2021 Session – General Legislative Recap: Week of February 19, 2021

Legislative Session, WBPA News,

This is the 40th day of the 105-day session. 

Monday, February 22 is the cutoff of bills to pass the fiscal committees and Tuesday, March 9 is the House of Origin cutoff, where bills must be voted out of the House and Senate. 

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

$2.2 Billion COVID Relief Bill Signed Into Law

Governor Inslee signed into law HB 1368 on Friday, February 19th, which appropriates $2.2 billion in federal funding that has been allocated to states in response to the ongoing COVID emergency.  This bill provides the following: 

  • $714 million for assistance to K-12 schools (including $46 million for non-public school assistance).
  • $618 million for public health, including $438 million for testing and contract tracing; $100 million for epidemiology and laboratory grants, and $68 million for vaccines—this funding is deposited into a newly created non-appropriated account.
  • $365 million for emergency eviction, rental and utility assistance.
  • $240 million for business assistance grants.
  • $50 million for childcare.
  • $25 million for food banks and other food programs.
  • $91 million for income assistance, including $65 million for relief for the state’s immigrant population.  

This bill takes effect immediately.

Governor Inslee Appoints Director to Newly Created Office of Equity

On February 18th, Governor Inslee appointed Dr. Karen Johnson director to the Office of Equity, which was established after the Governor signed it into law in April of 2020.  The goal of the Office of Equity is to “…increase access to equitable opportunities in order to bridge opportunity gaps and reduce disparities.”  Dr. Johnson currently serves as the equity and inclusion administrator for the Washington State Department of Corrections and worked previously for the US Department of Veteran affairs and as adjunct faculty at The Evergreen State College.  For the full press release click here. 

Police Accountability/Police Bargaining

SB 5055 establishes an arbitrator selection procedure for grievance arbitrations for law enforcement personnel that applies to all disciplinary grievance arbitrations heard on or after January 1, 2022.  It would require the Public Employment Relations Commission to create a panel of 9 to 18 arbitrators who would hear and rule on cases brought forward by officers who wish to appeal punishing measures given to them by their local police department.  This bill passed the Senate on February 18th with a 41-8 vote and now heads to the House. 

Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked Choice Voting has been discussed over the years and is moving currently in the form of HB 1156.  This bill would permit the use of ranked choice voting (RCV) in elections for offices in counties, cities, towns, school districts, fire districts, and port districts, and establishes certain requirements for RCV ballot design and vote tabulation. 

It also adds a cost-recovery provision to the Washington Voting Rights Act (Act) to allow a person who files a notice alleging a violation of the Act to recoup research costs, up to $30,000, if the political subdivision adopts a remedy in response to the notice.  There is also a provision which allows the Secretary of State to provide grants to local governments to implement RCV or make changes to their electoral system in response to a notice filed under the Act, subject to appropriation.  It moved out of House Appropriations this week with a 22-11 vote and now sits in Rules.