Greetings from Olympia! As if there weren’t enough important decisions left for legislators to make, with just eight days remaining in our time at the Capitol, there is talk of raising your property taxes!
This totally unnecessary and unwelcome proposal came in two days ago, as the Senate and House of Representatives each reached the next-to-last deadline of the session – the “cutoff” for the Senate to act on bills passed by the House, and vice versa.
The session’s final phase started Thursday and will run through Sunday after next, when we’re scheduled to adjourn. This is when the two chambers settle (or attempt to settle) disputes between the versions of bills each has passed. I’ll explain in a moment.
Voter-endorsed cap on property-tax growth needs to stay
In 2001 the voters of Washington put a 1% limit on the annual growth of property taxes. Six years later, after the state Supreme Court ruled that the law created by Initiative 747 was unconstitutional, legislators met in a special session to pass a measure that reinstated the 1% cap.
Early in this session a group of Democratic senators proposed lifting the limit to 3%, but did not move that bill ahead. Then on Wednesday, which in practical terms was the final day to introduce new bills, the effort to lift the cap was revived when a larger group filed Senate Bill 5770.
The timing of this makes no sense, because the Senate and House have already approved their own versions of new operating budgets. They are balanced without new taxes, so the budget compromise now being negotiated between the two chambers should also balance without new taxes
Even so, we have to view this bill as a serious threat. In 2019 a big new tax was put on financial institutions through a proposal that was not made public until there were only 48 hours left in the session!
It’s puzzling how some senators talk about wanting “affordable homes for every Washingtonian” then push a plan that would increase housing costs. Government doesn’t need more money — it has plenty to continue existing services and programs.
Fate of public-safety bills less clear due to House changes
My March 31 report questioned whether and how the House would handle the two most visible public-safety bills of the session: Senate Bill 5536, which would be a new response to the Blake court decision on drug possession, and replace the disastrously weak state law created in 2021; and SB 5352, which would reform the criminal-friendly restrictions on police pursuits, also adopted two sessions ago.
This week the House Democrats did the same thing they had done in 2021, by taking the Senate’s bill to make possession of hard drugs a gross misdemeanor and downgrading it to a misdemeanor. That’s the same as the failed law in place now.
When the House makes changes to a bill passed by the Senate and sends it back, the Senate has to decide whether to “concur” (agree) with the changes, or not. If the choice is “do not concur,” then the House has to make a decision. It can “insist” on its position and ask the Senate to “recede.”
The Senate should not go along with the House this time, as it did in 2021. We should insist on our version of the bill, with the stronger leverage it offers to get people into and through treatment. Of all the disputes that need to be settled between the Senate and House before we adjourn on April 23, this is the most important for our state.
The House did end up voting to pass the police-pursuit bill, after making very minor changes at the committee level. I had voted against SB 5352 because it did represent progress but still didn’t go far enough, in my view. The version that came out of the Senate would still allow someone to steal a car without fear of being pursued, unless the theft was literally witnessed by an officer. That would do nothing about the auto-theft epidemic in our state.
I can’t say yet what will happen, or how I will vote, when the Senate is asked whether to agree or not with the slight changes made to SB 5352. I’ll take a slightly better policy over the law we’ve had since 2021, but clearly, this issue is going to be back before the Legislature in 2024.
Firearm bills moving forward, but will they make us safer?
The Senate was in session from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the day before Easter Sunday, and one of the results was the partisan passage of a ban on the style of semi-automatic firearms that some label “assault weapons.”
House Bill 1240 would impose a ban on the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, or offer for sale of more than 50 specific firearms, plus other firearms that have certain features (like a noise suppressor, even though those help keep a target range quieter and protect a shooter’s hearing).
The theme of the arguments I and other Republicans made during the lengthy debate on HB 1240 was that banning a certain category of firearm will not make our state measurably safer. We should instead address root causes of violence in general, such as the behavioral-health concerns.
If protecting schools is the concern, Democrats should join Republicans in supporting measures to “harden” our schools. To me that would do much more to discourage people who are intent on committing evil and looking for “soft” targets.
HB 1240 has not yet gone to the governor, pending a disagreement between the House and Senate about amendments made by the Senate. Meanwhile, two other firearm bills are both on their way to the governor:
- HB 1143, which was passed by the Senate a week ago, would add to the requirements for purchasing a firearm, between the background check and a 10-day waiting period and mandatory firearm-safety training. Yesterday the House agreed with the changes to HB 1143 made by the Senate, which finishes the work on the bill.
- SB 5078 would authorize “investigation and enforcement” of firearm-industry members by the state attorney general and stands to impact the more than 3,000 federally licensed firearm dealers in Washington, plus others in the industry. It was passed by the House on Monday and the Senate concurred yesterday with the House changes.
I expect all three of these measures could end up being challenged in court, as conflicting with the U.S. Constitution (and perhaps our Washington constitution, which is even clearer about firearm rights).
YOUR state government
Now that legislators are back to meeting in person, there are many events, hearings and activities happening on the Capitol Campus. Additionally, we will continue to offer virtual options which may be more convenient. To help you navigate the legislative website and external resources, I have provided the following frequently used links to make your participation in the legislative process a little easier:
Watch legislative hearings, floor sessions and press conferences – https://www.tvw.org/
Testify in a committee – https://leg.wa.gov/legislature/Pages/Testify.aspx
Provide remote testimony – https://leg.wa.gov/House/Committees/Pages/RemoteTestimony-RegisterToTestify.aspx
Comment on a bill – https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/
Visit my website – https://perrydozier.src.wastateleg.org/
Senate Page Program. If you know a teen (between the ages of 14-16) interested in spending a week in Olympia learning about our state government, have them apply here – https://leg.wa.gov/Senate/Administration/PageProgram/Pages/default.aspx
Please remember I am here to serve you. Although we may not always be able to meet face to face, I encourage you to reach out to my office and to share your thoughts, ideas and concerns on matters of importance to you. Please, if you don’t already, follow me on Facebook. I look forward to hearing from you.