Before adjourning Thursday, Washington’s Legislature approved a ban on selling large-capacity magazines for firearms, a proposal that had languished in Olympia since 2017.
Lawmakers also approved a new transportation package that will spend about $17 billion over the next 16 years on highways, transit projects and bridges. The plan includes $1 billion for a new bridge over the Columbia River at Interstate 5, a project politicians have bickered over for a decade.
At the same time, lawmakers backtracked on a few other policies they passed in recent years. They revised some of the landmark police accountability measures they approved last year, plus delayed a long-term care program designed to help care for aging Washingtonians.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest decisions that state legislators made before their session ended March 10. The Legislature isn’t scheduled to meet again until January 2023.
Bigger-than-usual budget increase
The supplemental budget the Legislature approved on Thursday increases state spending to about $64 billion over two years — an increase of roughly $5 billion from the budget lawmakers approved last April.
The 8% spending increase isn’t being paid for through new taxes, but instead from existing tax collections, which state officials now predict will come in much higher than previously projected.
On top of that, lawmakers are doling out more than $1 billion in unspent federal COVID-19 relief money, with large portions of that aid going toward schools, housing programs and public health.
State Sen. Christine Rolfes, a Democrat from Bainbridge Island who is the Senate’s lead budget writer, said the investments are about “how to move the entire state out of COVID, out of the pandemic and into a shared prosperity.”
The budget also puts $351 million toward caring for adults with developmental disabilities or other long-term care needs, while transferring more than $2 billion to help pay for the state’s new transportation package.
About $200 million will go toward grants to reinvest in communities most targeted by the war on drugs, while $150 million will set up a new state program to provide low-interest student loans.
To address homelessness, the new budget spends about $220 million — a mixture of federal and state funds — that includes about $45 million for rental assistance. Additionally, the operating budget transfers about $650 million to the state construction budget, which in turn will spend more than $400 million on building affordable housing, enhanced shelter space and permanent supportive housing.
Republicans opposed the budget in part because it didn’t use the state’s rebounding tax revenues to enact a broad-based tax cut. State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, previously proposed an alternate plan that would have cut the state sales tax by one percentage point, but that proposal didn’t end up in the final budget.
“Our inability to deliver tax relief, I think, is a big disappointment, especially as our constituents face 7-plus-percent inflation,” Stokesbary said Wednesday.
Democratic leaders said they provided tax relief in other ways, including by eliminating state business taxes for businesses grossing under $125,000 a year and providing additional small-business tax credits.
Other items in the budget include $4 million to help reduce the use of solitary confinement in prisons and an additional $12 million to expand the state’s film incentive program, which aims to get more movies made in Washington.
Joseph Scott does physical therapy exercises with the help of his wife, Nina Valerio, at their home in Columbia City, January 18, 2022. Scott suffers from two types of cancer, partial blindness and memory loss. In 2019, lawmakers passed a new long-term care program to help people in similar situations, but the Legislature recently voted to delay the program's implementation. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)
Delaying the long-term care tax
Last year, more than 450,000 people said “no thanks” to the state’s new long-term care program by taking advantage of a one-time chance to opt out of the program and its 0.58% payroll tax. The long-term care program, commonly called WA Cares, is supposed to provide up to $36,500 per person over their lifetime to help pay for nursing care and other services people may need as they age.
The high number of opt-outs caused some soul searching among state legislators leading up to Jan. 1, when the new payroll tax was scheduled to take effect.
Quickly, the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved a measure delaying the program — and the tax that pays for it — for 18 months. Now, under House Bill 1732, the long-term care payroll tax won’t take effect until July 2023, with the first benefits slated to be paid out in July 2026.
The Legislature also wanted to address concerns about how some people would be required to pay the tax, but then wouldn’t qualify for benefits. HB 1732 allows workers who are nearing retirement — many of whom would not have qualified for the program under the original law — to receive partial benefits.
Another new law, House Bill 1733, will let disabled military veterans opt out of the program, since they already receive long-term care coverage through the federal government. The same measure creates new exemptions for temporary nonimmigrant workers, military spouses and people who work in Washington but live elsewhere — people who would be unlikely to benefit from the program, which right now doesn’t allow people to claim benefits if they move out of state or live somewhere else.
Legislators said they’re still looking at ways to make the WA Cares benefits portable, so that people who work in Washington state for years but decide to retire to a different state can still receive money. But that issue remains unresolved for now.
Emily Cantrell poses for a portrait in downtown Seattle, Washington on February 28, 2022. Cantrell, a survivor of the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, had urged the Legislature to ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. (David Ryder for Crosscut)
Ban on large-capacity gun magazines
In the final week of the 2022 session, Washington state lawmakers approved a ban on selling large-capacity magazines for guns, a policy that has stalled in Olympia for half a decade. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign Senate Bill 5078 into law soon.
The legislation, sought by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, will prohibit the sale, manufacturing and distribution of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Larger-capacity magazines that Washingtonians already own won’t be criminalized under the bill. But new sales of such magazines will be a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Republicans and gun-rights advocates objected strenuously to the measure, saying it would infringe upon people’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Critics also said the measure would ban magazines that come standard with many firearms, while impeding people’s ability to defend themselves.
“Would 10 rounds be enough to defend your life against someone who was intent on taking it?” asked state Rep. Kelly Chambers, R-Puyallup, during a March 4 debate on the House floor. “What if you were defending your spouse, your children — would 10 rounds be enough? I think not.”
Several people who have been personally affected by mass shootings, however, supported the policy, saying it would make Washington safer and reduce the deadliness of mass shootings.
Emily Cantrell, a Seattle resident who survived the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that killed 60 people, said she was in tears the day the large-capacity magazine ban finally passed.
