It’s been 105 days, and Washington lawmakers still haven’t agreed on a new two-year budget or a plan to fix how the state pays for schools.
Yet they’ve accomplished a few other things while running out the clock on their regular session, which ended Sunday. And the fact that they’ll be locked in overtime at the Capitol for the foreseeable future means they’ll have another shot at tackling some of the issues they missed.
Here are some highlights from what lawmakers finished in their 105-day regular session, versus what they’ll be working to address in the special session that begins Monday.
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Levy cliff: This year, lawmakers were at odds over whether to delay a planned cut to how much school districts could collect in local property taxes. School districts said the uncertainty surrounding the so-called “levy cliff,” which was set to begin in January, would have forced them to plan for drastic budget cuts.
Lawmakers ultimately voted to push back the deadline until 2019, leaving districts’ current taxing authority in place for another year and giving the Legislature more time to try to resolve the state’s larger school-funding issues.
Debate over whether or not to extend the so-called levy cliff consumed much of lawmakers’ attention early in their 105-day session.
Felony driving under the influence: The Legislature approved a bill Thursday to make someone’s fourth driving under the influence offense a felony. Under current law, prosecutors can only charge people with felony if it’s their fifth DUI offense in 10 years.
The bill to strengthen the state’s DUI law has passed the Senate several years in the row, but this is the first time it’s gained approval in the state House. The measure now awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.
Distracted driving: The Legislature decided to update the state’s distracted-driving law to ban any handheld use of a phone — including to surf the internet and read emails — while operating a vehicle. The state’s earlier law on cellphone use while driving only banned a person from reading and writing text messages, or holding a phone to their ear.
Lawmakers said the 2007 law didn’t account for evolving smartphone technology. Inslee has praised the bill’s passage and is expected to sign it into law. If he does, it will go into effect January 2019.
REAL ID: The state was approaching a deadline to comply with the REAL ID Act, a 2005 federal law that requires driver’s licenses and IDs to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they are legally in the United States. A regular Washington driver’s license doesn’t meet those requirements.
Without action by the Legislature on REAL ID, Washington residents potentially would have needed additional documentation beyond a standard-issue driver license to board airplanes starting in January 2018.
Federal government officials warned that if Washington lawmakers didn’t bring the state’s licensing system in line with the law, Washington residents may start needing additional documentation to board airplanes starting in January.
To bring the state into compliance, lawmakers approved a measure to create a two-tiered licensing system that identifies the state’s standard issue driver’s licenses as not valid for federal purposes, while keeping the state’s current enhanced licenses that meet federal requirements. The measure that passed, Senate Bill 5008, also cuts the cost of an enhanced driver’s license from $108 to $78.
Gun safety: Lawmakers approved the creation of a system to track when criminals, domestic abusers and other people subject to specific court orders are denied firearms.
Under House Bill 1501, firearms dealers would have to notify law enforcement when someone seeks a firearm and is denied because of ineligibility. Victims also could register to be notified if their abuser seeks a firearm and is denied.
Sunscreen in schools: Lawmakers unanimously agreed that students should be able to use sunscreen at school without a doctor’s prescription. Current law classifies sunscreen as a medication that can’t be used on campus without a note from a parent and a doctor. That would change under Senate Bill 5404, which has been sent to Inslee’s desk.
Still in limbo
School funding: In the McCleary school-funding case, lawmakers are under a court order to take on the full cost of paying teacher and other school employee salaries. Now, those salary costs are being paid partially through school district property-tax levies, a situation the state Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional. The high court has demanded that lawmakers come up with a way to solve those funding problems by the time they leave Olympia this year.
So far, legislators disagree about how to pay for the fix, as well as whether it should involve taking away most of school districts’ ability to raise taxes locally.
Lawmakers’ primary mission during the special session is finalizing a state budget and complying with a state Supreme Court order to fix the way the state pays for schools.
Internet privacy: Large numbers of Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature support bills to restrict the sale of users’ internet data — such as online search history — by internet service providers. But only the majority Democrat House has passed a measure to do so. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Republican from Ritzville, has urged more scrutiny of the idea, which emerged late in the 2017 session after Congress voted to stop similar federal rules from being implemented.
Water rights: Republicans have made it a priority to respond to the state Supreme Court’s recent Hirst decision, which has led to some rural property owners being unable to build on land that relies on wells as a water source. The high court’s 6-3 ruling said counties must ensure, independently of the state, that water is physically and legally available before issuing building permits in certain areas. Senate Bill 5239 would ensure so-called permit-exempt wells could be used for development.
Sound Transit: Lawmakers haven’t agreed on a plan to ease the sting of increased car-tab fees under Sound Transit 3, the $54 billion transit package voters approved in November. Democrats and Republicans have said they didn’t realize the tax package relied on an outdated method of calculating car-tab fees that overestimates the value of newer vehicles, leading to higher tax bills.
But while Democrats have proposed switching to a newer system and reimbursing drivers for the difference between the old and the new formula, Senate Republicans have proposed cutting Sound Transit 3’s car-tab collections by more than half, a move Democrats said would threaten voter-approved light rail and transit projects.
As they work in overtime on a budget, lawmakers also may try to address the cost of car-tab fee hikes under Sound Transit 3, as well as work toward a plan to provide paid family and parental leave.
Use of deadly force: Key lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have not ruled out changing Washington’s unique law that shields police who kill in the line of duty from criminal prosecution.
Some legislators are working to strike a balance between critics of the law who want to see a complete overhaul of the statute and police groups hesitant to endorse any legal change.
One thing could spark a compromise in the special session: An initiative to the Legislature is in the works by civil rights advocates that seeks to substantially lower the bar for prosecuting police who use deadly force recklessly or negligently.
Paid family leave: Lawmakers are working toward a deal to offer paid time off from work for new parents or people with a family member with a serious health condition. Two proposals are in play. One, sponsored by state Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, would offer up to 26 weeks of paid family or parental leave starting in 2019. A rival proposal from Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, would offer up to eight weeks of paid leave starting in 2020, and up to 12 weeks starting in 2023.
Robinson’s bill would offer a higher weekly benefit for workers who take leave. Lawmakers are working to negotiate a compromise that most likely would be somewhere in the middle.
Staff writer Walker Orenstein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.