The Washington State Legislature adjourned on Sunday, April 23 after failing to approve a controversial bill to set drug possession penalties, raising the possibility of a special session in the coming weeks to resolve the issue.
Drug possession became a misdemeanor two years ago when the Supreme Court invalidated the law that made drug possession a felony. Hurried legislation made the crime a misdemeanor, but many thought that charge was too light. The Legislature debated Senate Bill 5536, which would have stiffened current penalties, but it failed to pass before the session ended.
“SB 5536 was supposed to be a 'fix' to the Washington State Supreme Court's Blake decision, which effectively decriminalized possession of hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl,” Rep. Jim Walsh, R- Aberdeen, said. “That decision is a big reason that fentanyl has become such a problem in this state, but SB 5536 didn't actually fix the problem.”
The bill would have made possession a gross misdemeanor, with a fine of $5,000 and up to one year of jail time.
The final vote was 43-55 in the House.
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said she hoped there would be bipartisan support for the bill, but that was not the case, and nobody from the Republican caucus voted for the bill.
“The fact that we are not going to have a piece of legislation on this, their failure to have any votes for this bill, is going to result in methamphetamines, fentanyl and heroin, the possession of those drugs being legalized across the state of Washington,” Jinkins said. “They better sit and think about what it is they’re doing.”
Gov. Jay Inslee said a fix needs to happen and failing to pass a bill is unacceptable.
“We expect the Washington State Legislature to produce a bill that will not decriminalize drugs,” Inslee said. “Tonight we had 43 Representatives willing to step up to the plate, not one single Republican. … I’m disappointed by that.”
Inslee said a fix must be made by July 1 when the current law expires and he said he expects legislators to discuss how they plan to move forward with a bill that does so.
The state operating budget allocates $69.3 billion for areas like behavioral health, K-12 education and more for the 2023-25 biennium.
The operating budget includes $2.9 billion for K-12 education and $400 million for the Climate Commitment Act, which helps prepare for climate crises like flooding and drought.
“Our new budget investments reflect the needs we see in communities across the state. People want strong schools, safe communities, affordable housing, climate action and an innovative economy,” Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said. “This is a responsible spending plan that will improve lives and move our state forward.”
The budget also includes $519 million for housing in the 2023-25 biennium.
"The budget includes equally important investments in education, behavioral health, public safety and climate,” Inslee said. “We’ve taken historic actions on gun safety and abortion care access, two issues where Washington continues to be a national leader.”
The state capital budget allocates $8.98 billion in funding for the 2023-25 biennium. The budget includes funds for K-12 school construction, housing, grant programs and higher education.
“The capital budget is proof bipartisanship does exist in Olympia. I'm proud of what we've accomplished. This plan reflects key priorities that don't simply serve minority interests, but all of Washington state,” Rep. Mike Steele, R-Chelan, said. “This budget supports development, encourages economic vitality, and puts people to work, even in the smallest of communities.”
The state transportation budget passed with an initial vote of 96-1 in the House and a 42-6 in the Senate, and a final vote of 98-0 in the House and 46-3 in the Senate.
The budget allocates $13.5 billion for Washington’s transportation needs over the next two years, including traffic safety, highway projects and more.
“There’s $5.4 billion in this budget to fund highway improvements and preservation, including many of our state’s most critical projects such as the Puget Sound Gateway program that extends SR 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, the U.S. 395 North Spokane Corridor, and the I-5 Bridge Replacement Program connecting Washington and Oregon,” Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, said.
Projects on the I-5 Bridge from Vancouver to Portland have been discussed for over 25 years, and this budget is the best shot to get them done, said Greg Johnson, Interstate Bridge Replacement Program Administrator for the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Johnson said the projects include replacing the bridge. While construction is taking place on the bridge, DOT plans to maintain traffic and keep some lanes open.
“We’re going to look to keep as many lanes open as long as possible as we are constructing the new bridge,” he said.
DOT is also looking to complete a light rail section early and open it to help the flow of traffic while construction takes place.
Alcohol and Drugs
House Bill 1002, by Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, also known as the Sam Martinez Stop Hazing Act, is named after a Washington State University freshman who died from hazing in 2019.
