2021 Legislative Agenda
Washington State faces enormous challenges in responding to the pandemic, systemic racism, economic recession, and economic inequality. We also have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our economy so that we come out of this recession with more equitable opportunity, healthier communities, and a brighter future. We can build a commonwealth for everyone.
These bills are our top priorities for Washington’s 2021 Legislative Session.
Note: By April 2, most bills must have passed either the full House or Senate and reached at least the Rules Committee in the opposite chamber – after passing through their policy and fiscal committees – to still be “alive” for Washington’s 2021 Legislative Session. Policy bills have until 5:00 pm on April 11 to pass the opposite chamber. Bills directly related to the state budget are generally exempt from the committee cut-off dates. April 25 is the final day of this legislative session. You can watch hearings and votes on bills here.
Many Washington workers, families, and small businesses struggle to pay for food and rent, while the wealthiest individuals and corporations make record profits. Tax reform is one tool to add fairness to our regressive tax system, provide funds to help families and small businesses get through these hard times, and jump start a recovery that provides opportunity and healthy communities for all.
By strengthening our tax system with several of these new progressive sources of revenue, Washington’s policymakers can make the investments critical to recovery from the pandemic and to building healthy communities in which all Washington residents have the opportunity to thrive.
Learn more about the progressive revenue bills we are advocating for this session:
HB 1406 assesses a new 1% tax on the value of stocks, bonds, and other intangible assets over $1 billion. Fewer than 100 of our state’s wealthiest individuals would pay the tax. It would raise $5 billion per biennium beginning in 2023-25 to invest in childcare, public health, access to higher education, and a more equitable and sustainable economy.
Capital Gains Tax: SB 5096 will raise $1.1 billion annually beginning in fiscal year 2023 with a 9% tax on income from stocks, bonds, and other assets, exempting retirement accounts, sale of homes or farms, and investment earnings of less than $25,000. Most other states tax this income of the well-to-do.
Estate Tax Reform: HB 1465 will exempt estates of deceased state residents valued less than $2.5 million and increase rates on the largest estates, raising about $30 million annually to be dedicated to housing security assistance and a new Equity in Housing Fund.
Working Families Tax Exemption: HB 1297 will add fairness to our tax system and provide urgently needed economic relief to low income families who pay much higher percentages of their incomes in state and local taxes than the well-to-do.
Closing Investment Tax break HB 1111: High income generating corporations and nonprofits often stash excess funds in stocks and other investments, rather than lowering prices, investing in research, or raising wages for rank-and-file employees. They pay no state taxes on the income generated. Eliminating this tax break could generate about $250 million annually to reinvest in health care.
NOTE: Revenue bills are necessary to implement the budget, therefore not subject to the same cut-offs as other policy bills. Final decisions on revenue bills are likely to be made late in the legislative session.
SB 5096 – Extraordinary Profits Tax on Capital Gainspassed the Senate with a vote of 25 to 24 and has had a hearing in the House Finance Committee. It was included in 2021-23 state operating budget proposals from Governor Inslee and both Senate and House Democrats. As amended, it will introduce a 7% tax on extraordinary earnings above $250,000 from the sale of assets – excluding: gains from sales of homes and other real estate, retirement accounts, farms, and some business assets. It would raise about $350 million in the last year of the 2021-23 biennium, and $700 million 2023-25. This important legislation would help bring balance to our tax code and provide long-term funding for child care, the Working Families Tax Exemption, and other public services vital for thriving communities – but there is still no certainty of passage.
HB 1297 – Working Families Tax Exemption passed the House 94 to 2 and through Senate policy and fiscal committees to the Rules Committee. Funding for it was included in both Senate and House Democrat budget proposals. It would provide immediate financial relief to families hardest hit by the pandemic and recession and help bring balance to our tax code.
HB 1406 – The Wealth Tax passed the House Finance Committee and was referred to the Appropriations Committee. It would tax the very wealthiest Washingtonians on the value of their stocks, bonds, and other intangible property in excess of $1 billion, raising about $5 billion per biennium beginning in 2023-25.
To read more about the importance of a more fair tax code in rebuilding Washington’s economy, click here.
Early Learning and Care
Child care and early learning are critical to child development, family wellbeing, and business prosperity. Yet even before the pandemic, child care was in crisis. Our state’s economic recovery depends on quality, affordable child care, with well compensated teachers and caregivers, available to all working parents and their kids.
We must expand and stabilize our subsidy structure and invest in:
- COVID health & safety supplies and reopening assistance
- Compensation and health care for childcare teachers
- Affordability for families
SB 5247– Fair Start passed the House 58 to 38 and the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education. It is now before the Ways & Means Committee. It establishes policies to increase access, affordability, and quality for child care and early learning programs that can be funded with the extraordinary profits on capital gains tax, but does not address the critical issues of compensation or health coverage for child care workers.
