Kitsap County state Reps. Tarrra Simmons and Drew Hansen and Sen. Christine Rolfes all voted with the Democratic majorities on major issues this week.
WashingtonVotes.org reports that with less than a month to go in this year’s 105-day regular session, state lawmakers are poised for lengthy floor actions through April 11, the last day for both houses to pass legislation sent to them by the opposite chamber. Budget-related measures are not subject to cutoff deadlines.
Highlighted votes by the full House and Senate this week include passage of a bill to ban open-carry of weapons on state capitol grounds, a bill to impose a $100 surcharge on recorded document fees and a record $59.2 billion 2021-23 state operating budget proposal.
Senate Bill 5038 prohibits the open carry of certain weapons at public demonstrations and the state capitol. It passed the House March 28 by a 50-47 vote.
The bill provides an exception for law enforcement officers and would not apply to people with a valid concealed pistol license. The bill passed after a five-hour debate during which more than a dozen amendments were voted down. An amendment by Hansen to add an emergency clause was adopted by voice vote. Critics said it violates constitutional rights of citizens, and that the emergency clause is designed to prevent a referendum vote by the people on this new restrictive measure. House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said the Washington State Patrol asked for the emergency clause to be added due to “the violence that has been seen on or around the Capitol campus over the course of the last year.” However, the WSP issued a statement that it “did not make, and was not planning to make any such request.” The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) later said that the claim about a WSP request was a misunderstanding due to the virtual nature of this year’s session. The bill passed the Senate a month ago, but because the House added amendments, it must now return to the Senate.
Meanwhile, House Bill 1277, providing for an additional revenue source for eviction prevention and housing stability services, passed the House March 28 by a vote of 57-40.
This bill would add a $100 surcharge on fees collected by county auditors when a document is recorded. All the money would help pay for various housing programs, including the Affordable Housing for All Account, the Landlord Mitigation Program Account, and the Eviction Prevention Rental Assistance Account.
In addition, funds may be used for project-based vouchers for nonprofit housing providers, foreclosure prevention services, rental assistance for people experiencing homelessness, and tenant education and legal assistance.
Proponents said the bill would provide needed assistance to renters affected by COVID and ease homelessness and affordable housing concerns. Opponents said the surcharges would impose millions of dollars in added costs to housing providers already struggling with restrictions on their businesses, such as ongoing eviction moratoriums.
The bill was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
In the Senate
Senate Bill 5092, making 2021-2023 fiscal biennium operating appropriations, passed the Senate April 1 by a vote of 27-22.
This is the Senate Democrats’ proposal for the 2021-23 state operating budget. The plan would spend a record $59.2 billion on state programs in the next two years, nearly $8 billion more than the $51.5 billion budget for the current 2019-21 biennium.
The plan assumes passage of a constitutionally questionable capital gains state income tax and would significantly reduce the state’s “rainy day” reserve funds.
Senate Republicans offered a floor amendment to replace the proposal with a plan that would spend $55.2 billion over the next two years, saying it would pay for needed state programs without new or increased taxes. It would also keep more than $1.8 billion in the state’s reserve fund, compared with the $400 million as proposed by Democrats.
The amendment was rejected by an unrecorded voice vote.
Senate Democrats said their spending plan would “respond to the needs that the pandemic highlighted, and include millions for the state’s public health system, child care and early learning and efforts on affordable housing and efforts to reduce homelessness.”
Republicans argued that lawmakers should not impose new taxes in the midst of a pandemic, and that the capital gains income tax is illegal under state law and litigation is certain if the legislature ultimately approves the tax.
The House is expected to vote on the $58.3 billion plan proposed by House Democrats (HB 1094) April 3. Thereafter, legislative leaders will work to iron out the differences between the versions before sending a final version to the governor’s desk.