It’s the most wonderful time of the year, provided you have an unhealthy obsession with state government. To be more specific, it is the beginning of the legislative session, which means that lawmakers far and wide have loaded the chamber with their prefiled bills, laying out grand plans for how we’re going to further hobble our transportation system, take our state’s sex education back to the stone age and, apparently, name an official dinosaur.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
If you’re not someone who likes to read hundreds of bills, most of which will never make it out of committee, you’re in luck: I did it for you. The following is my short and somewhat opinionated list of what to watch this legislative session, either in horror — as with the bill to let cops put people in headlocks again — or with eager anticipation, like the one that would make it legal for people to possess life-saving drug testing equipment in the midst of an overdose crisis.
All the cop things
The last time I had to think about a legislator from Spokane Valley was when someone snuck an amendment into a cannabis omnibus bill at the last second to ban consumption clubs statewide simply because people were hosting them in hotels in his district. While pissy, that wasn’t potentially injurious.
This time around, Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) is trying to pass Senate Bill (SB) 5042, which would make it so cops, who currently aren’t allowed to use restraints that restrict blood flow or airflow in the neck, can go back to at least stopping blood flow. Some research says that is safer than crushing people’s tracheas, but I feel like anyone who is deeply concerned with this distinction should stop and have a little think about where they’ve ended up in life, morally speaking.
Another conservative lawmaker wants to make sure that while the cops can hurt you, you do not hurt the cops. SB 5132, sponsored by Sen. Jim McCune (R-Graham), would make it a mandatory minimum 180 days in confinement for anyone who hurts a cop during a protest. Assault in the third degree involving a cop is already a class C felony; in addition to adding that mandatory minimum, this bill would bump it up to a class B in certain cases. Gotta keep an eye on those antifa supersoldiers, I guess.
House Bill (HB) 1053, which boasts 15 sponsors, would restore cop car chases to their former unrestricted, deadly glory. But hey, maybe causing more deaths is the point. As Real Change’s Guy Oron reported late last year, deaths related to high speed police chases dropped sharply after their use was restricted to only extreme circumstances by the legislature.
I guess I don’t watch enough movies, because I was surprised to learn that cops can still lie to obtain confessions. Can’t believe they were ever able to, but HB 1062, sponsored by Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds) and Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton), would make evidence obtained by “the knowing communication of false facts about evidence or unauthorized statements regarding leniency by a law enforcement officer to a person who is the subject of custodial interrogation” inadmissible in court.
In addition to more car chases and more chokeholds, Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) thinks we need more cops in schools. HB 1071 would require a school resource officer in every school in the state.
“The legislature finds that recent acts of mass violence across the nation have threatened the safety of children at school,” the bill reads, and to solve that it would “provide a school resource officer in every school to promote a safe learning environment and to protect the safety and welfare of all students and school personnel.” That went really well in Uvalde, didn’t it, guys?
The parents are not alright
While increasing the penalty for assaulting a cop seems a bit like certain legislators pandering to their base, adding amateur sports officials to the list of professions protected by the assault 3 law, as HB 1096 would do, seems suspiciously as though it might be grounded in a real-life threat to their safety. What is going on at high school soccer games? Are dads really out there punching volunteer refs over the fact that Junior isn’t ever going to play Premier League? Here’s hoping this bill is not, in fact, a reflection of the current state of our society and is instead just a preventive measure.
In other weird parent news, McCune wants to switch sex education back to an opt-in model via SB 5009. This is presumably for parents’ rights, but, realistically, it’s probably because people are still ruffled about our state passing a comprehensive sex ed bill and know that requiring permission slips for it will reduce the number of kids who participate.
The planet is not alright
Climate change has gotten so bad we need HB 1010, which would declare a state of emergency and immediately add crab to the list of shellfish products that the department of health regulates for biotoxin contamination. I thought climate change was going to be more like “Mad Max” and less like losing access to all the things that make life worth living, like oysters, crab and going outside for two seasons of the year, but here we are.
Drugs, legal and otherwise
SB 5002, from former state patrol officer and current legislator Sen. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek), in cahoots with Sen. Marko Liias (D-Everett), would reduce the blood alcohol concentration limit from .08 to .05 for a driving under the influence charge. Data from Utah showed a 19.89 percent drop in the fatal crash rate and an overall fatality rate drop of 18.3 percent after a similar law was implemented there.
