Olympia Dispatch

10 Bills to Watch for This Legislative Session

Democratic lawmakers will be busy tackling a progressive agenda in the coming months.

By Hayat Norimine January 22, 2019

After state Democrats secured their majority with more wins after the general election—both in the House and Senate—now's the time for them to carry out a set of lofty goals.

State legislators got started in this 105-day session, many of them with a busy progressive agenda. Here are just 10 key topics lawmakers are likely to tackle in the coming months. 

1. Workplace harassment: A Senate bill aims to prevent sexual harassment against service contractors and workers in the hospitality industry (like hotel workers) by requiring employers adopt a sexual harassment policy, hold mandatory training, and provide resources to employees. The legislation had its first public hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce on Monday. 

2. Housing density: Housing affordability advocates say this could be their year for serious reform. Among the many pieces of legislation in the works—state senator Guy Palumbo, a Maltby Democrat, told The Urbanist last fall that he plans to introduce a bill that would mandate a minimum amount of housing around transit-dense areas. 

The bill is meant to push the state to follow its Growth Management Act, which instructed fast-growing cities (hello, Seattle) to avoid sprawl and provide adequate regional transportation and affordable housing. 

3. Protection orders: Currently in this state, it's not enough to just prove sexual assault to get a protection order; survivors are required to provide evidence that a perpetrator remains a threat.

While the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center is also fighting to reduce the statute of limitations, KCSARC executive director Mary Ellen Stone said a bill to eliminate that mandate is her top priority for this legislative session.

"This is just completely wrong," Stone told PubliCola in an earlier interview. "We are denying justice and protection to people who suffered a crime for no good reason whatsoever."

4. High-capacity magazines: Activists say there's an appetite in Washington for more gun violence prevention measures, and that the 2018 general election proved it—when 59 percent of the state voted in favor of sweeping gun regulations, which included increased background checks and raising the required age to purchase a semi-automatic assault rifle to 21.

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility is eyeing high-capacity magazines next. A bill proposes to ban them (devices that accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition) altogether.

5. Concealed pistol licenses could also face more regulations with Senate Bill 5174. The legislation would require Washington State Patrol to develop standards for handgun proficiency, which applicants then need to show evidence of before receiving the license. 

6. Climate change: State Democrats this year have their sights set on a slate of new goals to put Washington at the forefront of addressing climate change. One bill, sponsored by state senator Reuven Carlyle, pushes the state to eliminate coal-fired electricity and transition to carbon-neutral utilities by 2030. 

7. Weed: A bipartisan bill would allow those over the age of 21 to home grow and possess up to six of their own marijuana plants. (It prohibits selling any home-grown products.)

8. More funding for rape kit testing: It's statistically unlikely that someone who's been sexually assaulted will report the incident to local law enforcement. It's even more unlikely that a rape ultimately leads to a conviction.

So it's especially alarming that the state has a backlog of an estimated 10,000 untested rape kits throughout the years, from those who did report a rape and provide evidence, that could help prosecute a perpetrator. State representative Tina Orwall, a Des Moines Democrat, has been fighting for the state to finally address its backlog, which KIRO reported would cost $6 million. 

9. Paying college athletes: King 5 reported that the years-long debate over whether college athletes should get paid is heading to Olympia. A bill sponsored by two House Republicans would allow a student at a higher education institution to get compensated for the use of the person's name, image, or likeness at market value or be represented by an agent. 

10. Public records: After state legislators last year moved swiftly to cover up existing records that are considered public records under state law, and faced backlash, lawmakers instead created a task force dedicated to addressing the controversy.

The task force comprised of media representatives and legislators began meeting in September and wrapped up its discussions in December; and while the group didn't seem to agree on full disclosure, another bill to address how the Legislature would comply with the state Public Records Act could still be introduced this session. 

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