By Diana Carlen
The Washington Legislature convened its 105-day session on Monday, January 14thin what we expect to be a busy year. Democrats control the agenda in Olympia after significantly increasing their margins in the November election. Democrats control the Senate 28-21 and in the House by 57-41. There are many new faces in Olympia as twenty-eight new legislators were sworn into the House and Senate last week.
Each biennium is comprised of a long year (105 days) and a short year (60 days) in which bills may be enacted into law. In addition to changes in law, during long sessions the legislature must enact a two-year balanced operating budget.
In addition to passing the biennial operating budget, long sessions traditionally see the introduction of hundreds of policy bills. Just last week we have seen the introduction of 744 bills. The first legislative deadline is February 22, 2019, when all bills must pass out of their respective policy committee to remain alive.
Governor Inslee Highlights Climate Change as a Top Priority in His State of the State Speech
Last Tuesday, January 15, Governor Inslee delivered his State of the State address which outlined his top priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session. As anticipated, his top priorities are policies addressing climate change, specifically: clean electricity, clean buildings, clean transportation, eliminating hydrofluorocarbons and setting a clean fuel standard.
Other priorities mentioned in the State of the State include: plans to fund Southern Resident Orcas recovery in Puget Sound, mental health, early education, higher education, affordable housing and homelessness, pardoning misdemeanor marijuana convictions, affirmative action, broadband expansion, sexual harassment, gun safety, ending the death penalty, public-option health insurance as a step towards healthcare for all and police use-of-force. His full speech can be found here.
Governor Inslee Proposes $1.1 Billion Dollars Towards a Plan to Help Save Orcas
In late December, Governor Inslee released his proposed 2019–21 state operating, capital and transportation budgets which included a combined $1.1 billion dollars towards his plan to help save the orcas. The policy brief can be found here. It is important to note that the Governor releases his proposed budget priorities first and then the Senate and House budget leads release theirs during session before a final budget is negotiated.
Below are highlights from Governor Inslee’s proposal:
- $580,000 in the operating budget for the Department of Ecology to increase the amount of water in salmon-bearing rivers and streams by modifying state Water Quality Standards to allow more spill over the Columbia River and Snake River dams.
- $750,000 for the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) Task Force to lead a stakeholder process on the Snake River Dams. The Columbia River system is undergoing a federal environmental impact statement review on the operation of the dams in 2020. Following the SRKW Task Force recommendations, Inslee’s proposal requires the state to facilitate a stakeholder process to inform a path moving forward should the Lower Snake River dams be removed.
- $6.2 million in the operating budget to boost enforcement and improve compliance with state and federal habitat protection laws, including the Hydraulic Permit Act, Shoreline Management Act, Clean Water Act, as well as to implement legislation improving compliance with the Hydraulics Code.
- $17.8 million in the operating and capital budgets to create incentives that encourage voluntary actions by landowners to protect habitat through the Washington State Conservation Commission.
- $12 million in the operating budget to maximize existing capacity at Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries to produce an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts, which will result in approximately 186,000 additional adult returns.
- $75.7 million in capital budget investments to make improvements to keep the hatchery system operating and meet water quality standards.
- $524,000 in the operating budget to examine issues related to increasing the Chinook population by reestablishing salmon runs above Chief Joseph dam in both Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
- $743,000 in the operating budget to improve monitoring and management of forage fish that provide the food source for Chinook.
Energy Proposals Take Center Stage the First Week of Session
As previously mentioned, Governor Inslee’s top priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session include a package of clean energy bills focused on climate change. The legislature hit the ground running, scheduling major policy bills for public hearings during the first week of session.
- Low Carbon Fuel Standard (HB 1110): Last Tuesday, the House Environment & Energy Committee held a public hearing on legislation that would direct the Washington State Department of Ecology to adopt a rule establishing a Clean Fuels Program (also known as a low carbon fuel standard) to limit the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of transportation fuel energy to 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2028 and 20 percent below 2017 levels by 2035. WAWG is opposed to this legislation.
- 100% Clean Energy(SB 5116). The center piece of the Governor’s climate change energy legislation was heard on Thursday in the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee. SB 5116 is Governor request legislation sponsored by Senate Reuven Carlyle, (D – Seattle, 36 LD). The legislation would require all electric utilities to be 100% carbon free by 2045. It would begin byphasing out all coal from the state’s grid by 2025. It would set interim targets for 2030 and eventually get to carbon-free electricity by 2045. Several other utilities testified that they are working with the Governor’s office to address reliability and affordability issues in the legislation. The Chair of the Committee has indicated that he is working on a revision to the bill and plans to pass it out of the policy committee next week. The companion bill to SB 5116, HB 1211 is sponsored by Rep. Gael Tarleton (D – Seattle, 36th LD) and has been scheduled for a public hearing on January 22.
- 2015 Paris Climate Agreement(HB 1113). The House Environment & Energy Committee heard legislation to modify the state greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.