In an ideal world, this bill would allocate funding to local transit agencies for round-the-clock service from nightlife areas to nearby neighborhoods, but we do not live in an ideal world. Criminalizing more people for trying to avoid a $200 rideshare bill for a roundtrip home and then back to their car in the morning seems sad, and .05 is less than a single drink for some people. But, then again, no one should drive after any amount of alcohol, really. Or rather, no one should have to.
Big weed is trying to push through interstate sales via SB 5069, which would allow and regulate interstate cannabis agreements. Why now, when our stony neighbors in Oregon have been enjoying legal weed for several years? A few reasons, probably.
First off, the Biden administration is several orders of magnitude more friendly to legal cannabis than President Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, his little Keebler elf of an attorney general, were. Second, Washington issued licenses allowing more acres of cannabis canopy than the very limited number of retail licenses also issued could possibly sell. Where all that extra weed went is anyone’s guess, but pounds were still reportedly going for around $4,000 back East as recently as two years ago, so you do the math.
This bill was definitely proposed at the behest of the state’s biggest producers, but it’s kind of inevitable. Will opening up out-of-state markets allow small producers in Washington back into the market, which is currently dominated by the top five producers, by reducing the supply glut and allowing them to charge more fair prices for their pot? Probably not, as they’ve all already gone out of business by now, but it simply doesn’t make sense that legally possessing weed that was grown on one side of the Columbia River becomes an illegal act when you take it to the other side, where they also grow and possess lots of legal weed.
SB 5123 is a little tweak from Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) making it so you can’t get fired or denied a job for smoking pot on your own time. It would exclude certain federally regulated positions, which is understandable, but it’s long overdue for everyone else. Better late than never though.
HB 1006 is also long overdue! This bipartisan bill would remove drug testing equipment from the definition of drug paraphernalia. Given that people are dying because they don’t know what’s in their drugs or how strong their drugs are, we should really be promoting testing. Step one: making the testing equipment legal to even possess.
These next ones are about booze and specialty food, which can absolutely count as drugs depending on how you use them. This year, we’ve got a pair of bills — SB 5107 and SB 5013 — designed to help out small producers.
The first would increase the cap on cottage food business sales to $50,000 — cottage food producers are permitted to make and sell “not potentially hazardous” foods out of a residential kitchen, per the Washington State Department of Agriculture — and the other would provide a tax exemption for the first 20,000 gallons of wine sold by a small winery.
The latter bill has bipartisan sponsorship from exactly the two white women in their 60s who look like they would be jazzed about a bill supporting small wineries: senators Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) and Keiser. It will henceforth be known as “the wine mom bill.”
Doing the right thing
Tacoma’s universal basic income pilot program just shared its results and, hoo boy, are they promising. Per a Seattle Times story on the initial results from the pilot, people paid down debt, provided their kids with better educational opportunities, paid for their own job training and generally thrived.
HB 1045 would set up a similar pilot program statewide, focusing especially on areas with lots of Indigenous residents and lots of poverty. Sadly there’s a lot of overlap there, but this would help reduce that inequity while also providing more support for the idea that everyone in the richest country in human history deserves access to the resources to ensure their basic needs.
Elsewhere, Keiser strikes again! She’s a cosponsor, along with Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), of an amendment to the state constitution requested by Gov. Jay Inslee that would protect reproductive freedom. Obviously it’s spurred by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, and obviously it’s a great idea. No notes.
HB 1024 is a bill making it so you can’t be forced to pay the costs of your own incarceration and have to earn at least state — rather than federal — minimum wage while working in prison. It was a bit of a shock to realize we make people pay up to $100 per day in some instances for the privilege of being imprisoned. Totally normal society we’ve got here, not like an extractive capitalist death machine that feeds on its own citizens or anything.
Also related to prisons: “The legislature finds that almost 600 adults continue to be held in solitary confinement in state correctional facilities,” reads HB 1087. “Solitary confinement has been shown to create significant and lasting psychological effects.” This bill would severely curtail that awful practice. Add this to the long list of long overdue bills.
Six months notice for rent increases, no penalty for tenants who want to terminate a lease, a $75 limit on late fees — that’s going to be an enthusiastic yes from me. Let’s hope a majority of the elected representatives who will be asked to consider Peterson’s HB 1124 agree.
