Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

WA lawmakers lay out priorities heading into 2024 session as ballot initiatives loom

Four people sit in a row, in a committee hearing room at the Washington capitol
Jeanie Lindsay
Northwest News Network
Leaders of the four legislative caucuses, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane), House Minority Leader Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) and Senate Minority Leader John Braun (R-Centralia), answered press questions during a session preview event Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024.

Washington lawmakers won't have much time to spare during a short, 60-day legislative session this year. Legislators have laid out some of their top priorities over the last several weeks, leading up to the 2024 session that kicks off Monday.

For the most part, many legislators agree on which topics matter most – like behavioral health, housing, public safety, and education – but there's still plenty to sort out over the next two months as they differ on the specifics of how to address them.

On housing, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) says Democrats are looking more closely at ways to limit rising rent costs.

"Renters have no predictability and no stability, and it's contributing to homelessness in our state," Jinkins said at a session preview event Thursday.

Although Republican leaders don't agree with capping rent increases, they say they'll push for more incentives for builders to construct new housing and affordable units. And both parties will continue to work together on legislation to boost the supply of new homes in the state, including through some bills from last session that will be considered again this year.

Leaders also said Thursday that hiring more Washington State Patrol officers, and increasing the number of people who work in behavioral health, education, and child care is a priority too.

Transportation will also be a critical topic as the state faces an increasing number of deaths on Washington's roads and rising costs for several construction projects.

"We have some challenges, needless to say," said Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), adding that fixing the ferry system is an especially urgent problem. "We have people that are dependent on these ferries and in my opinion, we've let them down."

Lawmakers will also consider the future of the state's Climate Commitment Act, which has become an even hotter topic of debate after the new carbon emissions auctions went into effect last year. A Republican-backed policy initiative is aiming to undo the program as frustration mounts over gas prices.

A repeal of the carbon auctions would deal a multi-billion dollar blow to the state's budget: revenue from the carbon emissions auctions goes toward climate-related programs and projects across the state – including in transportation.

The Legislature is also preparing to navigate around another initiative that aims to repeal the capital gains tax, which collects revenue from high-value sales of assets like stocks and bonds. Revenue from the tax is primarily earmarked for schools, early learning and child care.

It's too early to know how the proposed ballot initiatives – and four more expected to head to the Legislature soon – could play out, but budget writers say they're keeping a close eye on them.

"This is just another component of the risk equation that we're going to have to deal with," said House Appropriations Committee Chair Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane).

Lawmakers said Thursday the Secretary of State's office has signaled that a couple of the policy initiatives could be verified and sent to the Legislature for consideration as early as next week. The proposals will likely end up being decided by voters this fall.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.