My, wasn’t that an eventful three months in the Legislature? Maybe a little too eventful for the tastes of the all-Republican contingent from Central Washington, but you couldn’t call lawmakers’ actions unexpected, given that Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office — and maybe even the food trucks parked outside the Capitol Dome.
Yes, a swath of legislation favored by westside Democrats prevailed in the session, and some (new real-estate and B&O taxes in a year of budget surpluses) more irksome to the minority party than others (adequate funding, at last, for mental health). But senators and representatives from these parts did see some successes.
All told, lawmakers approved a record $52.4 billion biennial operating budget, bolstering Gov. Jay Inslee’s clean-energy bona fides for the presidential campaign and pushing forth a spending agenda those in the majority deem needed and the minority considers wasteful.
We’ve already chastised the Legislature for its secretive, middle-of-the-night negotiating and vote-taking on bills and budgets — and we don’t want to beat a dead source. So, we’ll move on and give our thumbs-up, thumbs-down or hovering thumbs to the measures that passed, failed or faded away:
- Caving on a capital gains tax: House Democrats, spurred by Inslee, optimistically put a 9.9 percent capital gains tax on stocks and bonds in their budget, though it was clear that the Senate had no stomach for the legal hassles sure to follow since, remember, the Washington Constitution forbids an income tax. And despite some mighty spin — House leaders called it the “Extraordinary Profits Proposal” — the idea stalled, saving much hand-wringing and suit filing.
- Mental health revamp: Perhaps the most bipartisan issue this session was the need to better fund mental health, both solving the problems at Western State Hospital and creating community behavioral health facilities around the state, including Yakima County. The plan to regionalize lifts a mighty burden from the state’s two large psychiatric hospitals, Western and Eastern State. Funding also passed for a teaching hospital at the University of Washington. A Lower Valley psychiatric facility, too, received a financial booster shot.
- Special education: Allocating $155 million in the two-year budget for special education in the schools is not enough to solve the funding shortfall, but it’s a start. At least $50 million will be funneled to those who need it most — students spending 80 percent of their time in a general education classroom.
- Passage of bills on testing rape kits and coordinating resources for missing and murdered indigenous women: Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, pushed hard for both bills and, as a result, the state might see a significant reduction in the backlog of untested rape kits, as well as a bulked-up law enforcement push regarding missing indigenous women.
- Veterans housing and services: Supported by Reps. Jeremie Dufault, R-Selah, and Chris Corry, R-Yakima, money was allocated to convert a Marine Corps armory to housing for veterans and their families, and Yakima Neighborhood Health Services will establish a dental clinic for veterans.
- Daylight saving time, end of personal vaccine exemptions, raise in smoking age: We supported each of these passed bills.
- New taxes: Why were new taxes needed, given state revenue projections? Certainly, many measures needed funding — special ed, mental health — but not beyond existing state revenue.
- School levy lift: We believe the Legislature’s action to ease a local school levy cap after one year, to placate districts in more affluent areas, will result in inequality in school funding — and perhaps another lawsuit that the McCleary ruling was supposed to settle. Bad move.
- Inslee’s climate change agenda: Washingtonians, especially low-income residents in rural areas, sighed with relief after Inslee’s low-
- carbon fuel standards (using cleaner blends) failed; passage would have inevitably raised gas prices. Inslee got a victory, though, in a bid to mandate that all electricity sold in the state come from non-carbon sources by 2025 (coal) and 2045 (natural gas). We fear rate hikes and potential shortages.
- Public Records Act punting: Legislators last year sought to exempt themselves from public records laws — Inslee wisely vetoed the measure — and this year a watered-down bill died in committee after public backlash. That leaves things up to the state Supreme Court, scheduled to hear arguments June 11.
- Initiative 1000: Lawmakers voted to overturn a long-standing voter-approved restriction on affirmative action hiring practices in state education and contracting. A day after the vote, opponents of I-1000 filed to have the initiative put on the November ballot. Voters will decide.
- Long-term care: An employee-paid program to create insurance benefits to offset long-term health-care costs is a positive, but the lifetime maximum of $36,500 seems too little to make a dent in costs.
- Dwarf tossing ban fails: Frankly, we don’t know what to make of Sen. Mike Padden’s bill, which died on the floor, to outlaw dwarf tossing at bars and strip clubs. Word is, we might see this bill tossed out again next year.