Major issues remain unresolved as this year’s legislative session heads into its final days

By FRANZ WIECHERS-GREGORY  | 
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Apr 14, 2021

With this year’s regular 105 day legislative session scheduled to end on Sunday, April 25th, just eleven days from now, state lawmakers are still struggling to resolve key issues.

Among these are the 2021-23 operating budget, added spending and taxes for a new multi-billion transportation package, and the controversial proposal for a constitutionally-questionable state income tax on capital gains.

Majority Democrats in both houses have passed the operating budget (SB 5092), but they must still work out their differences before a final version can be passed and delivered to the governor for his signature. Both proposals also assume passage of legislation on which Democrats in both chambers have yet to agree.

The cap-and-trade bill (SB 5126), under which businesses would pay the state for carbon-emissions beyond a set limit, passed the Senate by a narrow 25-24 vote last week, but was not sent to the House until Sunday, with a public hearing scheduled for this week in the House Environment and Energy Committee.

The low-carbon fuel standards bill (HB 1091) passed both the House and Senate, but Senate Democrats changed the bill to tie it into a proposed $18 billion, 16-year tax and spend transportation package. Combined with the cap-and-trade and low-carbon fuel standards proposals, it would add more than 50 cents per gallon in gas taxes paid by Washington consumers and businesses.  The current gas tax is 67 cents a gallon, state and federal rates combined.

According to reports, House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle) does not favor making final passage of HB 1091 dependent on another bill. The bill, SB 5483, was introduced just last week. The Senate Transportation Committee held a public hearing on it Monday, and has scheduled it for executive session later today, Wednesday. Presumably, it could be passed by the Senate later this week or by early next week.

The state capital gains income tax proposal (SB 5096) was passed by the Senate more than a month ago, but still has not been scheduled for a vote by the House.

Last Sunday, April 11th, was the last day for lawmakers to pass policy bills sent to them by the opposite chamber. Some 325 of the 1,060 bills introduced this session have now passed this cut-off. The remaining measures, except for budget and transportation bills, are considered dead for this session. Any bill, however, could be revived by a suspension of legislative rules or by adding it to a bill not subject to cut-off deadlines.

Among the bills passed before Sunday’s deadline is SB 5044, a sweeping measure to mandate cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity training training for school board directors, district staff, and school staff. The bill passed the House by a strictly partisan 57-40 vote. It passed the Senate by a 30-19 vote in January.

During debate in the House on Sunday, 49 Democrats spoke against an amendment by Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) to bar specified content from the training. This would include assumptions that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist, and any other form of race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating. “We find racism and sexism abhorrent,” he said, noting the focus on training should be “on our common humanity.” 

In a rare recorded roll call—most amendments are adopted  or rejected by voice vote—the amendment failed by a 39-58 vote with one Republican, Rep. Dan Griffey (R- Allyn) voting with all Democrats to defeat the amendment.

 

WashingtonVotes.org is a free service provided by Washington Policy Center and is the go-to tracking tool to keep up with all the action in Olympia, especially during this mostly virtual session. Please check in often and follow us on Facebook and Twitter at #waleg.

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