A ban on assault weapons, eliminating the death penalty, cutting car tab costs without cutting a major chunk of Sound Transit funding, removing the deadline to pursue charges on rape—all these policy changes had some support in the state Legislature but didn't make it through both houses before the short session ended earlier this month.
So there's a lot our state delegates didn't get to this year. But there's also plenty of law changes coming. With the Democratically controlled House and Senate this year, a substantial number of bills made it through the 60-day session. Here's a list of the most substantial moves coming Washington's way:
1. Banning bump stocks. Lawmakers approved a bill to ban trigger devices that allow rapid fire from semi-automatic rifles (like those used in the Las Vegas mass shooting).
2. Keeping guns away from domestic abusers. A big part of addressing gun violence in Seattle has been to take the firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers already banned from owning them. Since July 2017, the city has recovered more than 200 weapons with its firearms surrender pilot program, city attorney Pete Holmes said.
Those efforts are also statewide. Washington lawmakers this year approved a bill that bans those convicted of domestic violence harassment from having guns. The state last year became the first to tell survivors of domestic violence when their abuser is trying to buy a gun; House Bill 1501 requires a dealer to alert law enforcement when someone who's barred from purchasing them.
3. Banning income discrimination for housing. Property owners can no longer deny prospective tenants based on their source of income—mainly low-income renters using social security, housing vouchers or veterans benefits. House Bill 2578 also creates a landlord mitigation program for claims related to losing rental income from a low-income tenant relying on a subsidy program.
4. Gender pay equity. House Bill 1506 makes changes to the state's Equal Pay Act, which hasn't been updated since 1943, by strengthening the language around gender discrimination and retaliation. (It also changes references from "sex" to "gender," and "she" or "her" references to gender-neutral, making it friendlier toward LGBTQ employees who face discrimination.)
State employees have always been entitled to compensation if they're discriminated against on the basis of gender. But now employers also can't prevent someone from talking about wages with, say, nondisclosure agreements, or retaliate against a worker for filing a complaint.
5. More funding for rape kits. The state now has an estimated 10,000 untested rape kits (up from 6,000 reported just three years ago). But state legislators approved another $3.2 million to help the Washington State Patrol clear the backlog from sexual assault survivors, many of whom could still be deciding whether to pursue charges.
6. Easier prosecution for police deadly force. Initiative 940 appeared slated for the November ballot. For years, efforts to remove the requirement to prove "malice" to prosecute police for deadly use of force hit a brick wall with police unions.
Well this year in three days' time, state lawmakers approved Initiative 940, and amended language, in both the House and Senate. With the blessing of both the De-Escalate Washington campaign and law enforcement.
But the process led to a lawsuit filed by conservative initiative pusher Tim Eyman, who said the legislators violated the state Constitution by passing changes to the measure shortly after the initiative itself. (An opinion from the attorney general in the 1970s said that if lawmakers change language to the initiative, that should result in a second, competing ballot measure.)
7. Responding to undocumented crime victims' visa requests. Those who have been victims (or witnesses) of crime but are in the country illegally are often too afraid of deportation to appear in court or cooperate with law enforcement. In that case, the federal government grants a special visa—called a "U visa"—which gives undocumented immigrants a legal right to stay in the country and can often lead to a green card.
Sounds great, but the U visa is notoriously hard to obtain, and police departments have the discretion to approve, reject, or ignore requests. And it's worth noting that even if the local law enforcement agency approves the U visa, they can still get rejected at the federal level.
But here's one less obstacle for them to worry about: Police departments and prosecutors will now legally be required to respond to U visas within 90 days, two weeks if the victim is already in deportation proceedings.
8. Better representation. You may have heard about the Voting Rights Act approved this year but still don’t quite understand what it does. So here goes.
Essentially, in areas where minorities have less of a voice in electing their representatives but make up a significant part of the residents (5 percent or more), local jurisdictions or citizens can propose changing its electoral system to district-based.
Citizens would have to show that a minority or racial group doesn’t have the same access to voting, or their votes get diluted, and therefore can’t elect candidates of their choice.
Yes, this makes a difference—as seen in Yakima, a city that got sued by the ACLU and fought the switch. Residents voted in three Latina council members in 2015 after its first district-based election.
9. A property tax cut. (Cue sigh of relief.) Senate Democrats on the last day of the session approved a break for homeowners that will drop taxes from the state's current $2.70 to $2.40 per $1,000 of assessed value next year.
Though not quite as progressive as cutting sales taxes would have been, let's not forget that renters pay property taxes too. Senate Bill 6614 also redirects $935 million in tax revenue to a fund for K-12 public schools and access to higher education.
10. Better abortion and birth control access. As of January, insurance companies will be required to cover birth control options, voluntary sterilization, and their corresponding exams or consultations. Health plans also must cover abortion if they cover maternity care.
Updated 4:37pm to correct that Senate Bill 6298 on domestic violence harassment passed this year, while HB 1501 passed last year.