Tuesday, February 15 marked a major cut-off in Washington’s 2022 legislative session. Policy bills must now have passed their “house of origin” – either the House or Senate – to continue being considered this year. Bills that have survived this cut off now move to the other chamber. Senate committees will take up House bills and vice versa. Those bills now have until March 4 to pass the full legislature. Bills considered necessary to implement the budget and the budget itself are exempt from these deadlines, and continue to be active until the last day of session on March 10.
Next week both Senate and House Democrats, who hold the majority of seats, will release their versions of arguably the most important bill of the session, the supplemental state budget.
Some have suggested that this year’s short 60-day legislative session is only for tweaks to policy and the budget, but Washington’s people and communities need more from state government right now. The state is also in the unusual position of having lots of money available to invest in relief and public programs, due to state tax revenues coming in faster than expected and millions of federal COVID relief dollars remaining unallocated.
With our unbalanced and regressive state tax code and chronic structural deficit, we need to grab this opportunity to give our people and institutions the major boost they require to recover from the trauma of the past two years and come out with more resilience and a better future.
Even though by some measures the economy is booming, federal and state policy choices over the past 40 years have tilted our economy so that growth favors the already wealthy, not the average working family. COVID has left many people broke and in precarious health. The wealthy have gotten much richer, and the well-to-do are doing better than ever. But people keep getting sick and essential workers are exhausted. Many people and businesses still haven’t been able to return to work. Child care is hard to find, and centers struggle to stay open. Mental health needs are off the charts, for school kids, college students, and adults. Previously existing economic and racial inequality has all gotten worse.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau Pulse survey conducted in January, 450,000 Washington households reported not having enough to eat in the past 7 days, and over 500,000 report little or no confidence they’ll be able to pay next month’s rent or mortgage. More than half of Washington residents who had planned to take higher education classes had to change their plans due to COVID, and 30% of households with children under age 5 had to keep their children home from school or child care in the past 4 weeks due to safety concerns.
On top of the direct impacts from the pandemic, we’re confronted with failing infrastructure from decades of underinvestment and the growing disruptions from climate change. We need our state legislators to act boldly to move these and other good bills over the finish line and make the substantial investments our people and communities need to heal and thrive.
Policy bills advancing past cut off
Here are bills on EOI’s support agenda to promote health and economic resilience that are advancing in the legislature:
- Implementation fix for the Working Families Tax Credit (HB 1888): This bill to strengthen the WFTC and boost financial stability for low-income families passed the House 87 to 9 and has been referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
- Prescription Drug Affordability Board (SB 5532): The Senate passed SB 5532 with a vote of 27 to 20. Amendments significantly watered down the bill, including removing the fines on manufacturers for excessive price increases, limiting affordability reviews to only 24 drugs per year. It has a hearing in the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness on February 17.
- Surprise billing (HB 1688): Aligning state law and the federal No Surprises Act will help protect patients from unexpected charges for out-of-network health care services. It passed the Senate 67 to 30.
- Paid Family & Medical Leave improvements (SB 5649): This bill makes small improvements to Washington’s PFML program, including allowing people who would have qualified for family or medical leave for a new child to continue leave for 7 days following the child’s death. Senate amendments removed provisions in the original bill that would have allowed people to apply in advance and also included people approved for leave to care for other family members to continue leaves following a death. An actuarial study and taskforce to make recommendations on long-term program financial health were added to the bill. The amended bill passed the Senate 42 to 7 and is scheduled for a hearing in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee on February 18.
- Strengthening the Equal Pay and Opportunity Act (SB 5761): This bill would require employers with 15 or more employees to include the expected pay range and benefits in all job postings. It passed the Senate 27 to 21 and is scheduled for a hearing in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee on February 16.
- Diaper subsidies (SB 5838): This bill increases TANF grants for families with young children to cover the cost of diapers and other child necessities. The Senate amended the bill so the size of grants will depend on the amount appropriated by the Legislature and passed it with a vote of 48 to 1. It is scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on Housing, Human Services & Veterans on February 18.
- Reform Legal Financial Obligations (HB 1412): Allowing low-income Washingtonians to seek relief from exorbitant and unpayable legal debts would help them successfully re-enter society after release from prison and address racial and class inequities embedded in our policing and incarceration systems. The House passed it 70 to 24. It is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Law & Justice on February 17.
- Strengthening WA Cares (HB 1732 and HB 1733): This pair of bills was among the first to be moved through Washington’s 2022 legislature. They delay implementation of Washington’s landmark long term care program to allow for some policy tweaks. Both have passed the Legislature and been signed into law by the Governor.
- Expanding apprenticeship pathways with wraparound supports (SB 5600): This bill to enable more students to access pathways to secure careers passed the Senate 39 to 10, and is scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on College & Workforce Development on February 17.
- Low-interest student loans (HB 1736): The bill to establish the Washington Student Loan Program offering 1% passed the House 59 to 39 and is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Higher Education & Workforce Development on February 17.
- Expanding the Washington College Grant (HB 1659): A bill to expand the Washington College Grant and allow students who receive the maximum grant to receive additional money to help pay for books, lab supplies, and more, passed the House 83 to 15.
In budget bills next week, we’ll be looking for:
- Substantial investments in child care stability, affordability, and compensation
- PFML program funding for an actuarial study and to establish a reserve fund to assure program stability
- Investments to help our kids catch up in school and to provide the school nurses, counselors, bus drivers, and other support staff our children need to have equitable access to educational opportunity
- Investments in the essentials for healthy people and communities, including access to affordable health care, mental and behavioral health supports, and stable housing
- Investments in family economic security and resilience
Washington legislators have only about three weeks left to make important decisions that will have long-lasting impacts on millions of children, workers, small businesses, and communities all across our state. They should not let this unique opportunity to invest in the health and well-being of our people and institutions go to waste.
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