Key bills being discussed this legislative session
We’re halfway through the legislative session here in Washington, which makes this the perfect time to take a look at where things stand. You’ll see that we’ve made progress on some key issues while others remain a battle.
Have a look at some of the key bills being discussed this session:
BILLS TO TRACK
HB 1363/SB 5352 – Victims’ rights/police pursuits. This bill gives victims a voice by restoring the ability of police to chase dangerous criminals. Project 42 recently honored the life of Immaculee Goldade, a 12-year-old girl who tragically was killed when police were not allowed to pursue a violent criminal who stole a truck. The legislature passed severe vehicular pursuit restrictions on police departments in 2021, which has caused an increase in thefts and violent crimes. While the House version of the bill did not technically survive an important cutoff deadline, the Senate companion bill, 5352, was passed 26-23. Some Democrat legislators voted against it because they believe the bill is too harsh and feel that police pursuits are inherently dangerous. Some Republican legislators voted against it because they believe the bill is not strict enough and would still allow criminals to injure victims without consequence. The current version of the bill is very weak and would prevent police from chasing criminals suspected of committing even violent crimes. The current weak version of the bill would not have Immaculee’s life. It now moves to the House Committee on Safety and Justice, and Rehabilitation. No committee hearing date yet scheduled.
SB 5536 (Blake). This bill seeks to resolve the difficulties from the Washington State Supreme Court’s Blake decision, which effectively decriminalized intentional possession of hard drugs. There are many different views on the way to address drug addiction – is it with punishment, treatment, or a mix of both? – this bill treats possession as a gross misdemeanor and creates a pretrial diversion program for individuals charged with possession. If they finish treatment successfully, it gets wiped from their record; if they fail, the record stays. The bill passed with amendments (28-21) off the Senate floor, with bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. Some Republicans expressed that they thought the bill didn’t go far enough, maintaining that penalties for drug possession can be effective methods for people to get help, while Democrats who voted no expressed the opposite – they believe any punishment for drug use is inherently inhumane. The bill is heading to House Committee on Safety and Justice, and Rehabilitation. No hearing date yet scheduled.
SB 5054 – Reducing school hours. This bill attempts to re-define “instructional hours” in state law to include time students spend with non-teachers so that teachers can be absent from the classroom, instead attending “professional learning community” events. This has the effect of reducing in-class instruction time for students by 4 hours – from 30 hours to 26 – every week. When the majority of public school students are failing reading, writing, and mathematics after severe learning loss from Covid, the answer is not to reduce class instruction time. The legislature should be prioritizing ways to improve student learning outcomes; this bill does the opposite. The bill passed 27-21 off the Senate floor, with 1 Democrat (Sen. Mark Mullet) voting no. The bill had a hearing in the House Committee on Education on March 14th
HB 1832 – Road Usage Charge / Driver Tracking Tax. Much of Washington’s transportation budget has been funded through the gas tax. But some argue as vehicles become more efficient and electric motor usage increases, gas tax revenues continue to fall, creating funding difficulties. This bill creates a voluntary Road Usage Charge (RUC) program that places a per-mile fee on vehicle usage of public roadways at a rate of 2.5 cents per mile, which is paid upon vehicle registration renewal. A credit program is established to offset the estimated cost the user would pay in gas taxes. There are serious issues with this program. The biggest issue relates to privacy – the only way to tax citizens based on how many miles they drive is to somehow track their vehicles. While this bill is a “voluntary” program, a large-scale road usage charge would become mandatory. This creates a dangerous precedent and ample opportunity for government overreach.
Rent control/housing update: Fortunately, none of the rent control bills made it past an important deadline in the legislature, so they are unlikely to pass. Rent control has a proven track record of failure that, over time, actually increases rent costs and decreases incentives to build. The bad news, however, is that there is a bill this year to add climate change as a specific element to the Growth Management Act (House Bill 1181). This includes requiring cities to zone with the purpose of reducing vehicle miles traveled within a jurisdiction. When the legislature should be simplifying zoning and housing policies, this bill adds yet another onerous element to comprehensive planning that will increase housing costs while failing to effectively combat climate change. The bill cleared the House floor on March 3 and the Senate Local Government Committee on March 16th.
We’ll continue to ask you to weigh in on these important issues as they move through the process. Thank you for all your participation so far and stay tuned – the session isn’t over yet.