2019 in Olympia: The Legislature’s hits and misses

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OLYMPIA — The 2019 legislative session began Jan. 14, with key issues this session ranging from requiring vaccines, to school funding, gun control, behavioral health, reducing the rape kit backlog, and a host of other issues.

Gov. Inslee made waves this session by declaring his run for president on March 1. The campaign took Inslee to the East Coast frequently over the course of the session, where he appeared on talk shows and his own CNN Town Hall in April. His absence from the state during the legislative session and increased security costs have drawn criticism.

While budgets and taxes loom, the policy changes that are encompassed in the 2,641 proposed bills this session are vast. Here are some of the key issues that passed this session, with some fun ones thrown in:

Tobacco

It will be illegal to purchase tobacco if you are under the age of 21, effective Jan. 1, 2020. Gov. Inslee signed into law on April 5 the bill brought forward at the request of the attorney general. Federally recognized tribes and their lands fall under federal law, which stipulates the minimum age to purchase tobacco is 18. Therefore, it will be legal on tribal lands in Washington for those 18-20 to purchase tobacco products. Legislators cited the dramatic reduction in odds that individuals will pick up the habit of smoking after the age of 21 as the reason they strongly support the bill.

Rape kit backlog

A bill to reduce the sexual assault kit backlog passed the legislature in two unanimous votes, with Gov. Inslee signing it into law on April 23. A sexual assault kit is physical evidence collected from a victim after the assault. With some kits remaining untested for over a decade, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab can currently test only 213 kits per month, with a backlog of around 10,000 kits. The bill includes a victim’s bill of rights, money to hire additional lab technicians, and new timelines for future rape kit testing. The legislation had an emergency clause and became effective on April 23.

Hate crimes

Newly named hate crime offenses would let courts infer the offense was due to the perception of the victim’s association with a protected class, unless evidence suggests otherwise. The legislation would also create a multidisciplinary Hate Crime Advisory Working Group under the attorney general. The group would work to raise awareness of hate crimes and recommend best practices for prevention, increasing reporting and identification of such crimes, support for victims and for strengthening law enforcement and prosecution of these offenses. Washington was the number-two state in the nation in 2017 for reported hate crimes.

UW Med School Behavioral Health

A behavioral health innovation and integration campus in the University of Washington School of Medicine was established in a series of unanimous votes by the legislature. The campus will include 150 beds and will focus on inpatient and outpatient care for individuals with behavioral health needs. The project is estimated to cost $225 million, with funding expected to be included in the legislature’s final budget. Gov. Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law.

Statute of limitations on sex crimes

There will be no statute of limitations for most sex crimes against minors and, an extended statute of limitations for rape, under legislation signed into law by Gov. Inslee on April 19. The statute of limitations is the length of time after a crime is committed that legal action or prosecution can be taken. The legislation also changes the burden of proof for consent to the defendant for the charge of rape in the third-degree. Previously, the victim had to prove they had not consented. The bill received broad bipartisan support in both chambers.

Daylight Saving

Legislation to move Washington to year-round daylight saving time is headed to Gov. Inslee’s desk. The legislation passed both chambers in bipartisan votes, and states like California and Oregon are considering similar legislation. The state must have approval from the U.S. Congress to actually make the switch.

Composting human remains

The legislature passed a bill that would add being turned to garden compost to a selection of ways to dispose of the deceased. Effective in May 2020, funeral directors will be allowed to compost human remains if requested.

School lockdowns

When a school experiences a situation that requires a lockdown, the first-responding agency involved now must determine if other schools in the vicinity, including private schools, are threatened. The agency is required under this new law to notify all known nearby schools if they deem there is reason for a lockdown or evacuation.

Vaccines

After a measles outbreak earlier this year in Clark County, legislators proposed various legislation to remove the personal exemption to vaccines. The legislature passed a bill to remove the personal exemption to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine while leaving both the religious and medical exemptions intact.

Firearm seizure

Law enforcement officers will seize all firearms and ammunition from a home when a domestic violence offense has occurred, including guns believed to be used in commission of the offense, as well as any other guns in sight or discovered during a lawful search. The guns will be held for a cooling-off period of five days, after which the owner can follow the pre-existing process to obtain their firearms.

