Legislative report 03/06: Carbon tax ballot measure filed

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

This Thursday is the last scheduled day of the legislative session. Unlike recent years, there is no talk of a special session. Another important legislative deadline occurred last week, in which all bills must have passed out of both chambers to remain “alive”, unless they are deemed necessary to implement the budget.

Over the next three days the legislature will be focused on budget negotiations on the supplemental budget, bills that are necessary to implement the budget and bills on the Concurrence Calendar. The Concurrence Calendar is a list of bills that have passed out of both chambers prior to the legislative deadline, but were amended in the second chamber. In order for this legislation to move on to the governor to be signed into law, it must be reapproved in its new amended form. If the first chamber concurs with the amendments of the second chamber, the bill has passed the Legislature. If the first chamber disagrees with the second chamber, it can ask the second chamber to recede from the amendments or may request a conference committee where both chambers send members to a meeting in attempt to seek a resolution.

Carbon tax legislation dies in Senate and subsequently new ballot measure filed

Last Thursday, the governor and prime sponsor of ESSB 6203, the carbon tax bill, announced that the bill was dead this session after not having the votes necessary to move out of the Senate. This carbon legislation had more momentum than previous proposals and cleared both the key policy and fiscal committees in the Senate.

Less than a day after the announcement that the Legislature was not going to pass a carbon tax this session, a group filed an initiative that would put a price on carbon. It is backed by the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, a coalition of labor, environmental and tribal groups that are hoping their measure can make it onto the November election ballot.

The initiative proponents are touting it as a pollution reduction fee, not a tax. The carbon fee would be implemented at $15 per ton in 2020 and increase by $2 every year beginning in 2021 plus inflation. The signature gathering is expected to start in early April for placement on the November Ballot. Backers have until July 6 to get the 259,622 signatures required to make the November ballot.

Governor vetoes public records legislation

Late Thursday, after unprecedented pressure from the public and media, Gov. Inslee vetoed a bill that would have exempted the Legislature from the Public Records Act. The Legislature passed Senate Bill 6617 in response to a January court ruling in a lawsuit brought by news organizations. In that ruling, a Thurston County Superior Court Judge stated that lawmakers are subject to the Public Disclosure Act and that legislative leaders have been violating the law by refusing to turn over documents in response to requests from reporters and members of the public. The types of records that are at issue in the lawsuit include lawmaker emails, calendars and documents related to education funding and sexual harassment.

Senate Bill 6617 would have effectively prevented the release of those records by retroactively exempting the Legislature from the Public Disclosure Act. Beginning July 1, the law would have required the release of some records including lawmaker calendars and emails with lobbyists, but not with constituents.

The Governor’s Office received 19,000 calls and emails about SB 6617. In addition, a dozen newspapers also published front page editorials calling on the governor to veto the measure, which was rushed through the Legislature last week in less than 72 hours. The bill had passed with veto proof margins, but in a complete reversal, several legislators who voted for the bill wrote letters to the governor stating that they had made a mistake rushing the bill through the process and requesting that he veto the bill.

The veto was announced through a press release explaining that legislators and media organizations involved in the pending lawsuit had agreed to work together on the issue and seek a stay in the proceedings while an appeal is pending in the Supreme Court. The legislators committed to convening a task force to work on the issue over the next nine months and then make recommendations to the 2019 Legislature if the governor vetoed the bill.

Rural broadband bill still alive

Legislation promoting rural broadband deployment is still alive as a House policy and fiscal committee passed Senate Bill 5935 last week. This bill is exempt from the opposite house cut-off as a bill deemed necessary to implement the budget.

The bill was recently amended such that it would take $75 million from the Budget Stabilization Account and move it to a Broadband Access Account. This Account will also receive a transfer from the general fund equal to the amount of B&O taxes paid by telecommunications service providers associated with federal funds received by them for making broadband-capable infrastructure available to unserved or underserved areas of the state. The bill reconstitutes an Office of Broadband Access within the Consolidated Technology Services (aka WaTech), and appropriates $500,000 to the Office in FY 2017/19 budget to develop a strategy for getting broadband to unserved and underserved areas. The strategy will include a framework for how future funding would be spent to advance the strategy at lowest cost to the state.

The bill is currently on the House floor calendar awaiting a full vote of the House.