Speaking the day after the Legislature adjourned its 105-day session, Gov. Jay Inslee touted the work of lawmakers in areas such as education and behavioral health.
“I want to thank legislators for what they did,” Inslee said. “They all played a part.”
During the session, which concluded April 28, Clark County’s legislators also pursued a range of legislation on health care, sex trafficking and cannabis regulation, among others. While local lawmakers saw some of their bills pass, some didn’t budge. Other bills advanced only to miss cutoffs, but they’ve laid the groundwork for future attempts.
Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, was the prime sponsor on four bills, two of which received some of the most attention this session. Harris successfully sponsored a bill raising the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21, which Inslee has already signed into law and goes into effect next year. Harris also successfully sponsored a bill, along with Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, removing the personal exemption for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
Harris co-sponsored a bill that increases taxes on vapor products and accessories, with half of the revenue directed to the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment.
“We have way too many kids that are vaping,” Harris said. “And that bill will hopefully discourage that, and the funds will go to cancer research.”
Stonier accomplished one of her longstanding legislative goals by delinking high school graduation from requirements to pass standardized tests. She also passed a bill she said brings the state in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, which blocks public-sector unions from collecting fees from nonmembers for collective bargaining. The bill also changes how public-sector workers join and leave unions, which critics say undermines the ruling.
Stonier said she was disappointed a bill she sponsored to raise the Medicaid reimbursement rate to the Medicare rate didn’t pass. She said it would help medical providers struggling to pay the bills because the reimbursement rates are so low.
And, it was unfortunate, she said, that a comprehensive sex education bill stalled.
“I’m disappointed that it attracted so much political and media attention that was unfounded,” she said.
Critics of the bill said it undermined parental authority and pushed an agenda that was too graphic and would confuse kids. Those critics included Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, who helped to derail it.
Kraft sponsored bills intended to ease the tax burden on small businesses and retired farmers, as well as one to study a third bridge connecting Southwest Washington and Oregon. None of the bills passed, and neither did a bill intended to close a loophole unscrupulous massage parlors use to stay open. However, she did secure $289,000 in funding for pre-design of a new Cascadia Tech Academy building.
Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, was the prime sponsor on a bill that would designate the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement as a project of statewide significance. She also successfully sponsored a bill putting caps on donations to all races for port commissions in the state.
However, a bill she sponsored that would have updated how the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council evaluates projects stalled, as did another that would’ve given a tax break to seniors and disabled veterans.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, used her position as chair of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee to advance a range of measures to eliminate surprise medical bills, enshrine protections of the federal Affordable Care Act into state law and become the first state to create a public health insurance option, among others.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, failed in another attempt to designate Sasquatch as the state’s official cryptid. She was successful with legislation allowing cannabis companies to use terms describing the effects of their products, however. She, along with state Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, passed a bill intended to make the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board’s approach to the cannabis industry less punitive.
“That was a pretty big deal, I think,” Vick said. “(The Liquor and Cannabis Board) has kind of been going with penalties instead of compliance (toward cannabis companies).”
Vick was able to get bills passed changing how county treasurers make long-term investments, and another bill to alter the rules for accounting companies.
Rep. Larry Hoff, a Vancouver Republican in his first term, successfully sponsored a bill changing licensing requirements, but his bill to create a short-form death certificate stalled.
Hoff, Vick and Kraft all decried the tax hikes passed by the Legislature, criticizing the Democratic majority for introducing many aspects of the budget late in the session. Stonier and Wylie pushed back, saying Republicans had been involved in the budgeting process.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, successfully passed a bill allowing hunters to wear fluorescent pink instead of orange in the field. But another attempt to expand mental health services for veterans at institutions of higher education didn’t pass.
Her biggest victory was reviving a bill that was previously declared dead intended to address drivers who don’t license their vehicles in Washington after moving to the state. The bill allowed one-time deferred prosecutions as incentives to goad new residents into registering their cars.
Though Wilson was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, she said in an email she was able to keep up with the session with the help of staff, the Legislature’s website and TVW.
“I’m looking forward to being cancer-free next session and not missing a thing!” she wrote.