The sixth week of the 2021 Legislative Session is now complete, and the Legislature continues to move through the virtual legislative process. Monday, February 15 was the policy committee cutoff, meaning bills must have been voted out of their policy committees in order to stay alive this session. The next deadline is the fiscal committee cutoff on Monday, February 22. This is where all bills with fiscal impacts must be voted out of their respective fiscal committees to stay alive. All bills deemed necessary to implement the budget are not subject to cutoffs. Following the Monday fiscal cutoff legislators will primarily spend the next two weeks on the floor voting on bills until the March 9th House of Origin deadline, when bills need to be passed out of the Chamber (House of Representatives or Senate) where the bill was introduced.
On Monday, February 15 Senate and House Democratic leadership held a press conference where they discussed the virtual session and answered questions from the media. Speaker Laurie Jinkins mentioned that this year there have been about half of the number of bills introduced compared to a normal session and that those bills are primarily focused on the key priorities of the legislature: COVID-19 relief, budget, equity/police reform, and climate change. Rep. Pat Sullivan stated that the House plans to schedule around 15 bills per day for floor action over the next two weeks.
This week House Republicans released their version of the 2021-2023 budget. Their proposal does not include any new taxes and includes roughly $608M in fund transfers and other revenue assumptions. The proposal also appropriates $1.8 billion from the state’s rainy-day fund to pay for a series of one-time, COVID-19 related expenses. You can read more about their proposal here. We should see the House and Senate Democratic budget proposals around mid-March.
Economic Recovery and COVID Relief
The priority of the legislature continues to be COVID-19 relief and recovery. On Friday, February 19th, Governor Inslee signed HB 1368, which appropriates $2.2 billion in federal funding that has been allocated to states in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This bill included $240 million for business assistance grants, $714 million in assistance for K-12 schools, and $618 million for public health’s response to COVID, including testing and contact tracing, and funding for vaccination efforts. The legislation took effect immediately when it was signed.
Washington equitable access to credit act, HB 1015, was voted out of the House Finance Committee (15-1) on Thursday, February 18. The bill would direct the Department of Commerce to create a program to award grants to qualified lending institutions to provide access to credit for historically underserved communities. The grants are funded by taxpayers who may receive a B&O tax credit for contributions to the program. The House Appropriation Committee voted the bill out of Committee earlier today, Monday, February 22nd.
Several revenue proposals continue to move through the legislative process, and it is unclear at this point which ones will rise to the top. Senator June Robinson’s capital gains tax proposal, SB 5096, was voted out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, February 18 and could potentially see additional action in the coming weeks.
Legislation sponsored by Senator Mona Das, SB 5287, concerning the multi-family tax exemption (MFTE) was heard in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Friday, February 19. The bill is scheduled for executive action in Ways and Means on Monday, February 22. The bill is supported by tenant advocates while local municipalities and developers continue to have concerns with the language in the substitute, specifically the tenant protections included in the proposal.
Legislation addressing landlord-tenant relations by providing certain tenant protections during and after public health emergencies, providing for legal representation in eviction cases, and authorizing landlord access to state rental assistance programs, SSB 5160, was heard in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, February 16. Housing providers continue to have serious concerns with the bill. The bill passed out of Ways and Means on Friday, February 19. The Committee adopted a substitute version of the bill that makes a number of changes to the underlying bill. You can view a summary of those changes here.
We were also monitoring HB 1228 which concerns rental housing during and after a public health crisis as well. This legislation was brought forth by Representative Barkis and Representative Walen and had the support of housing providers. Under the bill, landlords would be required to work with tenants with unpaid rent. The legislation also proposed creating the Emergency Rental Assistance Grant Program. The bill was scheduled for executive action on Monday, February 15, however no action was taken, meaning the bill will not move forward this session.
Tax Increment Financing
Legislation authorizing local governments to designate tax increment financing areas and to use increased local property tax collections to fund public improvements, HB 1189/SB 5211, has some momentum this year. The House version of the bill was voted out of the House Finance Committee on Thursday, February 18th. The Senate version passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, February 17 and was placed on second reading this Friday which means the bill could be brought to the Senate floor at any time for a vote.
Employment and Workplace Legislation
Legislation concerning qualifications for unemployment insurance when an individual voluntarily leaves work, HB 1486, was referred to House Rules on Monday, February 15. This legislation would increase the voluntary quit section of the statute. The bill can be pulled to the floor at any time for a vote. A similar piece of legislation is moving through the Senate, SSB 5064, which was pulled from Rules on Wednesday, February 17th and can be brought to the floor at any time for a vote.
Legislation expanding coverage of Washington’s Paid Family Leave program, SSB 5097, was also pulled from Rules on Wednesday February 17. The substitute amends the definition of family member to include individuals regularly residing in the employee's home or where a relationship creates an expectation and actual dependence on care. Similar legislation in the House, HB 1073, was heard this week in the House Appropriation Committee and is scheduled for executive action on Monday, February 22.
Legislation establishing health emergency labor standards, SB 5115, was voted out of committee on Monday, February 15. The underlying bill would require creation of a workplace infectious disease standard and establish new employment standards during a pandemic. The committee passed a substitute version of the bill. The bill was pulled from Rules on Wednesday, February 17 and can be brought to the floor at any time for a vote.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Chopp that targets business that use 1099 contractors, SHB 1474, would give the Employment Security Department (ESD) the authority to impose stiff penalties on businesses. Under the bill, if ESD claims workers have been misclassified it is presumed the business is guilty of knowingly misclassifying the worker. The bill was amended in committee; however, the business community continues to have concerns with the legislation. The bill is currently in Rules and can be pulled to the floor for a vote.
At this point there continue to be several bills related to police reform moving, and it is still too early to tell which proposals will gain the most traction in the legislature. After the House of Origin cutoff on March 9, we will have a better idea of which proposals may pass this year. Below is a summary of some of the bills that are moving in the House and Senate related to police reform.
Rep. Jesse Johnson’s HB 1054, establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers, was pulled from Rules on Wednesday, February 17 and can now be scheduled for a floor vote at any time.
HB 1088/SB 5067 concerning potential impeachment disclosures. The House version of the bill has passed the House 61-37 and now heads to the Senate for further consideration. The bill is currently scheduled to be heard in the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday February 25. HB 1088 would require the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to update its policy addressing impeachment disclosures and develop online training consistent with that policy. It also would require law enforcement agencies to report an officer’s misconduct to prosecuting authorities and require law enforcement agencies to inquire about an officer’s previous impeachment disclosures before they are hired.
HB 1089/SB 5069 concerning compliance audits of requirements relating to peace officers and law enforcement agencies. The house version passed the House with bipartisan support, 80-18 and has been referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
HB 1092/SB 5259 Concerning law enforcement data collection. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill continue to move through the process. The bill requires recommendations for implementation of a program for statewide data collection, reporting, and publication of use of force data. The House version of the bill is still in Rules. The Senate version was heard this week in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and is scheduled for executive action on Monday, February 22.