Hydrogen fuel

In addition to biodiesel and ethanol-based fuels, Public Utility Districts will now be allowed to produce and sell renewable hydrogen as a fuel source.

Clean energy

A sweeping clean energy bill will require all utility companies in the state to provide 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2045. Starting in 2026 all electric utilities in Washington will be required to eliminate coal-fired sources of electricity. And by 2030, all electricity sold to utility customers must be greenhouse-gas neutral. Gov. Inslee has been a proponent of this legislation.

Orca protection

A law recommended by the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force makes it illegal for boat traffic to come within 300 feet of an orca and also establishes annual fees for whale watching enterprises, ranging from $125 for a single kayak to $2,825 for large motorized whale-watching tour boats.

Agricultural guest workers

A new office of Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce Services is established in the state government, to process applications and complaints and to conduct “field checks” of agricultural employers who hire foreign workers holding H-2A visas. The fiscal note on the program estimates it would cost around $3.5 million biennially to support about 14 state jobs.

Eyeball tattoos

Scleral tattooing is the process of scarring or inserting pigment into the human eye, typically the white of the eye. The legislature voted to make the practice illegal in Washington. Indiana and Canada have already banned the procedure.

Election postage

Washington has been a vote-by-mail state since 2011, and starting July 1, state law will require the state to pick up the tab for mailing back voted ballots. All ballots for primary and general elections will come with return envelopes and prepaid postage. The goal of this legislation is to reduce the election cost to counties and reduce monetary impediments to voting. Gov. Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law in the near future.

Stripper safety

Requires adult entertainers to be licensed and trained, and requires establishments to provide a panic button for performers and to ban abusive customers for three years. The legislation will also create an adult entertainer advisory committee in the Department of Labor and Industries once it’s signed by Gov. Inslee.

Dog breed profiling

Effective Jan. 1, it will be illegal for municipal governments to ban certain dogs based solely on their breeds, unless a reasonable exemption process, such as making exceptions for canine graduates of the American Kennel Club “Good Citizen Program,” is in place. Gov. Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law in the near future.

With every victory, there has to be a looser. Here are some of the key legislative issues that did not go through:

Death penalty

A proposal to strike the death penalty from Washington state law and replace it with mandatory life in prison without possibility of parole did not survive. Nevertheless, there has been a moratorium on the death penalty since 2014 and the last execution was conducted in 2010. Attorney General Bob Ferguson pointed to the House leadership’s unwillingness to bring the legislation up for a vote as the reason the measure did not pass this session.

Sex education

The Washington Senate passed a comprehensive K-12 sex education bill on Feb. 27 in a party-line vote. The bill would have required public schools to teach medically and scientifically accurate, comprehensive sexual health education at an age-appropriate level, with curricula approved by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The bill never came up for a vote in the House of Representatives.

Public records

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, withdrew his proposal to exempt the legislature from portions of the Public Records Act on Feb. 19. Several news outlets, including the Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association, prevailed in a 2017 public records lawsuit against the legislature, when a Thurston County Superior Court Judge ruled the lawmakers had been in violation of the Public Records Act for years. The legislature appealed the ruling and the case is presently before the Washington Supreme Court. Rowland Thompson, representing WNPA and Allied Daily Newspapers told the lawmakers the news agencies would rather lose the appeal than have Pedersen’s bill passed into law. This was the second time the Legislature tried to write itself out of the Public Records Act. After a public outcry in 2018 the lawmakers agreed not to overturn a veto by Gov. Inslee on a bill they passed to give the legislature immunity to the Public Records Act.

Dwarf tossing

Entertainment venues featuring dwarf tossing or dwarf bowling were not outlawed this session, though a bill aimed at preventing injuries of small-statured people was introduced.

This is a summary of just some of the legislation considered or passed this session. For more information on the bills being signed into law over the coming weeks visit www.governor.wa.gov/office-governor/official-actions/bill-action.

Sandy Stokes contributed to this report.

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