The bills we’re tracking in the 2021 Washington state Legislature

Pandemic relief, climate change, police accountability, taxes and more — here’s what we’re watching halfway into the session.

The Washington State Capitol Building

The Washington State Capitol Building and Campus in Olympia, Jan. 20, 2021. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

The state Legislature has no shortage of issues to consider this year, from tackling climate change to giving Washingtonians financial relief during the pandemic. Crosscut reporters have been watching the Legislature on your behalf. You can find all their stories here.

As we hit the halfway point of the 2021 session, we wanted to help you track the policies that matter most to you. March 9 was the deadline for this legislative session’s policy bills to pass out of their house of origin. Bills related to the budget do not have a deadline, so even if a bill appears dead, it could come back to life later, if it’s tied to the budget. Here’s the complete legislative deadline calendar

We’ll continue updating this bill tracker for the rest of the session, which is scheduled to end April 25.

Jump to a section:

Police accountability

Pandemic relief

Climate

Taxing the rich

Health care

Cannabis and other drugs

Immigration

Election reform

Education

Other bills

 

Police accountability

Democratic lawmakers introduced a broad range of police accountability legislation heading into the 2021 session, following last year's Black Lives Matter protests over several high-profile killings of Black people by police.

While this isn't an exhaustive list, here are some of the key police reform bills we're following this year. Read more here.

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Bill number: House Bill 1310

What it does: Would set a standard that police can use deadly force only “when necessary to protect against an imminent threat or serious physical injury or death.” The measure would also require officers to employ de-escalation tactics when possible, and consider retreating or calling for backup before using physical force. The state attorney general would be tasked with developing model policies for use of force and de-escalation tactics.

Current status: Passed the House on March 6 and cleared the Senate Law & Justice Committee March 18. Now under consideration by the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

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Bill number: House Bill 1054

What it does: Establishes new rules for police tactics, including banning the use of military equipment by police. Bans police use of chokeholds and restricts the circumstances in which police can use other types of neck restraints. Bans police use of tear gas in most circumstances. Bans the use of no-knock warrants and prohibits shooting at moving vehicles.

Current status: Passed the House Feb. 27 and cleared the Senate Law & Justice Committee March 18. Could soon receive a vote on the Senate floor.

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Bill number: Senate Bill 5051

What it does: Makes it easier to decertify a police officer for misconduct, dishonesty or excessive use of force, so troubled officers can't leave one police department and start working at another. Closes a loophole that allows officers to resign in lieu of termination, thereby avoiding investigation.

Current status: Passed the state Senate Feb. 25 and cleared the House Public Safety Committee March 18.

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Bill number: House Bill 1267

What it does: Creates an Office of Independent Investigations within the governor's office to investigate police uses of deadly force.

Current status: Passed the House March 3 and cleared the Senate Law & Justice Committee March 18. Is now being considered by the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

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Bill number: House Bill 1203

What it does: Would require any police department of 15 officers or more to establish a community oversight board. The boards' duties would include fielding complaints, investigating allegations of police misconduct, making recommendations on discipline and participating in the hiring of new police chiefs.

Current status: Failed to receive a House floor vote before a key deadline to advance. Appears to have stalled this session. 

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Bill number: House Bill 1202

What it does: Would create a state cause of action allowing people to sue police officers in their individual capacity for violating people's constitutional rights. The measure would allow police to face civil lawsuits in situations where they may be unable to be sued in federal court due to the doctrine of qualified immunity. 

Current status: Did not receive a floor vote in the House before a key deadline to advance. Appears to have stalled this session. 

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Bill number: Senate Bill 5134

What it does: Would ban the use of arbitration to appeal police discipline, forcing appeals of police firings and suspensions to go to a civil service commission, hearing examiner or administrative law judge. Would allow disciplinary decisions to be overturned only when the discipline was arbitrary, capricious, or done for illegal reasons.

Current status: Failed to make it out of a Senate committee, missing key deadlines to advance. 