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle) and Sen. Javier Valdez (D-Seattle) recently announced SB 5109, a bill that would provide a weekly wage replacement program for undocumented workers or other workers who are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance. There’s also a companion bill in the house, HB 1095. On a gut level, it makes abundant sense that anyone who works and pays into the system should get some support back from it in times of need.
Also, as the bill’s text points out, “[i]neligibility for unemployment benefits has devastated immigrant communities during the pandemic economic crisis, particularly immigrants working in low-wage industries. Several of the industries that have experienced the highest rates of job loss in Washington due to the pandemic are low-wage sectors with the highest numbers of immigrant workers including the restaurant, hotel, retail, and construction industries.”
Today in performative stands
Several Republican representatives want us to pass HB 1029 and give state workers who refused to get coronavirus vaccines their jobs back, because of course they do. I don’t care a whit about all the cops who quit, but it might be nice to have a few more ferry workers back. That said, there’s plenty of new faces at the dock, and I’ve also come to believe that you could give Washington State Ferries a staff of thousands and they’d still manage to be 30 minutes late on every third sailing. I’m officially expanding Benjamin Franklin’s list of life’s little inevitabilities to death, taxes and ferry delays.
Speaking of taxes, a bunch of Grover Norquist wannabes want to require a vote of the people for all tax increases via HB 1091. Sadly, representatives Joel McEntire (R-Aberdeen) and Walsh don’t seem like they’d hack it at Burning Man.
Anyway, where have we heard this one before? I’m trying to remember, and I’m just getting these kind of hazy images of a guy entering an Office Depot lobby, looking around furtively and hustling back outside with an office chair he definitely didn’t buy. Who could that be? Oh, that’s right! It’s Tim Eyman, the disgraced anti-tax advocate who was found to have taken the money misguided people gave him to, in theory, save them money on taxes and instead funneled it to himself. Does his conduct mean his ideas are bad? No, but his ideas are bad. The state needs to levy taxes to function, and if we had to vote on every single one we would experience worse governmental gridlock than we already have. Hard pass.
In that same vein, Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn) wants to pass SB 5017, “an act relating to dedicating the sales tax on motor vehicles to highway uses.” Car drivers shouldn’t have to pay for all those buses they never use, is I guess the thinking here. The rest of us are paying for the car drivers with our lungs, sometimes our lives, and now potentially our crabmeat, so let’s skip this one and call it even.
The dino bill that won’t die
HB 1020 would make the official state dinosaur the Suciasaurus rex found in the San Juans. The fossils of the Suciasaurus rex were discovered in 2015, making Washington the 37th state to have a confirmed dino find. Selecting a state dinosaur was the passion project of a particularly paleontological class of fourth graders from Parkland, first introduced in 2020. It sounds fun and harmless, and I have no idea why it wouldn’t pass, but hey, lawmakers were pretty busy debating “climate legislation, the state budget and other weighty items,” according to Axios’ Melissa Santos, who had the scoop on this year’s attempt.
Frivolous as it may seem, Santos noted, it’s actually about civic engagement in a historically civically disengaged district. Rep. Melanie Morgan (D-Parkland), its current and former sponsor, said of the district, “It is a district with low voter engagement and 80 percent poverty. It has struggling schools, including Elmhurst Elementary. I am extremely proud of these students. They are a great example of how to engage with their representative and the legislative process. Their voices and their experiences matter to legislators in Olympia.”
Third time’s a charm, right?
Making it so more motorcyclists won’t die
HB 1063, from Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima), would allow motorcyclists to drive between lanes of traffic, a practice called “lane splitting” because — and this was news to me as a longtime rider — it saves lives. While the experience of flying between cars is a terrifying one, apparently people get used to the idea of having motorcycles quite literally all around.
The data this bill is based on comes from California, where lane splitting has been legal for a long time. Researchers at UC Berkeley found that “lane-splitting motorcyclists were much less often injured during their collisions. They were considerably less likely to suffer head injury, torso injury, extremity injury, and fatal injury than riders who were not lane-splitting,” according to the bill’s text. Turns out I do like lane splitting after all.
Read more of the Jan. 11-17, 2023 issue.