By Diana Carlen
The House and Senate have now both approved session plans utilizing a hybrid in-person/virtual format. Senate and House committee hearings will remain remote, with the public being able to testify remotely like last session. The Senate and House plans, however, take different approaches to public access, in-person member participation requirements and vaccine and testing verification. The Senate committee approved their session plan on Nov. 5, while the House committee approved their session plan Nov. 18. Both plans were adopted 4-3 among party lines with only Democrats supporting the plans.
Under the Senate plan, Senate members and staff may participate in session activities on campus, though proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test. All Senate members are allowed to attend floor action in person, however, all members and staff are required to be tested onsite daily on days where there is floor action. During floor action, the gallery is open to members of the public, although access is limited to 12 individuals per gallery side.
Senators may hold meetings in their legislative offices but are capped to three members of the public, in addition to members and staff. There are no vaccine or testing requirements for members of the public to enter Senate offices, although members of the public are required to undergo a COVID screening check at security and check out of the building upon completion of the meeting. Masks are required in all indoor spaces.
House members are required to provide proof of vaccination or undergo onsite testing three times a week, at the member’s expense, to access campus facilities. The public may not access member offices, the floor or floor wings. Galleries are open to the public with proof of vaccination or a negative test, capacity limited up to 17 individuals.
Unlike the Senate, only vaccinated House members may attend floor action, with the remainder attending virtually. At this point, guidelines do not quantify how many House members can be on the floor at one time. Members must provide proof of vaccination to attend caucus meetings in person. Masks are required in all indoor spaces.
State Revenues Increase by Another $1.9 billion
As legislators prepare for the upcoming legislative session, the economic outlook continues to improve. Updated numbers by the State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council show that projected revenue collections for the 2021-2023 budget cycle are $898 million above what had originally been forecasted, and projections for the next two-year budget cycle that ends in mid-2025 increased by more than $965 million.
This is a significant increase from the March 2021 forecast which was the baseline for the current biennial budget. Revenues for the current budget cycle that ends in mid-2023 are now projected to be $60.2 billion and projected revenues for the two-year budget cycle that starts July 1, 2023 are projected to be about $64 billion. The next state revenue forecast will be in February and be what legislative budget writers use to draft their supplemental budget.
Long-Term Care Payroll Tax May Get Delayed
The long-term payroll tax continues to be controversial and is shaping up to be major issue during the 2022 Legislative Session. On Dec. 1, Washington State Senate Democratic leadership sent Gov. Inslee a letter asking him to delay implementation of Washington’s long-term care tax for a year to give legislators the opportunity to make changes before it goes into effect next month. Workers will begin paying 0.58 percent of every $100 earned into the fund beginning January 2022.
In response to the letter from Senate Democrat leadership, Gov. Inslee stated that he does not have the legal authority to unilaterally pause the tax, but is working with legislators on looking on other approaches that could allow them to change the law before the tax goes into effect, including a possible special session (unlikely) or a mechanism that could pause collection of the tax until April 2022. As of Dec. 2, more than 430,000 workers in Washington had applied for an exemption. Notably silent on pausing the tax is Speaker Jinkins who was the prime-sponsor of the Long Term Care Act.
Supreme Court Declines to Draw New Redistricting Plans
After serious drama, the legislature has finally been transmitted the redistricting plan for the state. Every 10 years, the Washington State Redistricting Commission appoints four voting members, two from each political party, and tasks them with adjusting the boundary lines of congressional and legislative districts. The process aligns with updated census data to ensure each district includes an equal number of people.
By law, the Redistricting Commission had until 11:59 pm on Nov. 15 to approve new political boundaries by a majority vote (by vote of 3 out of 4 Commissioners). Just before midnight, the Commissioners announced that they had reached an agreement, but the maps were not ready for public viewing. That led to a vote on a verbal plan just before midnight, however, the vote to submit the plan to the Legislature happened a few minutes later, early on Nov. 16, past the deadline in state law.
On the morning of Nov. 16, it was generally believed that the Commission had completed its work, however, the press and general public expressed significant opposition to the process. Later that morning, the Commission announced it was unable to reach an agreement by the deadline. Under state law, the Washington State Supreme Court then had jurisdiction over the new district boundaries. In a further twist, the Commission released “consensus maps” in hopes of the Supreme Court approving them quickly.
It was unclear what the Supreme Court would actually do since it was the first time the Commission had failed to reach consensus on new boundaries since its inception in 1983. However, the Supreme Court upheld the Redistrict Commission maps holding that the Commission had substantially complied with the deadline.
Supreme Court Rules Against Governor on Partial Vetoes
The Washington Constitution limits the governor’s veto authority to complete bills, sections of bills or individual appropriation items. In 2019, Gov. Inslee vetoed lines within individual sections of the State transportation budget, which prohibited the Department of Transportation from considering different types of fuel as factors in making grants. The Legislature brought suit, and the Washington Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Gov. Inslee’s action was outside of his constitutional authority.
The ruling was not surprising as it was consistent with prior court precedent. However, it is relevant as the Legislature has indicated that it intends to challenge the Governor’s recent veto of a portion of the low carbon fuel standard legislation stipulating that the new standards could not go into effect until a new transportation funding package was enacted.
While a lawsuit has not been filed regarding this year’s narrow veto, the Seattle Times reported that Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig was pleased with the recent decision explaining that “checks and balances are essential to a healthy democracy and today’s ruling helps further define the Governor’s constitutional limits.” In his remarks, Sen. Billig also stated that they still plan to move forward with litigation over this year’s veto on the low carbon fuel standard standard.
Governor Inslee Executive Order on Zero Emission Vehicles
At the recent COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, Gov. Inslee and a coalition of state, regional and city governments signed a variety of actions intended to significantly reduce carbon emissions ahead of 2030. As a part of these actions, Gov. Inslee issued an executive order to fully electrify Washington state’s public fleets and transition to a 100 percent zero-emission light duty fleet by 2035, as well as 100 percent zero-emission medium and heavy-duty state fleets by 2040.
The implementation plan covered by the executive order includes increased electric vehicle (EV) chargers, new vehicle storage facilities and upgrading electric supply to support EVs. The executive order can be read here.