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Bill number: House Bill 1507

What it does: Would authorize the state Attorney General's Office to investigate and prosecute police officers for abuses of force.

Current status: Did not make it out of a House committee. Is not advancing this session. 

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Bill number: Senate Bill 5259

What it does: Requires police agencies to report all uses of force to the state Attorney General's Office. Would require the Attorney General's Office to create a statewide program for collecting, reporting, and publishing use of force data.

Current status: Passed the Senate March 1. Is expected to receive a vote in the House Public Safety Committee March 23. 

 

Pandemic relief

Bill number: House Bill 1368

What it does: The $2.2 billion COVID relief plan would help renters, small businesses, schools and others struggling during the pandemic-induced economic downturn. Read more here.

Current status: Signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on Feb. 19, took effect the same day.

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Bill number: Senate Bill 5061

What it does: Ensures pandemic-related layoffs (between March 22 and May 30 of 2020) won’t excessively drive up businesses’ unemployment tax rates. Read more here.

Current status: Signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, took effect Feb. 8.
 

Climate

The state Legislature is considering many climate-focused bills this year. We reported on several that aim to tackle the climate crisis and the housing crisis simultaneously, including one that would increase housing density in some areas by 50%. You can read that story here

Washington also became the ninth state to ban single-use plastic bags in 2020, but the pandemic has delayed any implementation since then. Read more here

Here is some more climate legislation we’re watching:

Bill number: House Bill 1075

What it does: Direct the state to set mandatory emission-reduction targets for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Read more here.

Current status: Passed out of a House committee, but didn't receive a vote on the House floor before a March 9 deadline to advance. Looks dead this session. 

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Bill number: House Bill 1216

What it does: Authorize the state to pay for guidance, grant money and other resources to help cities build up and manage their urban forests. Read more here

Current status: Passed the House March 1 and a Senate committee on natural resources on March 18. Now being considered by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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Bill number: House Bill 1091

What it does: Impose a clean fuel standard that would require the makers of gasoline and diesel to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over time. Read more here

Current status: Passed the House on Feb. 27 and cleared the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee March 16. Now before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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Bill number: Senate Bill 5126

What it does: Known as the Washington Climate Commitment Act, this measure would create a cap-and-trade program in Washington similar to one that exists in California.  It would create a marketplace where polluters could buy and trade allowances, which could be used to help meet the emission reduction requirements. Money generated through the marketplace would be used to pay for clean energy programs and social equity measures, according to supporters, who include Gov. Jay Inslee. Read more here.

Current status: Because it raises money and has budget implications, this measure isn't subject to some of the Legislature's major deadlines. It passed the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee but has yet to receive a floor vote in either chamber. 

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Bill number: Senate Bill 5373

What it does: Would enact a tax on carbon emissions, using the money raised through the tax to create a bond program that would finance infrastructure investments and economic recovery programs. The measure is known as Washington STRONG. Read more here.

Current status: Still in the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, where it hasn't received a committee vote. Could potentially be revived as part of a budget package, since it has fiscal implications.

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Taxing the rich

Democrats are pushing multiple proposals to tax the wealthiest Washingtonians, and it can be confusing to parse through them all. We’re here to help. You can read more about each proposal here, but here’s a quick breakdown:

Bill number: Senate Bill 5096 — Capital gains tax

What it does: Apply a 7% tax on sales of assets that exceed $250,000 in a given year. Those assets are typically stocks or bonds.

Current status: Passed the Senate on March 6, awaiting House action.

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Bill number: House Bill 1406 — Wealth tax

What it does: Apply a 1% tax on all Washington residents whose worldwide wealth exceeds $1 billion, likely fewer than 100 people total. 

Current status: Did not advance from committee, but could be revived later if considered necessary to implement the budget.

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Bill number: House Bill 1465 — estate tax

What it does: Increase the tax rate on wealthy people’s estates that would be passed on when they die. This bill would specifically increase the tax rate on estates valued at $3 million or more. 

