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News / Northwest

Washington manages bipartisan support to ban hog-tying by police and address opioid crisis

By HALLIE GOLDEN, Associated Press
Published: March 8, 2024, 1:29pm

SEATTLE (AP) — Over a busy, 60-day legislative session, Washington state lawmakers made strides to address the opioid crisis and ban a controversial policing practice with bipartisan support, but fell short in getting some of the most progressive bills across the finish line.

The short session, which marked Jay Inslee’s final one as governor, ended Thursday with over 300 bills heading to the Democratic governor’s desk, 80% of which received bipartisan support, according to Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins. Democrats control the state House by a margin of 58-40 and the Senate by 29-20.

Overshadowing the session were six initiatives, some of which would overturn Democrats’ biggest recent wins, including the year-old Climate Commitment Act, which works to cap and reduce pollution. Three initiatives were passed by lawmakers, while the others, including the carbon pricing program, will be considered by voters in November.

Here’s a look at key legislation that passed this session — and some bills that didn’t make it.

CLIMATE CHANGE

At the start of the session, Inslee described climate as the biggest long-term issue he wanted to address over the next two months. Lawmakers had some success, including when it came to the carbon pricing program, which features quarterly auctions in which emission allowances are sold to businesses covered under the act. The Legislature approved a bill expected to merge the state’s carbon market with those in California and Quebec, which also have emission allowance auctions, in an effort to expand the market and make it more stable.

Meanwhile an effort to expand the state’s curbside recycling program fizzled out early on. It would have shifted the responsibility from local governments to the companies producing the waste.

“We’re the greenest state in the nation and we should have a state-of-the-art recycling system in this state,” said Rep. Beth Doglio, chair of the House Environment & Energy Committee. She said they plan to try again next year.

HOUSING

Amid staggeringly high home and rental prices, there were three key strategies lawmakers considered to address the issue, but only one made it through.

A highly anticipated bill that would bar landlords from increasing rents by more than 7% annually during a rental agreement term made it through the House only to face impenetrable hurdles in the Senate. Democratic Rep. Emily Alvarado, who sponsored the bill, said there was concern among some lawmakers about the impact it could have on new construction.

“It’s really unfortunate that people would put a hypothetical risk above what is a known and devastating problem for far too many Washingtonians, which is sky rocketing rents,” she said, adding that she will introduce the proposal again next year.

Another bill requiring 10% of the units in new housing structures around transit hubs to be affordable for lower income residents for at least 50 years met a similar fate. But the bipartisan effort to remove barriers to building micro-apartments made it through the Legislature with nearly unanimous support. The move is predicted to increase the supply of more affordable housing and doesn’t require government subsidies.

OPIOIDS

With overdose deaths on the rise in Washington, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pushed to boost public awareness of the crisis and increase availability of treatment options.

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A bill that requires colleges and universities to provide opioid education to students and make naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, widely available, passed easily through both legislative bodies. And a proposed measure that requires the Department of Health to add an overdose prevention campaign received unanimous support.

Lawmakers also honed in on the group that has been most harmed by the crisis — tribes. A bipartisan effort to provide nearly $8 million each year for the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington to address the crisis was met with enthusiastic support. The funds are drawn in part from a roughly half-billion-dollar settlement between the state and major opioid distributors.

It’s “a reflection and a recognition of both the real challenges the tribes face in their communities and a reflection of the good work they’re already doing and we ought to be helping them out where we can,” said Republican Sen. John Braun, the minority leader in that chamber who sponsored the bill.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives in Washington die of opioid overdoses at five times the state average, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that includes provisional numbers for 2021-2022.

LAW ENFORCEMENT

Lawmakers made some changes to policing in Washington, including barring law enforcement officials from hog-tying suspects, a restraint technique that has long drawn concern due to the risk of suffocation. Despite some questions from Republicans about smaller jurisdictions potentially not having the money to start using alternative restraints, overall there was widespread support.

“To pass that bill for the impacted family, as it approaches the anniversary of the death of Manny Ellis, during Black History Month, to do this kind of bill, it just felt like a moment,” said Democratic state Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, who sponsored the bill.

A conservative-backed initiative to give police greater ability to pursue people in vehicles also made it through the Legislature just days before the session ended. But some have spoken out about the risk it could pose to public safety, amid hundreds of deaths caused by police chases in the U.S. each year.

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