5 most impactful developments from the 2023 legislative session
When the Washington Legislature meets every year, it feels like an action-packed sprint full of formalities and policy discussions on a wide array of issues. For the casual observer, it’s hard to keep track of everything.
With the end of the 2023 Washington State Legislative Session, we want to highlight 5 takeaways for you.
1. Reinstating drug possession and usage laws
As we have previously covered, a key point of debate during the legislative session has been the best way to address the Blake decision and its fallout: the legalization of drug possession and usage.
Legislators had the chance this year to make possession of hard drugs illegal during the 105-day session, but the initial “compromise” bill they came up with (SB 5536) was so weak it had bipartisan opposition and ultimately failed to pass both chambers. Democrats felt it was too harsh, while Republicans believed it didn’t go far enough. Notably, the bill would have preempted local jurisdictions from passing their own ordinances to combat public drug use.
At first, it was unclear whether a special session would be called to address this issue. During this period of uncertainty, some cities and counties passed their own ordinances banning public drug use.
However, Governor Inslee eventually called for a special one-day legislative session to address this issue. The House and Senate met on May 16th and passed a compromise (SB 5536) by a wide bipartisan margin, changing drug possession from a misdemeanor to gross misdemeanor with a penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1k fine. This compromise also intends to emphasize treatment over jail time.
To read more about this issue from Future 42, click here.
2. Inadequate police pursuit reform bill.
The House and Senate ultimately passed a severely weakened version of SB 5352, the police pursuit reform bill.
While the legislature undoubtedly needed to fix the disastrous anti-police bills passed in 2021, this hollow bill will not significantly improve public safety.
As one State Representative, Michelle Caldier (R-26th), put it: “This bill was political window dressing and a slap in the face to the people we represent…. We settled for scraps.”
Even after SB 5352 takes effect, police will still not be able to chase criminals for all kinds of crimes, including: hit and runs, vehicle thefts, burglaries, hate crimes, use of explosives to destroy buildings, theft of firearms, assault of a law enforcement officer, assault of a child and many more.
Police officers have seen brazen individuals commit a host of crimes in broad daylight, unable to pursue and stop them. Upon passage of this new law, this grim reality will not change – even if politicians want to take credit for “getting something done.”\
To better understand why this pursuit law is not a step in the right direction, click here to watch Amber Goldade’s story, who lost her 12-year-old daughter because of the no-pursuit policy.
3. Housing: a mixed bag.
Anybody attempting to purchase a home in Washington State knows that we have a serious problem. Housing costs continue to rise, making Washington less and less affordable – especially for young people seeking to live the American Dream by gaining equity through home ownership. Legislators on both sides of the aisle speak often about the need for more affordable housing by increasing supply.
The legislature did pass some bills that will address our housing crisis. For example, SB 5058 and SB 5290, and ESHB 1293 will help streamline and consolidate the permitting process, decreasing the costs and time associated with building housing units.
At the same time, the legislature continues to pass bills that ultimately make housing more expensive. For example, E2SHB 1181 adds “Climate Change” as a specific element to the anachronous Growth Management Act. This adds yet another bureaucratic layer that will make it harder for counties and cities to zone for more housing options. Ultimately, these delays and costs get passed on you and your family if you are trying to purchase a home.
One other note: E2SHB 1110, the “missing middle” housing bill, heads to the Governor’s desk with a bipartisan vote. This large bill essentially allows someone to build more housing units on single-family zoned lots, increasing housing density and supply. Notably, the bill overrides cities and counties regarding this type of zoning, prompting criticism from local officials worried about the consolidation of power in Olympia.
4. The Budget
In the final moments of the session, lawmakers approved a $69 billion two-year operating budget. While the budget doesn’t cut any spending (and adds about $4.7b in new spending) it is notable that it also doesn’t include any tax increases. This would not have been the case if several progressive legislators had gotten their way.
Washingtonians hit by higher living costs could certainly use a tax break. However, there is no broad tax relief in the budget, despite billions of surplus funds – a point made unsuccessfully by House Republicans.
While you and your family may not benefit from lower taxes, there is a company that will: The Seattle Times. SB 5199, which exempts large newspapers from the business and operating (B&O) tax, awaits a signature from the Governor. That’s right: the only group to get tax relief this year was the newspaper industry. Additionally, the budget spends several million in taxpayer dollars to “study” the removal of the Snake River dams yet again, irking Republican legislators advocating for clean and efficient energy.
But it could have been worse! Legislative Democrats attempted to push through a bill (SB 5770) that would have tripled property taxes in the final days of session. Additionally, the Driver Tracking Tax (“pay-per-mile”) did not make it in the final budget language. With the recent Washington Supreme Court ruling on capital gains, you should expect to see future proposals from legislators both to increase the capital gains income tax rate and decrease qualifications to apply for such a tax.
5. Honorable Mentions
There are a few other bills worth mentioning that you may have read about.
First, SB 5599, a very controversial piece of legislation, passed both chambers on a strictly partisan basis. Concerned parents have raised issues with the law, which allows government facilities to keep runaway youth from their parents while they receive “gender-affirming care” or abortion services, and, notably, does not inform parents of their child’s whereabouts.
Second, on April 25, Governor Inslee signed HB 1240, banning the sale, import, and manufacture of automatic firearms. This makes Washington the 10th state in the nation to pass an “assault weapons” ban.
Third, there were several bills worth mentioning that failed. Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s HB 1333 created a “domestic extremism commission”, raising serious concerns for the 1st Amendment. There was also a bill to give a pay raise to convicted felons for their work in prison and several anti-victim bills that failed to clear the legislature. Thankfully, HB 1589, prohibiting natural gas from being used on new construction projects, did not succeed (Future 42 has previously covered this issue).
We will continue to provide you with updates as legislation goes into effect and impacts the lives of Washingtonians. Thank you for your engagement with us during the session. There is still much work to be done and your vigilance is key to improving our future in Washington State.