Today is Day 50 of legislative action—lawmakers are almost halfway through the scheduled 105-day session and they've reached another critical cut-off: All policy bills with an impact on the budget had to be voted out of the budget-writing committees by Friday in order to be considered viable.

From here, the House and Senate will move away from committee action and into floor session, which is unpredictable: With hundreds of bills passed out of committee and awaiting floor votes, anything can come up at any time—as long as it has the votes to pass. (Case in point: In emails previewing the week sent by caucus staff in the House and Senate ruling parties, only one bill was mentioned: The Senate plans to vote on a bill to curb human trafficking today.)

Another critical detail: Any bill “necessary to implement the budget” – or NTIB -- is still alive. As we’ve pointed out before, even policy bills can be considered NTIB if someone’s vote for the budget depends on it.

While moving forward is unpredictable and no deadline in Olympia is truly final until session adjourns, we can look to bills passed out of committee to try to read just a few tea leaves.

For starters, the House Appropriations Committee passed 51 bills on Friday—all but five of which were sponsored by Democrats. (The House also has several appropriations subcommittees that passed several dozen more bills not counted in this tally.) Meanwhile, the Majority Coalition Caucus-controlled Senate Ways & Means Committee passed 73 bills—just 19 of those were sponsored by Democrats.

Among the bills that passed in the Senate, here are a few that are notable:

SB 5109 would create a Business and Occupation Tax credit for any new business in the state—meaning any new business could avoid the tax for a year. And businesses with fewer than 25 employees could avoid paying the tax for two years. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden (R-4, Spokane Valley).

SB 5251 would exempt businesses from paying B&O tax on the value of goods manufactured in the state if the product was developed at University of Washington or Washington State University. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-32, Shoreline), says companies currently snap up patent rights to manufacture goods in China that were developed here, and this bill would help stop that and encourage companies to locate in Washington.

The bill would create a 401k-style plan for state workers who are currently eligible for pensions.
SB 5622 would exempt airplane retrofits from B&O and sales taxes. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sens. Mike Hewitt (R-8, Walla Walla) and Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) seeks to entice airplane retrofitting businesses to do more work in the state. Greenpoint Technologies in Kirkland, which provides “turnkey VIP aircraft interiors,” testified in favor of the bill, with their rep saying they’ve taken four 747s out of the state to finish to avoid incurring B&O or sales taxes. They say each retrofit job takes 1-2 years and can require up to 100 employees.

Josh has been kvetching about this bill all session.

Senate Bill 5851 would create a 401k-style plan for state workers who are currently eligible for pensions. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-10, Oak Harbor), wouldn’t require anyone to participate (except new employees who don’t specify what retirement plan they want to participate in).

The move to a defined contribution plan (from a defined benefit plan, like pensions) would reduce the cost to the state.

In the House:

HB 1313 would require any business with the equivalent of four or more full-time employees to provide paid sick leave. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma), is a priority of Democrats this year, who see it both as good economic and public health policy. Republicans and business, however, are against it—they say it’s a huge cost to employers during a pretty lousy time to be in business. (The senate, meanwhile is moving in the opposite direction; they've sent two bills to the rules committee that would  overturn Seattle's paid sick leave law.

HB 1043 sponsored by Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-26, Gig Harbor) would end differential tuition—where universities can charge more for high-demand majors. The bill is one way to help save the Guaranteed Education Tuition program, since the GET payout value is pegged to the highest undergraduate tuition at an in-state public university. But universities, which were only given tuition setting authority last year, say high demand majors need more funding—and if the state isn’t going to cough up the cash, students are their only other option. MCC leader Sen. Rodney Tom (R-41, Mercer Island) has said GET should be ended because there’s a small chance it could end up costing the state.

But the ACLU and disability advocates say the gun control legislation unconstitutional. HB 1114, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill), would make it easier to involuntarily commit someone who has committed a violent crime. Pedersen says the bill addresses a gap in current law – those who are found incompetent to stand trial so are referred to the civil commitment system and often released. But the ACLU and disability advocates say it’s unconstitutional and that the state doesn’t have the capacity in its current mental health system to involuntarily commit more people.

With hundreds of bills on the docket, lawmakers are working toward their next critical deadline: By March 13, all bills must be voted off the floor and send to the opposite chamber or they're considered dead.

Shortly after that, on March 20, lawmakers will hear the latest economic and revenue forecast, which will tell them how much money the state expects to collect in taxes over the next budget cycle. That’s when the real work of the legislature begins, as members try to write a budget that will get enough votes in the Democratic-controlled House and MCC-controlled Senate.

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