OLYMPIA — While the Washington State Legislature doesn’t even convene for its 2021 session until next week, more than 130 bills already await lawmakers in what’s expected to be a hectic schedule.
Beginning on Jan. 11 and set to end April 25, the session marks the first time the legislature has convened since last spring, when the covid-19 pandemic was still new on the scene. The most central issue facing legislators, including two freshmen lawmakers from the 19th District, will be nailing down a two-year state budget in light of the pandemic’s effects on the state economy.
While the budget will take up a significant portion of the session, legislators are expected to take action on a number of priorities, whether it be addressing climate change, transportation, education, broadband, police reform, emergency powers or supporting small business. To that end, lawmakers have already prefiled 134 bills as of Jan. 4 for the legislature to consider in the upcoming session.
Walsh prefiles pair of bills
State Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), now the dean of the 19th District’s delegation to Olympia, prefiled two bills ahead of the upcoming session. The all-Republican district delegation may find little traction for proposals submitted to the heavily Democratic legislature.
House Bill 1027, which Walsh prefiled on Dec. 16, seeks to “reduce the administrative cost of state government during the 2021-23 fiscal biennium.” Over the two-year period, HB 1027 would: put a freeze on salary or wage increases for many state employees; freeze hiring for vacant staff openings in certain state agencies of the legislative, executive and judicial branches, as well as disallow the establishment of new staff positions; disallow state agencies from entering into agreements for personal services contracts or equipment purchases, or set aside funds for out-of-state travel or training when not related to an emergency or catastrophic event.
House Bill 1029, also prefiled by Walsh on Dec. 16, targets rules and orders during a state of emergency. Republicans have prefiled a handful of bills that target Washington’s state of emergency rules, after complaints throughout 2020 that the legislature does not have enough of a say in the process.
The bill would require a proclaimed state of emergency to identify the area of the state in question, and a single emergency proclamation cannot exceed an area greater than a single county — multiple proclamations would be required in order to address simultaneous emergencies in multiple counties, even if the areas are facing the same emergency.
HB 1029 also stipulates that an emergency proclaimed by the governor would automatically be terminated after 14 days unless it is extended by the legislature. It would also allow anyone to file a challenge to the proclaimed emergency in the superior court of the county in question. Emergency orders issued by local health officers would also be terminated after 14 days, unless extended or modified by the legislature.
The path for either bill actually becoming law is narrow, if not non-existent, as neither bill is co-sponsored by a legislator from the other side of the aisle; Democrats control both chambers of the legislature. Whether bills proposed by lawmakers actually have a shot of becoming law or not, they highlight the issues that legislators are prioritizing during this year’s session.
As more doses of covid-19 vaccines arrive in Washington state by the day, two Republican lawmakers prefiled bills that would disallow the state government, businesses or organizations in the state from mandating immunization.
House Bill 1006, filed by State Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick), would forbid any state agency or political subdivision from requiring an individual to be vaccinated if they claim a religious, philosophical or personal objection. The state government also would not be able to require immunization as a condition of employment or for contracting with an agency or subdivision.
Klippert’s bill also would allow for a parent or legal guardian to cite a philosophical or personal objection to exempt a child from receiving any vaccine. Currently, parents could not cite a philosophical or personal objection to exempt a child from receiving the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines.
House Bill 1065, filed by State Rep. Carolyn Eslick (R-Sultan), singles out covid-19 vaccines specifically in saying that any government or private entity cannot require a person to prove that they have received a coronavirus vaccine for any reason — including as a condition of employment, school attendance, professional licensure, educational certification or degree, admittance to a place of business, or to access any mode of transportation.
In December, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance that said employers can require workers to receive a covid-19 vaccine. The EEOC guidance stipulates that if someone declines to receive the vaccine because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, the employer must offer a reasonable accommodation to the employee, such as working remotely, unless the accommodation causes undue hardship.
Treasure trove of proposals
The entire list of prefiled bills can be accessed at https://bit.ly/38hf1rL. Among the dozens and dozens of bills filed ahead of the session, here are some of the more eye-catching proposals:
• HB 1002, filed by State Rep. Amy Walen (D-Kirkland), would provide a business and tax exemption for covid-19 grants that businesses received from a government agency or nonprofit organization, retroactive to last February;
• HB 1012, filed by State Rep. Drew MacEwen (R-Union), would provide a one-time business and occupation tax credit of $5,000 for people who were registered to conduct business in the state in 2020;
• HB 1014, filed by Klippert, would establish an Electoral College-style system in Washington only for the statewide gubernatorial race. The bill would divide up 147 electoral votes throughout the state based on population, with each county being assigned at least one electoral vote;
• HB 1016, filed by State Rep. Melanie Morgan (D-Parkland), would make Juneteenth — the day in 1865 that slaves in Texas learned that they were free after a Union Army general read them the Emancipation Proclamation, more than two years after the proclamation had been signed — as a state legal holiday, to be observed on June 19;
• HB 1054, filed by State Rep. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way), would prohibit law enforcement or correctional officers from: using a chokehold or neck restraint on another person in the line of duty, using an unleashed police dog to arrest or apprehend another person, and intentionally covering or obscuring the number on their badge while on duty. The bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from acquiring or authorizing its officers to use tear gas for any purpose, or acquiring or using military equipment;
• SB 5020, filed by State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), would allow a penalty to be assessed on drug manufacturers for unsupported drug price increases “for which there was no, or inadequate, new clinical evidence to support” the increase in price, based upon an annual analysis by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review;
• SB 5038, filed by State Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), would prohibit anyone, except state and local law enforcement officers, from carrying a firearm or any weapon — whether on the person or in a vehicle — while participating in or attending any demonstration at a public place, including on state capitol grounds.