“After years and years of trying to push this bill through, and to finally have it happen — honestly, for me, it was one of the most important days of my life, because I know this bill is going to save lives,” Cantrell said this week.
Lawmakers also approved House Bill 1630, which bans the open carrying of firearms at city council meetings, school board meetings and election offices.
Revisiting police accountability laws
Last year, Washington lawmakers approved new limits on police uses of force, while also banning police use of tactics such as neck restraints and no-knock warrants.
Now, some of the Democratic lawmakers who championed those bills say the measures had a few unintended effects, which they sought to remedy this year.
House Bill 1719 clarifies that, despite last year’s ban on police use of military equipment, officers can still use firearms obtained from the military to deploy less-than-lethal weapons, such as rubber bullets and bean bags.
Another measure, House Bill 1735, clarifies that police can still use physical force to help transport people to mental health treatment.
Both of those bills cleared the Legislature with little opposition. Another change, however, has proven more controversial.
House Bill 2037 will allow police to use physical force against people who try to flee when they are stopped for questioning. These investigative stops, commonly called Terry stops, are based on reasonable suspicion, which is a lower level of proof than the probable cause needed to arrest someone.
Last year’s law, by contrast, held police to a higher standard, generally allowing officers to use force only when there is an imminent threat of injury or probable cause to make an arrest.
Police agencies had requested the change, saying that last year’s laws prevented them from being able to pursue fleeing suspects in some cases.
But a group that includes family members of people killed by police fears the change will lead to more racial profiling and more deadly encounters between police and people of color.
In a news release, the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability said the changes contained in HB 2037 will “reverse last year’s progress on racial justice, while doing little to provide public safety for Washingtonians.” The group wants the governor to veto a major section of the bill, spokesperson Leslie Cushman said on Thursday.
Another measure opposed by the coalition, Senate Bill 5919, failed to make it out of the Senate on Thursday. That means last year’s strict limits on when police can engage in high-speed vehicle pursuits remain unchanged.
That turn of events frustrated Republicans, including House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox of Yelm, who tweeted that the vehicle pursuits bill was “critical to fix the disastrous police reform mistakes of last year.”
“Unbelievable,” Wilcox wrote of Democrats’ decision not to pass the measure.
In this Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, file photo, the Interstate 5 bridge spans the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington as seen from Vancouver, Wash. The new transportation package approved by the Legislature on March 10, 2022 includes $1 billion to help replace the aging bridge. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
A greener transportation package
Lawmakers approved a $17 billion transportation revenue package that will invest in the state’s highways, transit and bridges over the next 16 years.
Democratic leaders hailed the plan as the greenest transportation infrastructure package the state has ever approved, citing how it would put more than $3 billion toward transit, $1.2 billion toward bike and pedestrian improvements and additional money toward electrifying ferries and reducing carbon emissions.
“This is the shift we are trying to make in Washington state, to have less reliance on oil,” said House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, earlier this week.
Still, the majority of the package is slated to go to highway-related projects.
The plan would pay for Washington’s share of a new bridge over Interstate 5 connecting Washington and Oregon, a project under discussion for more than a decade. It would also widen State Route 18, put money toward a new trestle over State Route 2 and improve HOV lanes along I-5.
The package would spend $2.4 billion more to comply with a court order to remove culverts that block fish passage.
The package is paid for through a mixture of funding sources, including a transfer of more than $2 billion from the state’s operating budget, $1.4 billion from increasing state license plate fees and about $5.4 billion from the state’s new cap-and-trade program.
Democrats have bragged about how the package doesn’t increase the state’s gas tax, which they say benefits drivers all around the state. Past transportation packages, including the last major one the Legislature approved in 2015, relied heavily on gas-tax increases.
But Republicans note that the state’s cap-and-trade program, which bankrolls part of the package, could still cause fuel prices to rise over time, since the cap-and-trade program limits and places a price on carbon emissions.
Notably absent from the plan is an earlier proposal that would have charged an export tax on fuel that Washington’s oil refineries ship to other states. Lawmakers removed that proposal after Oregon, Idaho and other states objected.
Republicans still expressed concerns about the final plan, questioning whether it spends enough on highway maintenance and preservation and whether it does enough for communities in rural and Eastern Washington.
“Is this more centric for the Puget Sound region? I would probably argue that it is,” said state Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, the top House Republican on the House Transportation Committee.
Other bills that passed
Get ready to learn more about pickleball. Both chambers of the Legislature approved making pickleball the state’s official sport; the bill now awaits the governor’s signature.
Lawmakers also approved a plan to stop charging parents for the costs of placing their kids in state juvenile detention facilities; an amber alert for missing Indigenous people; a tax break to help farmers markets; and a measure to establish minimum wages and benefits for Uber and Lyft drivers.
What didn’t happen
As is always the case, the list of policies lawmakers didn’t pass is far longer than the list of measures they approved.
For instance, the Legislature punted on a proposal from the governor that would have eliminated single-family zoning in cities with more than 10,000 residents.
Lawmakers also chose not to act on the governor’s proposal to make it a crime for politicians to lie about election fraud, if their words incite violence or property damage.
Likewise, the state won’t be substantially increasing the number of pot shops statewide as part of its push to improve social equity in the cannabis industry. And lawmakers didn’t approve a plan to ban the use of certain toxic chemicals in cosmetics, although they did approve money for the state to test for toxic chemicals in cosmetics targeted to women of color.
Legislators also decided to abandon new transparency rules for the state Redistricting Commission, after last year’s commission conducted discussions in secret and then voted on an agreement that wasn’t written down or shared with the public. The commission, which is in charge of redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative maps every 10 years, instead plans to make some changes as part of a separate settlement agreement.