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First cutoff deadline, rent bill complications: A quick look at week 4 in the WA Legislature

The Washington Legislative Building is pictured under a blue and gray sky, with some tree branches and leafy bushes in the foreground
Jeanie Lindsay
NW News Network
The Washington Legislative Building on Feb. 2, 2024.

Policy committees were on crunch time this week, passing bills that originated in their chamber before the first cutoff deadline. Financial committees have a similar cutoff next week, and a couple of them will meet this weekend.

Some legislation that made the cut: Senate Bill 6179, which would allow liquor sellers to use biometric data – think fingerprints, eye scans, voice identification – to verify someone's age, and an artificial intelligence task force bill.

Several interesting bills that received hearings did not make it past the first cutoff though.

Housing advocates rallied on the capitol steps to pressure lawmakers in Olympia to slow rising rent costs, just as a strange turn of events led to the Senate's version of a rent stabilization bill unexpectedly stalling in committee, ramping up the pressure on the House's version.

A bill that would create a 25-foot buffer zone between initiative signature gatherers and protestors didn't move forward. The proposal was introduced after tensions flared between protestors and signature gatherers who worked to round up support on various policy initiatives last year.

A pitch to "ditch the switch" and move the state to Standard Time year-round also didn't make it past the first cutoff, as well as legislation that would restore voting rights for people in prison. A bill that would allow people to cash out gift cards with a balance of less than $50 was left behind too.

Although the committee policy cutoff deadline does slim down the number of bills lawmakers are actively working on, there are plenty of legislative maneuvers that mean seemingly "dead" policy proposals can come back up later on – and history shows that almost anything can happen until the final gavel falls.

Outside of committee action, lawmakers hit the floor in the House and Senate to pass bills across the rotunda. The first piece of legislation from Rep. Greg Nance (D-Kitsap), House Bill 2111, passed the House floor on Monday – the proposal just makes some small technical corrections to an existing child care program and was unanimously approved by the chamber.

The House also approved House Bill 1635, which would add fentanyl detection to police dog training, as well as House Bill 1961, that would make different forms of animal cruelty the same level of seriousness under state law.

On the Senate side, lawmakers gave approval to Senate Bill 5841, which would allow courts to order impaired drivers in Washington who are convicted for a DUI to pay child support after killing or permanently disabling a parent.

Legislation to ensure workers who go on strike still get health care, Senate Bill 5632, also passed, as well as Senate Bill 5804, which would require schools to maintain at least one set of opioid overdose medication, like Narcan. Enough senators also said yes to Senate Bill 5917, which would close a loophole in the state's hate crimes law for acts that target public property.

Those bills now go to the opposite chamber for consideration, as lawmakers hit the halfway point of the legislative session in week five.

There was also some more talk about those six policy initiatives in Olympia this week. Democratic leadership told reporters they're still considering next steps and want to learn more about how the proposals could financially and legally impact the state. Republicans are still pushing for hearings on the six measures, and a group rallied on the capitol steps Wednesday echoing that request.

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.