The act modifies the hazing offense so that no student can haze another student and is reclassified from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor.
Additional penalties include up to 364 days of jail time and a maximum fine of $5,000, rather than up to 90 days of jail time and a maximum fine of $1,000.
Student organizations or associations who permit hazing are strictly liable for damages under the bill, and individual directors of the organization or association may be individually liable for damages under certain conditions.
“This sorely needed legislation will curb dangerous hazing methods that result in injury or even death for our college students,” Leavitt said. “The Sam Martinez Stop Hazing Act is about keeping students safe.”
House Bill 1047, by Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, will ban nine toxic chemicals found in certain cosmetic products, including deodorant and hair relaxers. Some products containing the chemicals have already been removed from retail shelves.
“The chemicals we’re talking about, nine chemicals and classes of toxic chemicals, are things that we know are bad because we’ve studied them. … We know them, we know they have harmful effects,” Mena said. “I was really eager to take this up and finish the work and go through with the actual ban.”
Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5123, by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, prohibits discrimination against pre-employment cannabis use in the hiring process if it is based on a person's use outside of the workplace.
“It simply doesn’t make sense to base an employment decision on that kind of unreliable outcome and test,” Keiser said. “It really comes down to discriminating against people who use cannabis.”
Senate Bill 5370, by Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro Woolley, will expand who is defined as a mandated reporter for vulnerable adults and was signed into law by the governor with an effective date of July 23.
Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1329, by Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, prohibits involuntary power shutoff during extreme heat waves when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees, among other conditions.
“This legislation simply protects people’s health and safety by keeping their utilities on during the hottest days,” Mena said. “We have the capacity to provide a lifeline for people in our state during extreme weather and we should. This is the right thing to do.”
ESHB 1329 was signed by the governor on April 20.
Substitute Senate Bill 5453, by Keiser, creates criminal and civil penalties for people who perform female genital mutilation on minors.
The statute of limitations, where an individual needs to bring the civil action within 10 years of the injury, does not apply to minors until they turn 18.
“Until they become 18, they don’t really have the ability to act on their own,” Keiser said. “It's really a kind of combination of trauma and maturity that needs to be considered in this case.”
SSB 5453 was signed April 20, with an immediate effective date.
Senate Bill 5242, by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, eliminates cost-sharing for abortion services and insurance companies will need to cover the entire procedure.
“This bill is about removing barriers to access to abortion services, regardless of the ability to pay,” Cleveland said.
Law and Justice
House Bill 1077, by Rep. My-Linh Thai, D-Bellevue, will expand where courthouse dogs are allowed for testimonies and witnesses during investigations and crime prosecutions. The bill was signed into law with an effective date of July 23.
Substitute House Bill 1177, by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Samish Island, creates a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Cold Case Investigations Assistance Unit, which will help investigate cases of missing Indigenous people throughout the state.
“It is not just a crisis of Indian country, it’s a crisis of all of our governing bodies,” Lekanoff said. “We, as Washingtonians, take care of our own, and we’re certainly going to take care of the peoples whose land that we all call home.”
SHB 1177 received a unanimous vote from both chambers and was signed on April 20.
Substitute House Bill 1240, by Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, prohibits the sale and distribution of any assault weapon, with certain exceptions.
“Yes, there are other guns that create death and tragedy in communities, and certainly even other weapons do the same,” Peterson said. “But the percentage of mass shootings that are used by these weapons of war is something that we here in the state of Washington can do something about.”
House Bill 1017, by Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, will allow cosmetology students to take their final exam before completing their required hours, within 100 hours. The bill was signed into law with an effective date of July 23.
House Bill 1540, by Rep. Spencer Hutchins, R-Gig Harbor, will include instruction on road sharing with large vehicles in driver’s education courses.
"It's very important that, as we train new drivers, they know how to share the road safely with trucks, buses and other large commercial vehicles," Hutchins said. "This change adds another layer of safety for all of us who travel on state roads and highways."
The bill was signed into law with an effective date of April 1, 2024.
Engrossed Senate Bill 5355, by Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Seattle, requires schools to offer sex trafficking awareness and prevention instruction beginning in the 2025-26 school year.
