2021 Session – Legislative Recap

2021 Legislative Session , WBPA News ,

This is the 15th day of the 105-day Washington State Legislative session which began on                  

Monday, January 11 and adjourns on Sunday, April 25.

 Proposed House Transportation Package

 Earlier this week, House Democrats released a House Transportation Package of $27 billion over a 16-year program.  If passed, this would be the largest Transportation Package in Washington State History.  In comparison the last Transportation Package, 2015’s Connecting Washington Transportation Funding Package, was around $16 billion.  This new proposal priorities includes funding for replacing the I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River in Vancouver, removing state owned culverts that are blocking fish passages (US Supreme Court requirements), preserving local roads/state highways, and new capital projects.

The House proposal generates new revenue to fund the package with the majority coming from a gas tax increase of 18 cents over two years with diesel increasing an additional 3 cents (21 cent total for diesel).  Including federal and existing state fuel taxes, this would bring the total tax for Washingtonians to 85.4 cents, which would be the highest in the United States.

The other big component of new revenue comes from a “Carbon Fee” of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted.  These $15 fees would be set to begin in 2023, increase to $20 two years later, and to $25 two years after that, with consideration by the Legislature to increase it further at the end of the escalation to $25.

The remaining new revenue comes from Washington State Patrol service fees, Truck license weight fees, Department of Licensing fee increases, Passenger vehicle weight fees, and a tax on rental cars.

There are still a lot of details that will be released in the upcoming days/weeks, but you can click here to see the framework of the proposal.

Governor Inslee Press Conference on 1/21

This virtual press conference focused mainly on updates regarding COVID-19 where Governor Inslee announced efforts to increase the distribution of vaccinations.  Virginia Mason and Amazon are partnering to create a pop-up clinic in Seattle on 1/24 where they hope to administer 2,000 vaccines to eligible recipients.  This will be the first of many large-scale vaccination events that will occur over the upcoming weeks and months.

Of the 829,800 doses that have been delivered to Washington State 362,046 doses have been administered in our state.  Vaccine administration has increased over the last week to 32% with an average of 16,000 vaccinations being administered per day.  Washington State has set a goal to build capacity to vaccinate 45,000 residents per day.

Rent Control

 SB 5139 Das - Limiting rent increases after expiration of the governor's eviction moratorium 

This bill prohibits any increases in rent or other charges for residential tenancies for the first six months after expiration of the eviction moratorium.  It also limits rent increases for a six-month period after the initial six-month prohibition period to three percentage points above the consumer price index and based on monthly rent as of March 1, 2020. A public hearing was held 1/21 in Senate Housing and Local Government and no executive session has been scheduled as of this report.

Testimony from tenants and proponents of the bill focused on the amount of people behind on rent, the renters who could lose their lives and, in their opinion, much more important when compared to landlords who would only lose profit, those struggling from mental health, and educational downfalls related to fear of being homeless.

The testimony from landlords and those in opposition of the bill spoke to how this bill could exacerbate the lack of housing available to renters, increase of costs for landlords that are not considered, the lack of consideration for landlords who are financially burdened, and fallout of investments that will not be created in the affordable housing sector due to this bill.  

Democrats Unveil Pandemic Relief Package

Democrats in the Washington State Legislature released a $2.2 billion COVID-19 relief package that would expand testing and vaccine availability, extend support to schools, provide grants for small business, and help thousands meet basic needs with housing and food assistance.

The overall relief package includes separate legislation that provides unemployment insurance relief for employers and workers across the state.

“Getting this money out the door is a key part of our state’s battle against the pandemic, and this package will ensure that federal funding will reach our communities when they need it most,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “Our first priority is helping our neighbors in need, and I’m glad we are ready to move forward with real relief just two weeks into the legislative session.”

The majority of the funding in the relief package is a result of federal stimulus dollars approved by Congress.

Highlights of the package include:

  • $618 million for vaccine administration, contract tracing and testing (includes emphasis on helping school districts reopen safely).
  • $668 million for schools as they resume in-person learning plus dedicated funding to help students catch up from learning loss during the pandemic.
  • $365 million for rental assistance to help tenants and landlords impacted by the pandemic.
  • $240 million for more than 12,000 small business assistance grants (administered through the state Department of Commerce).
  • $70 million to assist undocumented immigrants who have been impacted by the pandemic, but do not qualify for federal or state assistance.
  • $26 million for food assistance to individuals and households in need.
  • $50 million in grants to help childcare businesses stay open and expand capacity.

“Washingtonians have gone above and beyond to help one another through this pandemic, but more support and immediate relief is needed,” said Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett), vice chair of the Senate Ways & Means committee. “Small business owners, folks struggling to pay for food and basic living expenses, working parents in need of childcare, tenants and landlords — this relief package will get help into their hands so that we can all rebound from this public health crisis together.”

The package includes additional legislation to provide financial relief to Washingtonians in the coming weeks:

  • SB 5061 will provide relief from unemployment insurance taxes for employers and employees throughout the state.
  • SB 5272 will waive liquor license fees for distressed businesses impacted by closures during the pandemic.
  • HB 1002 will exempt federal funds received via the Paycheck Protection Program from being subject to B&O taxes.

“Our pandemic response is three pronged – prevention, relief and recovery. The significant investment in this package addresses all three. This health and economic recovery package will help working families, small businesses, childcare providers, schools, renters, landlords, and others most impacted by the pandemic,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane). “The recovery package will also help public health agencies to contact trace and distribute vaccines better and faster. But let me be clear – this is not the end. Our work is not finished until the virus is gone and Washington’s economic recovery is complete.”

The bills reflecting the changes are SB 5343 and SB 5344 and their companion bills are HB 1367 and HB 1368.

Senate Democrats and House Democrats will hold a joint media availability on Monday, January 25 at 2:15 p.m.