What to look forward to in Washington's upcoming legislative session

click to enlarge What to look forward to in Washington's upcoming legislative session
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Hundreds of bills have already been filed in the Washington State Legislature — even though the 2024 legislative session won't begin until Monday, Jan. 8.

On Monday, Washington state lawmakers will return to the state's capitol to commence the 2024 legislative session. However, these politicians have been raring to go for the past month as hundreds of bills have already been drafted and "prefiled" since Dec. 4.

State representatives and senators for districts in the Inland Northwest are no exception. So below, we'll be unpacking a few of the bills that our local legislators are hoping to move through the Legislature.

PREFILED HOUSE BILLS

HB 1872
State Rep. Jenny Graham (R-Spokane) hopes to add "accountability requirements" for those who run homeless housing grant programs. If passed, grantees will be required to submit annual plans that specify goals and targets for the next calendar year.

The state auditor would also be required to "conduct an annual performance audit of all homeless housing and assistance grant programs administered by the department under this chapter." Six other Republicans have signed onto the bill with Graham.

HB 1899 and HB 1952
Devastating fires blazed across Spokane County in August, killing two people, leaving more than 20,000 acres marred by the flames and destroying hundreds of homes. In response, Rep. Mike Volz (R-Spokane) penned two bills that would facilitate reconstruction efforts for communities that have been damaged by wildfires (HB 1899) and maintain a "statewide recovery framework" that would aid in long-term community recovery (HB 1952). Both bills have bipartisan support.

HB 1899 intends to make it easier to rebuild after the wildfire damage that was caused in 2023. If passed, any structures damaged by the fires can be rebuilt to the state building code rules that were in effect on Jan. 1, 2023, instead of to the new code that took effect later in the year.

HB 1952 aims to create plans for long-term community recovery after emergencies. This includes issuing grants to establish and operate long-term community recovery groups, providing specific training to counties and tribes, and creating a resource directory of the many agencies and service providers that can assist in community recovery.

HB 1954
HB 1954 would protect physicians who provide reproductive health care services and gender-affirming care from certain disciplinary action, like the denial of an application for licensure or licensure renewal. Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) introduced the bill with the support of two other Democrats.

HB 2074
This bill from Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy) protects landowners from civil penalties levied against them when their property is in violation of state water law — if the violation was caused by a tenant. Instead, the renter would be liable to pay the penalty, which could cost anywhere from $100 to $5,000 per day.


HB 2078 and HB 2079
Rep. Suzanne Schmidt (R-Spokane Valley) filed HB 2078 and HB 2079 in an effort to improve school safety by adding more penalties for threats of force or violence at schools and school-related athletic activities. One bill deals with threats against sports officials at elementary and secondary schools, while the other deals with threats against officials at institutions of higher education.

"The legislature finds that the values engendered in athletic activities are being undermined by participants and spectators who do not respect the commitment of these officials. Increasingly, these people are expressing their dissatisfaction through inappropriate verbal abuse and behavior directed at the officials," HB 2078 states. The higher education bill includes a similar sentence.

The bills boast bipartisan support with Rep. Leonard Christian (R-Spokane Valley) and Riccelli co-sponsoring the legislation.

If passed, someone who violates the bill in a higher education setting could be charged with a Class C felony, which comes with up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. They would also be prohibited from entering the school's property or attending athletic activities for a year.

At the elementary and secondary level, students could face emergency removal from the school for making any threats of violence or force, which could result in suspension or expulsion. Any adults making threats could be charged with a Class C felony.

Current law considers these violations to be a gross misdemeanor — resulting in no more than six months in jail and up to a $500 fine if they're found guilty.

PREFILED SENATE BILLS

SB 5791
In an effort to better understand testing methods to establish driving under the influence, Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) prefiled SB 5791 to evaluate the effectiveness of "oral fluid roadside information" for the enforcement of DUI laws. If passed, the Washington State Patrol will select a minimum of 10 locations to "implement the pilot program as part of the field sobriety evaluation used in the investigation of suspected violations," the bill states.

The pilot program locations must be initiated by March 1, 2025. The bill also requires the WSP to file a report by June 30, 2026, about the results of the pilot.

SB 5795
In 2019, Washington legislators passed a bill that would keep the state in daylight saving time all year. However, to actually put this law into effect it needs to be authorized at the federal level, which hasn't happened yet.

SB 5795, prefiled by Padden, takes the same arguments used in 2019 about the negative impacts of switching our time twice a year, but instead would exempt the state from switching to daylight saving time.

"The state of Washington would benefit from the consistency and predictability of observing Pacific standard time throughout the year," the bill states.

That approach doesn't require federal approval. Two states — Hawaii and Arizona — already recognize standard time for the entire year.

If passed, the bill would take effect on Nov. 4, 2024.

SB 5917
This fall, the targeted vandalism of two rainbow crosswalks in Spokane and a queer-youth organization — Odyssey Youth Movement — posed poignant questions about the state's definition of a hate crime. While it was clear that the vandalism was targeted toward the LGBTQ+ community, it couldn't be investigated as a hate crime because the law doesn't include a section about the defacement of private and public property.

State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) hopes to change that through the passage of SB 5917. If passed, the law would be amended to include the targeted defacement — writing, painting or drawing any inscription, figure, or mark of any type — of public or private property under the definition of a hate crime.

Three other Democratic senators have co-sponsored the bill.

SB 5927
This bill from Padden intends to slightly amend the current laws regarding the deployment of tear gas, by adding sheriffs to the definition of "highest elected official." As it stands now, when law enforcement intends to use tear gas when responding to a riot outside of any correctional facility, they must get permission from the highest elected official — like the mayor or a county executive.

If this bill is passed, the sheriff would have the authority to approve tear gas usage as well.

SB 5934
In a commitment to our pollinators, Padden is sponsoring SB 5934, which would require local governments to ensure that landscaping projects they approve are planted with at least 25% pollinator habitat. This includes both commercial and residential permits. Builders won't have to figure it all out themselves though: local governments must provide them a list of native forage plants.

All four of Padden's bills that we included have bipartisan support and were co-sponsored by Democratic senators. 

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Colton Rasanen

Colton Rasanen is a staff writer for the Inlander covering education, LGBTQ+ affairs, and most recently, arts and culture. He joined the staff in 2023 after working as the managing editor of the Wahpeton Daily News and News Monitor in rural North Dakota.