The instruction will be available when students enter seventh grade, and it must be offered at least once for each student before they complete high school.
“Any time we can do anything that looks at prevention, it’s the most important thing we can do, especially as we’re talking about our kids and our families,” Wilson said.
Substitute House Bill 1658, by Rep. Clyde Shavers, D-Oak Harbor, authorizes high school students over the age of 16 to earn up to two elective credits for paid work outside of school, beginning in the 2023-24 school year.
One half credit can be earned for every 180 hours of verified, paid work, if it meets certain requirements.
Shavers said some students have a heavy schedule in school, and this bill allows students to gain job experience while earning school credit.
“Let’s provide our high school students the flexibility to pursue these job opportunities, to gain the work experience, the leadership skills, to support their family without harming their academic performance or jeopardizing their graduation,” Shavers said.
SHB 1658 was signed into law on April 20.
House Bill 1020, by Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, establishes a state dinosaur, a fossil nicknamed "Suciasaurus Rex,” after a fourth grade class did research on the fossil and brought it to legislation.
"Some may scoff at this bill and think it's a silly bill, but I believe that this bill holds a greater significance. Our youth are engaging with the state Legislature. This is really about civic engagement from our youth," Morgan said. "This is a dyno-mite piece of legislation."
HB 1020 passed both chambers and was delivered to the governor’s desk.
What Didn’t Pass
Law and Justice
A catalytic converter is a pollution control device on the emission system in a car and costs thousands of dollars to replace.
There were over 12,000 catalytic converter thefts in 2021, 4,000 of those being in Washington. Data is still being collected for 2022, but the numbers are expected to be higher.
House Bill 1840, by Rep. Greg Cheney, R-Battle Ground, would have made it a Class C felony for a second offense of catalytic converter theft.
Despite his high hopes, the bill never received an initial hearing.
Alcohol and Drugs
House Bill 1249, by Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima, would have allowed cannabis consumers to purchase a higher amount of low-THC beverages. The bill passed out of its committee, but ultimately did not make it off the House floor.
House Bill 1299, by Rep. Kelly Chambers, R-Puyallup, would have allowed certain businesses to employ interns and employees between the ages of 18 and 21 to handle liquor and other forms of alcohol under supervision of someone over the age of 21.
The bill passed through its initial committee but did not make it off the House floor.
House Bill 1635, by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, would have expanded training for police dogs to include components on finding fentanyl. The bill made it out of its initial committee but did not make it out of the House.
Senate Bill 5002, by Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, would have lowered the legal blood alcohol concentration to operate a motor vehicle from .08 to .05. The bill made it out of its initial committee but did not make it out of the Senate.
Senate Bill 5363, by Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, would have allowed cannabis store sign regulations to be subject to local requirements rather than federal requirements. The bill passed the Senate and made its way through the House, but ultimately did not pass the House.
Senate Bill 5505, by Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, would have expanded the K-12 school year from 180 days to 185 days. The bill made it out of its initial committee but did not make it out of the Senate.
Senate Bill 5670, by Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-Wenatchee, would have allowed high school sophomores to participate in Running Start courses, mainly online. The bill stalled in the Senate.
House Bill 1478, by Rep. Joe Timmons, D-Bellingham, would have required public schools to establish a Statement of Student Rights modeled after the U.S. Constitution. The bill made it through the House but languished in a Senate committee.
Senate Bill 5626, by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, would have established a grant program in public schools to expand education on news reports. The bill passed the Senate but did not make it out of committee in the House.
Senate Bill 5260, by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, would have protected Washington state employers with tools against retaliation from states with anti-abortion laws. The bill was one of five abortion bills presented in January but did not make it out of its initial committee.
House Bill 1375, by Kristine Reeves, D-Federal Way, would have required delivery drivers who handle alcohol to have a class 12 liquor license, which is already required for managers, bartenders and servers engaging in alcohol sales. The bill did not make it out of its initial committee.
Senate Bill 5595, by Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, would have designated “The Evergreen State” as Washington’s official nickname. The bill passed the Senate, but never made it off the House floor.