While the Washington legislature handles hundreds of proposals each session, 2021 has seen a clear focus on bills targeting poverty, in response not only to the COVID-19 pandemic but also ongoing structural concerns. Through lenses as varied as climate concerns, means taxes and housing, Washington legislators have been working hard to consider multiple options to combat poverty in the state.
Here are 11 Senate and 11 House bills that we believe would work against poverty, if passed.
A bill must first be drafted, sponsored and held up to a committee before then surviving several rounds of debating and voting in both chambers of the legislature. If the House and Senate pass a bill, the governor decides whether to sign it into law or veto it; so far, only HB 1368 and SB 5061 of these particular bills have been signed into law this session.
HB 1091 would raise the state’s transportation-fuel standard, creating a Clean Fuels Program and requiring purveyors to sell only fuel with lower greenhouse gas emissions over time.
SB 5141 would establish an Environmental Justice Council and codify that people oppressed by society are more adversely affected by climate crises, in an effort to ensure that future environmental and health policies account for the disparity.
The shutdown of child care and schools has reverberated across communities in these many months, especially for working-class people. The lack of in-person care and learning emphasized the vital function schools play for educating and economies. Many of the bills pushed forward focused on funding and expanded access to early childhood programs, such as daycares and K-12 schools in lower-income areas.
HB 1273 and HB 1342 have both passed the House and are now up for consideration by the Senate. HB 1273, if passed, will provide free menstrual products in all schools for students in grades 6 through 12 across the state. HB 1342 aims to eliminate lunch copays for all students who already qualify for reduced-price lunches; these fees are already covered for qualifying students in kindergarten through third grade, and this bill would extend the coverage to all grades.
The Senate has passed SB 5357, and now the House considers whether to create a grant program to increase broadband networks in areas with weak internet, which would help equalize education access.
While two of these three employment-related bills didn’t move out of committee, SB 5061 was signed into law Feb. 8. SB 5061 was requested by Gov. Jay Inslee as a way to increase COVID-19 relief. It expands unemployment benefits and opens the door for future related legislation. The law increases the minimum weekly unemployment benefits for workers while preventing a spike in unemployment taxes.
Although HB 1486 was approved by the majority of the House Committee on Labor and Workplace Standards, it didn’t move onto the House floor. The law would have extended insurance to individuals who quit a job to care for a child or vulnerable adult.
SB 5438 also didn’t move out of committee, but would have provided unemployment benefits to workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and who otherwise are ineligible for unemployment pay due to their immigration status.
HB 1073 would expand coverage of Paid Family and Medical Leave, which provides partial wage replacement to employees on leave for specified family and medical reasons.
HB 1213 and SB 5237 both propose Working Connections Child Care to expand child care and early learning programs so more families would have access to subsidized child care; both student-parents and parents with incomes up to 60% of the state’s median income would qualify starting July 3.
The bulk of the successful bills this term have addressed financial relief from the pandemic.
HB 1015, however, would establish the broad Washington Equitable Access to Credit Act, granting funds for lenders to extend credit to historically underserved communities.
HB 1151 is aimed at economic recovery, offering public assistance to households in need.
HB 1368 will support K-12 schools, specifically in districts with the highest poverty rates, and disperse $668 million in federal COVID-19 relief.
SB 5010, another non-COVID-19-response yet specific bill, would disallow insurance rates linked to credit scores.
SB 5214, another non-COVID-19, broad bill, focuses on economic assistance programs for families in need, positing temporary cash assistance, subsidized child care and work programs.
High unemployment and other, widespread economic woes have revitalized concerns about tenants’ rights and affordable housing.
HB 1236 would require landlords to demonstrate a legitimate business reason for the landlord to evict a tenant. Currently, Washington law allows landlords to evict some renters with only a 20-days’ notice, without disclosing a reason why.
SB 5012 did not move out of committee, but would have allowed municipalities to levy an excise tax up to 10 % on short-term rentals and use the revenue for affordable housing programs. This law could have leveraged Airbnb and similar rentals against skyrocketing home ownership and rental prices.
SB 5033 did not move out of committee, but would have limited tax exemptions for improvements to single family dwellings to apply only to accessory dwelling units. This law could have increased the housing density in the swaths of suburban Seattle.
SB 5160 passed Senate and would provide rental protections during and after public health emergencies: legal representation for tenants in eviction cases and access to state assistance programs for landlords.
The biggest news could be here with SB 5096. SB 5096 would usher in a monumental capital gains tax for a state that minimally taxes wealth. The tax would collect 7% of profits that are $250,000 and higher from stocks, bonds and other long-term assets.
HB 1297 expands the Working Families Tax Credit program that offers sales-tax rebates to lower-income individuals and families.
Read more in the Mar. 31 - Apr. 6, 2021 issue.