A bill, as the saying goes, never truly dies in the Legislature until the final gavel drops — there’s always a chance that a creative procedural maneuver could revive it.
That final gavel is about to drop on the 60-day Washington state legislative session, scheduled to end March 10. Budget negotiations are underway, and by Friday, policy measures need to pass the opposite chamber.
In Oregon, meanwhile, state legislators are wrestling with their own deadlines and have effectively killed a bill watched closely by light-rail opponents in Clark County.
Washington lawmakers started the session with a long to-do list ranging from easing the affordable-housing crisis to adequately funding the state’s public school system. Now, many bills already are considered dead and will stay that way, others remain in play and one has been signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.
With about a week left to go, here’s a snapshot of where some high-profile measures stand.
Signed into law
• School funding: The first bill Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law this session, Senate Bill 6195, creates an education funding task force made up of eight lawmakers and one facilitator from the governor’s office to keep the conversation about school funding going. The governor said he believes the measure will commit the Legislature to solving the complicated process of ending an overreliance on local levies for funding basic education by 2017.
One Southwest Washington lawmaker, Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, was a chief sponsor of the measure. Many lawmakers expressed frustration that more wasn’t done to fix the state’s underfunded public school system this session. The Legislature started the session under a contempt order and a $100,000-a-day fine from the state’s top court, a move by the justices to persuade lawmakers to fulfill their paramount duty and adequately pay for the state’s public schools.
• Affordable housing: Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said one of her top priorities this session was to address the lack of affordable housing in the region. Cleveland is behind Senate Bill 6239, which is still in play, and would give local governments the ability to grant property tax breaks to landlords who offer affordable housing.
• Charter schools: Although there aren’t any charter schools in Southwest Washington, several local lawmakers, including Rivers and Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, are hoping to keep charter school doors open. The state’s top court recently ruled the charter school system in Washington is unconstitutional. Senate Bill 6194, which would keep charter schools operating, passed the Senate and still is being considered in the other chamber.
• Armed security guards: Wilson, a gun-rights advocate, managed to attach an amendment to the House budget that would carve out $1.2 million to provide security guards at military recruiting centers in Washington. Wilson spearheaded the measure after a gunman killed four U.S. Marines and a Navy sailor at a military recruiting station in Tennessee. The budget amendment is part of ongoing budget negotiations.
• Bistate bridge coalition: House Bill 2414, which would have created a coalition of lawmakers from both Oregon and Washington to discuss the possibility of a new bridge over the Columbia River, died. Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas and one of the measure’s chief sponsors, vowed to keep working on bringing together key players to discuss how to ease congestion over the river.
In the Oregon Legislature, a measure that TriMet pushed to help finance projects outside of their service area caused some critics of the Columbia River Crossing to worry that it was an indirect way to revive the controversial project, which would have replaced the Interstate 5 Bridge and extended light rail into Vancouver. On Wednesday, the Oregon measure, Senate Bill 1510, was moved to a health care committee and is considered dead.
• Smoking age: Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, championed the idea of raising the smoking age from 18 to 21. Harris said he believed House Bill 2313 would protect young people and reduce the state’s health care costs in the long term. The measure is considered dead.
• Landlord notice: Cleveland introduced Senate Bill 6441 to increase the notification requirement landlords give tenants before evictions from 20 to 30 days. It died in a committee chaired by her Republican counterpart, Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver, who is a landlord.
• Bathroom use: One of the more controversial measures this legislative session aimed to overturn a Human Rights Commission rule that allows transgender people to use whichever bathroom aligns with their gender identity. The Senate narrowly defeated Senate Bill 6443, which would have repealed the rule.
• Right to try: Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida, sponsored a measure, dubbed the “right to try” law, that would have allowed eligible patients to use experimental drug treatments without the government’s approval. Vick said he will continue to advocate for the measure, House Bill 2961, which he believes could save lives.
• Community college: Senate Bill 6481, which would have offered free community college to Washington students, failed to gain momentum this session. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., recently visited Clark College to tout passing a similar measure on the federal level.
• Fireworks: House Bill 2310, a measure to prohibit the sale or discharge of fireworks this year from June until the end of September, failed.
• Fantasy sports: House Bill 2370 would have banned fantasy sports games by classifying such activities as illegal gambling. The measure died.