Wednesday, January 22, 2020
PRIORITIES: The opening of the 2020 legislative session in Olympia kicked into high gear last week, and Democrats wasted little time in setting their priorities and advancing bills that had stalled or languished in their session last year.
Majority Democrats elected Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) as the new Speaker of the House. She succeeds Rep. Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) who served as Speaker for 20 years, one of the longest-serving state House Speakers in the country.
Jinkins’ election is seen as a shift toward more progressive policies by House Democrats on tax and spending issues. She has sponsored legislation in the past to enact a capital gains income tax, and to that end Democrats on the first day of the 2020 session field a legal brief with the state Supreme Court asking justices to review case law that would allow for some form of graduated income tax in Washington, easing the burden on sales and property taxes.
Governor Jay Inslee delivered his State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature, outlining what he sees as key legislative priorities, including reducing homelessness and imposing new environmental fuel standards.
On homelessness, Inslee that a statewide response is needed and stressed the importance of prevention, rent assistance and supportive housing to reduce homelessness.
“Homelessness reaches all ages, all races, all backgrounds,” Inslee said. “We know there is no one cause.”
The governor’s proposal includes using $319 million from the state’s “rainy day” fund, a diversion that would require a two-thirds majority vote of approval by the Legislature. Democrats control both chambers, but would need Republican support in order to use the emergency funds. To their credit, Republicans appear ready to consider empowering local responses to tackle homelessness.
Democrats in the Senate quickly revived two bills that languished last year—including a bill to ban single-use plastic carryout bags to their customers (SB 5323) that passed the Senate last March but failed to advance in the House before the 2019 session ended. Bellingham enacted such a ban in 2011, one of the first communities in the state to do so; Anacortes followed suit in a similar action approved in late 2019.
Senate Democrats also revived Senate Bill 5811, which would impose California’s automobile emission rules on vehicle owners in Washington. The goal of the bill is to have about 2.5 percent of all cars brought into Washington be the equivalent of zero-emission vehicles. The bill moves into the House for consideration,
In the lower House, 42nd District Representative Sharon Shewmake laid out her own priorities for this short 60-day meeting of the state lawmakers.
“My goals this session are to increase access to rural child care, reduce incarceration rates through improved data collection, green our transportation, and find ways to boost affordable housing,” the Whatcom County Democrat said.
Shewmake introduced of the Rural Childcare Access Act (HB 2619), aimed at ensuring all areas of the state have access to child care.
“Preschool access is one of my passions,” Shewmake said. “I saw the impact pre-school had on my own kids, and when you talk to kindergarten teachers they say they can tell the difference. It is clear preschool can have lifetime positive impacts.
“At the time in their lives when kids need care the most, families in rural areas are met with rising prices and a lack of options,” Shewmake said. “My bill, HB 2619, will lower costs by expanding the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) to make sure it reaches all corners of our state.”
In addition to increasing support for child care and family home providers, HB 2619 tasks the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) with developing a comprehensive plan to expand childcare options to all rural areas in Washington State.
On the topic of education, Shewmake may find an ally with 42nd District Republican Luanne Van Werven. Rep. Van Werven is pushing two bills that stalled last session—House Bill 1702, which would help lower textbook costs, and House Bill 2233, designed to expand the College in the High School program to eligible students in the ninth grade.
Shewmake also aims to achieve a safer and more efficient natural gas distribution system.
“Historically, natural gas companies have covered the costs incurred by pipeline leaks by passing the charge along to consumers. HB 2518 reforms the incentives for utilities by asking them to complete a cost-based analysis on any leaks,” she said. “If the safety risks and environmental costs are high, the utility is required to fix the leak. My goal is to save consumers money and help the environment at the same time.”
Shewmake is also currently drafting a bill aimed at reducing incarceration through streamlined data collection.
“We can’t fix what we don’t measure,” Shewmake said. “Whatcom County has been working to pioneer a better approach to collecting data on who is in our jails, which led me to ask how other counties do it. Turns out, it’s a totally dysfunctional patchwork across the state,” she said.
Shewmake saw this local work being done to address the issue and, in partnership with law enforcement groups and the ACLU, came up with an ambitious fix on a larger scale.
“I hate bad data, so this has inspired me to try to tackle this issue in a much bigger way and, so far, law enforcement and criminal justice reform advocates have been receptive in the conversations we’ve had.”
With legislative priorities well defined and oppositional Republicans in sharp minority but still available to help shape bills, this may prove a productive session.
Appreciation to Washington Votesfor their legislative reporting and analysis.