2021 Session - General Legislative Recap: Week of January 29, 2021

Legislative Session, WBPA News,

This is the 22nd day of the 105-day session.

 The 2021 Washington State all-virtual legislative session has just finished its third week.  Bill introduction sheets have reflected legislative leadership’s requests for fewer bills to be introduced this session in order to help focus this session on priority issues, many surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery.

 Only two weeks away on Monday, February 15th will be the first cutoff date of the 2021 session.  It will be the last day to pass bills out of committee and in house of origin, except for House fiscal committees, Senate Ways & Means, and Transportation Committees.

 Below is a summary of what occurred this week for your general update .

 COVID -19 Update

 Recently, House Democrats unveiled a $2.2 billion COVID-19 pandemic relief package which is made up of a couples bills in HB 1367 and HB 1368.  They both had a January 26 public hearing and January 28 executive session.  The companion bills are SB 5343 and SB 5344 and both are scheduled for a February 2 public hearing in the Senate.  The package includes: 

  • $365 million to assist tenants with rent payments and
  • $240 million in grants for small businesses.

 The relief package also includes:

  • $618 million for vaccine administration, contact tracing and testing, and
  • $668 million earmarked to help schools reopen safely.
 Health Care

 SB 5052 would require the Department of Health to designate health equity zones statewide and develop projects that meet the needs of each zone.  This bill allows communities to self-identify as health equity zones and develop projects.  Health equity zones are specifically identified geographic areas that have the goal of achieving health equity by eliminating health disparities. SSB 5052 has passed out of Senate Health Care on a party line vote on January 27th and is now headed to Senate Ways and Means Committee. 

Another healthcare bill SB 5371, which is prime sponsored by Senator Robinson, would use a tax on sweetened beverages to fund health services and health equity incentives.  This bill was introduced on January 27 but currently does not have a hearing date scheduled. 

Unemployment Insurance

 SB 5061, primed by Senator Keiser, has the intent of providing relief to businesses on their unemployment insurance taxes.  This bill provides unemployment insurance benefits to high risk individuals, or those who live with high risk individuals, who voluntarily quit their jobs during a public health emergency if they cannot work from home for that employer, but are able and available to work from home for other employers; waives the one-week waiting period and shared work benefits when paid by the federal government; and increases the minimum weekly benefit amount from 15 percent to 20 percent of the average weekly wage.  This passed with a strong bipartisan vote of 42-7 by the Senate on January 27.

 2nd Amendment Bills

 Hearing rooms would normally be packed for bills relating to firearms and in this pandemic session, only the venue was different.  Many folks from the public still showed up virtually to give testimony on SB 5038 and SB 5078.  SB 5038 prohibits the open carry of a firearm or other weapons at or near public demonstrations, the state capitol grounds, its buildings, and other legislative locations and provides an exception for state and local law enforcement officers.  SB 5078 prohibits the manufacture, possession, distribution, importation, selling, offering for sale, purchasing, or transfer of large capacity magazines with the capability of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, unless the possession falls within one of the stated exceptions including prior possession.  Both bills passed out of Senate Law and Justice this week on party line votes.