Democrats Leave Olympia With Long List Of Wins; Republicans See Veer To The Left
Shortly after the final gavels fell Thursday night on Washington’s 2018 legislative session, Gov. Jay Inslee stepped before a smattering of reporters and cameras gathered in his conference room and touted “a long list of accomplishments” over the 60 day session.
“From our kids, to our waters, to our voters, to our families with mental health care needs, to our taxpayers--there’s been some real work done in this session,” Inslee said. “I think people ought to realize it’s been a very, very productive session in a short period of time.”
Inslee specifically mentioned additional money to satisfy the last step in the McCleary school funding lawsuit, a package of voting rights bills, a property tax cut and measures dealing with insurance coverage for abortions and equal pay for women.
But the Democratic governor didn’t get everything he wanted.
One of his top priorities was passage of a carbon tax. Inslee devoted much of his State of the State speech back in January to the issue. He had a team of allies in the Legislature work hard to advance the issue. In the end, a carbon tax bill did make it out of two Senate committees before dying.
“Well, it was an incredibly heavy lift, it’s a transformational policy,” said Democrat Reuven Carlyle of Seattle who sponsored the carbon tax bill in the state Senate.
Even though it didn’t pass this year, Carlyle said the issue isn’t going away.
“There will be, in my opinion, a price in carbon in this state in the next couple of years and it will either happen at the ballot box or it will happen in the Legislature,” Carlyle said.
Already, a coalition of environmental and labor groups along with Western Washington tribes has filed an initiative to put a carbon tax on the November ballot.
Many Republicans, though, viewed the demise of the carbon tax as a positive.
“I think it’s a win for the people of Washington state that an energy tax, a tax on carbon, didn’t pass,” said state Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale. “It would have been detrimental to working families and driven jobs out of Washington state.”
Another high profile issue that didn’t pass was repeal of the death penalty. However, it did clear the state Senate on a bipartisan vote—something that hasn’t happened in modern times. Republican Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla was the prime sponsor. Walsh, whose district includes Washington’s death row, says views are changing on capital punishment.
“It’s a little like other issues we’ve had before us, you know, gay rights and gay marriage and other issues where people... just got to thinking a little more clearly about things and realized it isn’t going to be the end of the world,” Walsh said in an interview on the last day of the legislative session.
Walsh expects death penalty repeal will be a topic again next year.
The legislative session started out in January on a relatively bipartisan note. Lawmakers reached agreement on a holdover issue from last year—a dispute over how to respond to a Washington Supreme Court decision that had implications for private property owners who wanted to drill a well for water. The agreement in January paved the way for passage of a state construction budget which had been held up over the rural water issue.
For Ericksen, that was the high point of the session.
“After that, it was downhill for the people of Washington state here in Olympia,” Ericksen said. “The Democrat party definitely was not holding back. They had five years of pent-up, far left legislation they wanted to pass and they worked as hard as they could to pass a record number of bills which most people think is not a good thing.”
Majority Democrats did pass a long list of bills—many of them measures that didn’t pass in previous years when Republicans controlled the state Senate. Standing in the Senate wings on the last night of the session, Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson acknowledged the power of one-party rule.
“It allowed us to pass legislation that’s been bottled up sometimes for five years and in many cases that was bipartisan, like Breakfast After the Bell which helps children who really need breakfast at school,” Nelson said.
That bill requires high-poverty schools to provide breakfast to students after the start of the school day. Supporters say that’s important because some kids arrive at school by bus too late to eat breakfast before classes begin.
Other bills that gained some Republican support included a first-in-the-nation net neutrality bill, a ban on bump stocks and a ban on salmon net pens. There were also bipartisan bills to address sexual harassment in the workplace.
But there were plenty of times when Democrats went it alone—including on their update to the state’s two-year budget. The budget contains a one-time property tax cut for next year of 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Republicans criticized Democrats for funding that tax cut with money destined for the state’s constitutionally-protected rainy day fund.
The budget also puts several hundred million dollars toward teacher salaries,as required by the state Supreme Court. Currently, the state is in contempt of court over school funding and accruing a $100,000-a-day fine.
“I think this is the final action that will get out us out of contempt with the court,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan.
There was drama as the clock ran out on the legislative session on Thursday. A closely watched bill to raise the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic rifle failed to get a vote in either chamber—even though a similar bill passed the Republican-led Florida Legislature this week. In the final hours, Democrats did approve a new police deadly force law designed to avoid a contentious ballot fight over the issue this fall. Republicans questioned the constitutionality of the move.
Lawmakers adjourned just after 10 p.m. Thursday. It was the first time since 2014 that the legislature has finished on time without needing to go into an overtime session.