation of ballot privacy rights.

Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-Pierce County) has introduced SB 6697 to require county auditors to use an additional envelope for presidential primary ballots to ensure that a voter’s party affiliation is not visible in transit to the voting center. It would also allow voters the option of declaring no party affiliation and require that those unaffiliated ballots be counted and reported separately. The bill was referred to the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee, but will not likely be considered further this year.

Keep up with the action in the closing days of this session by visiting washingtonvotes.org and follow us Facebook and Twitter #waleg.