This week, lawmakers are working toward another big deadline: Any non-budget bills that haven't passed off the floor and to the other chamber are considered dead as of Wednesday at 5 p.m.
The "House of Origin" cut-off meant late nights last week and a floor session for the in the house this weekend. Along with some more very late nights this week, that deadline means almost anything can come up for a vote.
So far this session, the senate has gotten a lot of attention— from the MCC’s coup to the aggressive agenda they’ve passed so far, which includes workers’ comp reform passed right out of the gate and more than a dozen education reform bills passed last week.
But the Democratic-controlled house has also been working on its agenda, and this week offers a good opportunity to take stock of what they’ve passed, what awaits a vote and what that could all mean for negotiations with the senate.
The Democratic House Agenda
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-1, Bothell), allows minority voters to go to court to force election reform to ensure the diversity of their district is represented. Last year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city of Yakima—where more than 40 percent of the residents are Latino, but no Latino has ever been elected to serve on the city council. Under the Voting Rights Act, a court could require at-large elections to be changed to district-based instead so Lationos would have a better shot getting some proportional representation on the all-white, seven-member city council.
The bill passed in the house almost straight down party lines: Rep. Chris Hurst (D-31, Enumclaw) was the lone Democrat who voted with Republicans. Republicans, who made some standard speeches about the Democrats' focus on race, attempted to pass several amendments, including one to create a bipartisan redistricting committee to make changes instead of the court system. The amendments failed. In hearings, some expressed concern that litigation isn't the ideal way to bring about change and that the bill could hurt smaller elected bodies, like school boards.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-34, West Seattle) and with broad Democratic support, requires any insurance plan that covers maternity care to also cover abortion. It failed last year in eleventh hour negotiations, and advocates, including Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island), have renewed their push to pass it this year. The bill sailed through the house 53-43.
But the senate version never got a hearing. The house bill was assigned to the senate health care committee, which is chaired by anti-choice Sen. Randi Becker (R-2, Eatonville) where it has a hearing scheduled for April 1— two days before it would need to be voted off the senate floor to be considered viable.
This bill would outlaw Tris, a nickname for two chemicals used in furniture and children's products as a flame retardant that has been found to cause cancer. The chemicals would be outlawed in 2015 if the bill passes. Supporters say there are plenty of safer alternatives available. Opponents, including Republicans and business groups, say a national standard would be better than state by state action. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D-24, Sequim), a firefighter, passed the house last week and is a top priority for the environmental community, but the senate version failed to make it out of committee (even though it had the votes) after an embarrassing stalling tactic by chair Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale) shut the meeting down.
Gov. Jay Inslee's climate change bill hasn't gone anywhere in either chamber -- one version has been diluted and awaits a vote in the senate, another is scheduled for a public hearing and vote out of a house committee today, which could set it up for a floor vote by Wednesday's deadline. The bill calls for an independent report, due this fall, about what the state can do to limit CO2 emissions. It's one of Inslee's major proposals this session, but Republicans and business groups have expressed concern about limiting CO2 emissions, which could be costly.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-11, Tukwila) and co-sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-15, Granger), would allow undocumented students to receive financial aid for higher education. It's a priority for Democrats (and has some enthusiastic Republican support in the house) and passed out of the house appropriations committee early this month. It hasn't seen a floor vote in the house, though -- yet. In the senate, a similar bill sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Seattle) didn't get a hearing.
Universal Background Checks
The bill would close the gun-show loophole and require any potential gun buyer to have their background checked. The house version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jaime Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill) and co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Hope (R-44, Lake Stevens), awaits a floor vote. But the senate version never received a hearing.
Of course, these are the policy issues that the house has made a priority so far. Everything will change in just a couple of weeks, when the Democratic controlled house and MCC controlled senate will each unveil their version of the budget. When the conversation shifts from social issues to cuts, taxes and loopholes, that’s when the real horse-trading may begin.