Current status: Did not advance from committee, but could be revived later if considered necessary to implement the budget.
 

Health care

The state Medicaid system saw enrollment jump 11% during the pandemic and now the program insures more than one in five Washington residents. The spike has lawmakers looking to expand a few aspects of Medicaid, and you can read about some of them here

Here are a couple of the bills:

Bill number: Senate Bill 5068

What it does: Extends Medicaid coverage during new mothers’ postpartum period.

Current status: Passed the Senate on Feb. 25. Cleared the House Health Care and Wellness Committee March 11; scheduled for a March 22 vote in the House Appropriations Committee.

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Bill number: House Bill 1275

What it does: Increase payment rates to Washington’s nursing homes, many of which have closed during the pandemic.

Current status: Did not advance from committee, but could be revived later if considered necessary to implement the budget.

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Bill number: Senate Bill 5203

What it does: Enable Washington to buy or make generic drugs in response to rising costs of lifesaving medications. Read more here.

Current status: Passed the Senate on March 4. Expected to receive a vote in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee March 24.

 

Cannabis taxes and more drug legislation

For the first time, Washington state is expected to collect more than $1 billion in marijuana sales taxes over the next two years. You can see how that revenue is spent in our reporting here

Here are some drug-related bills we’re tracking. 

Bill number: House Bill 1499 

What it does: Make Washington the second state to legalize the personal use of all drugs. The measure would also direct money toward treatment and community-based intervention programs, where drug users and people with mental health problems would be referred to instead of jail. Read more here.

Current status: Appears to be dead, did not advance from committee. 

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Bill number: House Bill 1019

What it does: Let adults 21 and over grow cannabis plants at home for recreational use. Each adult would be limited to six home-grown plants, or no more than 15 plants per household. Read more here.

Current status: Appears to be dead, did not advance from committee.
 

Immigration

Bill number: House Bill 1090

What it does: Ban new private prisons from opening in Washington, and allow private prisons currently operating to do so only until their contracts end. For the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, that contract ends in 2025. Read more here.

Current status: Passed the House on Feb. 23 and cleared the Senate Committee on Human Services, Reentry & Rehabilitation on March 16. Awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

Election reform

Bill number: House Bill 1156

What it does: Allow cities and counties to implement ranked-choice voting in local elections, a method that lets voters rank their choices in order of preference. Read more here.

Current status: Passed committee, but did not receive a vote on the House floor before a March 9 deadline to advance. That means it may be dead this session. 
 

Education

Bill number: Senate Bill 5030

What it does: Require school districts to implement more comprehensive mental health programs for students, and require counselors to spend 80% of their time providing actual counseling services. Read more here.

Current status: Passed the Senate on Feb. 23. Was approved by the House Education Committee on March 18 after being amended.

 

Other bills

Bill number: Senate Bill 5010 

What it does: Cut the link between credit scores and insurance rates. Read more here.

Current Status: Failed to receive a floor vote in the Senate before March 9 deadline. Leaders have declared it dead. 

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Bill number: House Bill 1016

What it does: Make Juneteenth an official government holiday in Washington state. Read more here.

Current status: Passed the House on Feb. 25. Approved by the Senate Government & Elections Committee on March 19. Now before the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

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Bill number: House Bill 1424

What it does: The “puppy mill bill” would ban retail pet sales after an unsuccessful attempt last session. Read more here.

Current status: Passed the House on March 7, awaiting Senate action. 
 

Crosscut Opinion columnists on bills in the Legislature

Read Katie Wilson on the Legislature’s opportunity to tax the wealthy

Read Clyde W. Ford on a bill in the state Senate that seeks to correct the racist legacy of the insurance industry, and three gun control measures working their way through the Legislature.

About the Authors & Contributors

Mohammed Kloub

Mohammed Kloub (or Moh to most people) is the audience engagement editor at Crosscut.