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A quick start and renters' pleas: Week 1 recap of Washington's 2024 legislative session

The Washington Legislative Building is seen under a clear blue sky, behind a sundial and pathway lined with bare trees
Jeanie Lindsay
NW News Network
The Washington Legislative Building in Olympia, Jan. 12, 2024.

Washington's 2024 legislative session started Monday, Jan. 8, after weeks of lead-up and conversation from key lawmakers about what to expect this go-around.

The House gaveled in and immediately started passing leftover legislation from last year, including a lot-splitting housing bill, a measure to end child marriage, and another bill to ramp up state support for local communities responding to extreme weather events.

Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) says the bills already passed are those that the House worked on last year and are likely welcome in the Senate, as lawmakers "get the cobwebs out" in their race against the 60-day clock. Session is scheduled to end March 7.

Gov. Jay Inslee gave his annual "State of the State" speech Tuesday, kicking off his final year in office with a sports analogy. He highlighted accomplishments during his tenure and made promises to keep moving forward on issues important to his administration and Democrats in the Legislature.

At a ceremony Wednesday, officials unveiled a Billy Frank Jr. maquette, a smaller model of a statue that will eventually end up on display in Washington D.C.

A House committee considered a proposal to remove gendered terms in the state's constitution. The bill's author, Rep. Bill Ramos (D-Issaquah), points out that current language in the constitution excludes women lawmakers, when there are a record number serving in Olympia. Voters elected Dixy Lee Ray, the first woman to serve as the state's governor, in the ‘70s. The constitution has been changed over 100 times since it was ratified in 1889.

The House passed a bill making in-person harassment of election workers a felony, after election offices across Washington – and several other states – received threatening mail last year.

The debate over rent stabilization returned to Olympia, with a big crowd – online and in-person – flocking to a committee meeting Thursday, when lawmakers heard input on a proposal to cap annual rent increases.

And Secretary of State Steve Hobbs gave lawmakers notice that the first of six Republican-backed ballot initiatives was officially heading their way. The Senate later referred Initiative 2113, pertaining to police car chases, to the chamber's Law & Justice committee for consideration.

Next week, some lawmakers are looking into education bills, including one that would make "financial education" a high school graduation requirement, and others that could make it easier for communities to pass local school bonds.

The Senate is expected to start passing bills off the chamber floor, and a House Housing Committee could take action on the rent stabilization bill.

Transportation committees will dig into safety issues, and talk about the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws. Meanwhile, there's a hearing scheduled later in the week on legislation that would make an artificial intelligence task force.

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.