Friends and Neighbors,
We have now officially passed the midway point of the 105-day legislative session. Tuesday was house of origin cutoff, meaning bills had to pass their respective chambers or they are considered dead this year. The exceptions are bills necessary to implement the budget.
The run up to this deadline included several days of voting on bills on the House floor, including two Saturdays, a Sunday, and a few late nights. While many good bills passed with bipartisan support, others were more contentious. I discuss some of these measures below.
Income tax on capital gains
The House has settled back into committee work and consideration of Senate bills. The most controversial bill to pass this year, in either chamber, is a new income tax on capital gains – Senate Bill 5096. It passed on a narrow 25-24 vote Saturday, after a long floor debate and despite bipartisan opposition.
This legislation has landed in the House Finance Committee, where I am the ranking member. It will receive a public hearing on Monday, March 15, at 10:00 a.m.
I am opposed to this bill. First, it is unnecessary. Our state has enough revenue to pay for all of its priorities and we expect more good news about state tax collections at the revenue forecast next week. Our state is also set to receive another round of federal funding.
Second, it is unpopular. Washingtonians have told us several times they don't want any form of an income tax and have been generally opposed to many new tax increases.
Third, it is likely unconstitutional based on previous court cases. Although, the Washington Supreme Court has made several surprising rulings over the last few years, including a recent one that struck down our state's felony drug possession law.
Fourth, I believe this is a major step toward establishing a state income tax. And that's not just speculation, as many supporters of the measure have made their intentions clear. I will keep you updated on this issue.
Finally – we have word on Phase 3
In my last email update, I shared my disappointment with the fact Gov. Jay Inslee had not identified a Phase 3 in his re-opening plan. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the easing of restrictions in his state. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she would sign an executive order to return students back to in-class learning. And Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont declared he would roll back restrictions. These are his colleagues.
All the while we were left in the dark about our state's plan. This has been unfair to individuals, families, communities, and small businesses who have sacrificed over the last year and just want transparency and clarity from state government.
Fortunately, Gov. Inslee finally announced Phase 3 yesterday – to begin on March 22. You can find more details here. Still, Washingtonians deserve more responsiveness from their governor.
Open Safe, Open Now plan
On March 4, Republicans announced an Open Safe, Open Now plan that would immediately move every county in our state to Phase 3. This phase would return students back to classrooms and require schools to follow safety protocols provided by the CDC. It would also allow businesses to open to 50% capacity, which would put more people back to work.
If counties did not see a significant spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, they could advance to Phase 4. This would include businesses opening to 100% capacity.
When asked about it at his news conference last week, the governor dismissed the idea and mentioned something about not wanting to become Texas. But that is not what Republicans proposed. We believe people should continue to take necessary precautions to protect against contacting or spreading the virus – and we trust people to protect their health and safety. Washingtonians know how to take precautions, as do businesses. In the end, the governor's new Phase 3 contains elements of the Open Safe, Open Now plan.
What Republicans proposed is not much different than what the Democratic governor of Connecticut just implemented (see above). And while our plan (House Bill 1553) is simple and consistent, it is also backed by an operating budget proposal and COVID-19 relief package that we introduced earlier in the legislative session. We understand reopening schools and businesses will require policy changes and new resources.
Controversial bills that passed the House
Most bills pass with bipartisan if not unanimous support. But others are more controversial and include long House floor debates. Below are some controversial House bills that I voted against over the last few weeks:
House Bill 1091 would increase fuel costs by regulating the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. Also called the low-carbon fuel standard mandate, this would increase what you pay at the pump while doing very little to improve air quality.
- Status: Passed the House 52-46 on February 27. Referred to Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee.
House Bill 1078 would automatically restore felon voting rights before completed sentences, including those who committed serious crimes.
- Status: Passed the House 57-41 on February 24. Referred to Senate State Government and Elections Committee.
House Bill 1054 would take away tools police officers rely on to de-escalate situations and avoid the need to use deadly force and make their jobs even more dangerous.
- Status: Passed the House 54-43 on February 27. Referred to Senate Law and Justice Committee.
House Bill 1236 would make it more difficult and complicated to be a rental housing provider in our state when we already have an affordable housing crisis in many parts of our state.
- Status: Passed the House 54-44 on March 7. Referred to Senate Housing and Local Government Committee.
Three of these bills passed despite bipartisan opposition.
In the last half of this legislative session, budgets will be released, and the majority will determine what taxes they may raise. So, it is even more important that I communicate to you what is happening, and for you to express your thoughts and preferences. As always, I welcome your questions and ideas. Please feel free to email, call or send me a letter.