OLYMPIA, WA – Despite the historic challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers in Washington state have managed to make their way through a largely virtual legislative session.
The 105-day session ended on Sunday. Meanwhile, lawmakers have addressed dozens of critical issues such as equity, climate change, energy, police reform, housing and homelessness, COVID-19 relief, a capital gains tax, etc.
Among those celebrating the work done this session is Gov. Jay Inslee, who called for 11 pieces of legislation and saw them all implemented in one form or another: eight passed as bills, two more were incorporated into the state budget and the last. was implemented by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.
âIt was a remarkable session with tremendous impacts on the long-term well-being of our state,â said Inslee. “A lot of these accomplishments were years in the making. It took hard work, sweat and tears for many in this state to see these policies finally cross the finish line.”
Here’s a look at some of the main laws passed this year:
$ 2.2 billion in COVID-19 relief
One of the oldest and most important pieces of legislation of this session was a bill, signed by the governor in February, authorizing the spending of $ 2.2 billion in federal funding to combat the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The law, House Bill 1368, sets aside millions of dollars for relief efforts, including:
- $ 714 million to K-12 schools.
- $ 618 million for the state’s public health response, including vaccination and contact tracing efforts.
- $ 365 million for emergency eviction rental and assistance to public services.
- $ 240 million for business assistance grants.
- $ 50 million for child care.
- $ 26 million for local food banks.
- $ 91 million for income assistance, of which $ 65 million will be used to help the state’s immigrant population.
The 2021 session also saw a movement to mitigate the effects of climate change with Governor Inslee’s Climate Commitment Act.
The law targets greenhouse gas emissions from âthe largest emitting industriesâ by allowing the state to sell âgreenhouse gas emission allowancesâ. The money from those sales is then spent on green transportation, clean energy, and other climate solutions.
Some green transportation proposals are quite modest, like a $ 1.5 million investment in promoting electric vehicles, others are much more robust, like the $ 190.2 million proposal to further convert ferries. of Washington State in electrical power.
“We finally have meaningful climate legislation that reflects the values ââand priorities of Washingtonians and respects the science of climate change,” Inslee said. âThe Climate Commitment Act caps and reduces climate pollution in our economy and promulgates arguably the strongest environmental justice policy in the country, forcing us to improve air quality for overworked communities who live with air pollution daily. due to emissions.
Other climate-related laws that have been passed this year include House bill 1091, which requires the state to reduce carbon emissions from transport by 20% by switching to electric vehicles or cleaner fuels, and Senate Bill 5141, which uses the recommendations of the Environmental Justice Task Force to prevent vulnerable populations from bearing the brunt of the damage caused by climate change.
“These policies also create good local jobs and better position our state to lead a cleaner and fairer economy,” said the governor.
The year 2020 saw national unrest and widespread protests as the whole country grappled with issues of biased policing and structural racism.
The fight to tackle racism in America is far from over, and it remains to be seen whether cities like Seattle will substantially cut funding for their police services, but state lawmakers have passed several laws aimed at addressing the issue. equity and police reform.
“I firmly believe that Washington will be an anti-racist state and I will take action that will keep our state on that commitment. We need our policies and our budget to reflect our determination to disrupt the nefarious systemic cycle of racism and violence. inequity, âsaid Inslee mentioned. “Now is the time to make real change.”
A, House bill 1267, attempts to reform the way in which the use of force by the police is investigated. It creates a new agency, the Office of Independent Investigations, which reports to the governor, and made up of non-law enforcement personnel tasked only with examining incidents in which police kill civilians.
HB 1267 requires that the new team be trained on several relevant issues, including:
- The history of racism in the police.
- Tribal Sovereignty and Native American History in the Justice System.
- Implicit and explicit bias.
- Racial equity.
- Anti-racism and how to cancel institutional racism.
Otherwise, it would not change the way use of force investigations are conducted, only who is responsible for carrying them out.
As part of the budget, the Legislature also funded a new equity office, which will help other state agencies develop and implement diversity and equity plans.
A new tax on capital gains
Finally, lawmakers have attempted to tackle the state’s regressive tax structure. On the last day of the session, the Legislature approved a new capital gains tax, Senate Bill 5096, which will create a 7% tax on all capital gains – such as sales of shares , bonds and other high-value assets – over $ 250,000 per year. . It provides for several exceptions like real estate sales and retirement accounts, which supporters say is an intentional attempt to ensure that the tax only applies to the top 0.2% of Washington’s taxpayers.
âThis important step in rebuilding our unfair tax code was taken after years of work, years of dialogue and thousands of voices calling for this policy,â said sponsor Senator June Robinson (D-Everett). âWe have heard that people in all parts of our state are ready to move forward together towards a healthier, stronger future, and it is time for the wealthiest among us to pay our fair share for that future. “
Several bills passed by the Legislative Assembly have yet to be signed by the Governor. Inslee has 20 days after the session ends to take action on one of the last minute bills passed in the last five days of the session.