Health Care Access
Health care is a human right. But high costs and insurance based on employment, age, and immigration status block access to health care for hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians. COVID has exacerbated disparities. We must make health care more accessible in the short-term, as we also push towards larger health care system transformation that provides quality care for all and reins in cost.
Learn more about the health care bills we are supporting this session:
SB 5377 – Cascade Care 2.0 – Passed the Senate with bipartisan support, and the House 55 to 43.
The proposed Senate budget includes $100 million for health insurance subsidies to low- and moderate-income residents starting in 2022, but the House budget version doesn’t include any funding. Our next step is to advocate for at least $100 million to be included in the final 2021-2023 operating budget.
While the federal American Rescue Plan also provides additional health premium subsidies in response to the pandemic, it leaves out many people because of policy loopholes and federal restrictions and doesn’t go far enough for essential workers. The new federal subsidies will also expire after 2022. Without state funding for Cascade Care subsidies, Washington residents will be left with a steep and sudden affordability cliff.
Read EOI’s Cascade Care policy brief here.
SB 5068 Postpartum Medicaid Expansion – The bill to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income moms for one year postpartum passed the Senate on February 25 and the House on April 5, both with strong bipartisan votes, and should soon be heading to Governor Inslee for his signature. Both the Senate and the House proposed budgets included funding for the program.
In its current form, the bill:
- Extends Medicaid coverage from sixty days to one year following childbirth for individuals who are receiving coverage on or after the federal public health emergency expires.
- By June 1, 2022, includes individuals who are WA residents with countable income up to 193% FPL.
- Establishes an outreach campaign to educate community members about the program.
- Directs the Health Care Authority to submit a waiver to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for federal match, to maximize federal funding when possible.
Read EOI’s Postpartum Coverage policy brief, here.
Our state’s public colleges and universities can help spur stronger economic recovery by providing students and the recently unemployed opportunities to learn new skills – if we invest in equitable access and equip our colleges and universities with the staffing and resources to both educate students and help them achieve degrees.
Learn more about the higher education legislation we are supporting this session:
Equity and access for community and technical colleges: HB 1318, SB 5194 would provide additional funding for counseling, childcare, stipends, and other supports proven to help students of Color and low-income students successfully complete degrees. It would also raise additional funds from Washington’s biggest and wealthiest corporations by having them pay the same 1.22% rate as smaller companies for higher education funding.
Creating prison to postsecondary education pathways: HB 1044 would permit and expand postsecondary education opportunities at state correctional institutions by improving accommodations for incarcerated individuals with learning disabilities or cognitive impairments, assist people with financial aid forms, streamline and simplify the process for incarcerated individuals when considering transfers to other facilities or release, and require a report on enrollment, completion and recidivism.
SSB 5194 – Community and Technical College Equity passed the full Senate and the House Committees on College &Workforce Development and Appropriations. It is now in House Rules. As amended, it would improve academic counseling, diversity, equity, and inclusion planning, create a grant program to improve mental health counseling, and establish a goal of increasing full-time faculty positions by 200 at CTCs 2021-23. These supports have been proven to help students of Color and low-income students successfully complete their degrees.
SHB 1044 – Prison to Postsecondary Pathways passed the House 96 to 2 and Senate Committees on Human Services and Ways & Means. It is now in the Senate Rules Committee. Amendments broaden access to postsecondary education programs for incarcerated individuals by removing certain requirements and including collaboration with community-based postsecondary education programs and nonprofits.
Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML)
Washington’s PFML program helped over 100,000 workers and families maintain economic security while coping with a serious health crisis or welcoming a new child in 2020. We can make modest improvements to ensure the program equitably serves vulnerable workers and those who lost work during pandemic shutdowns.
Learn more about the bills we are supporting to expand and improve Washington’s PFML program:
SHB 1073 PFML qualifying period fix for workers impacted by COVID – Passed the House with a vote of 56 to 40 and the Senate 29 to 20. HB 1073 will help an estimated 42,000 workers who lost work due to COVID still qualify for PFML by allowing people to qualify based on work during 2019 or the first quarter of 2020. Senate committees amended the bill to allow funding from federal American Rescue Plan dollars. Earlier amendments in the House removed the expansion of family definition and job protections that were in the original bill.
SB 5097 Equity expansion to PFML – Passed the Senate with a vote of 29 to 19 and the House 55 to 42. The bill expands the definition of family beyond a specific list to include others with a close relationship who depend on an employee for care. Amendments removed the expanded job protections that were in the original bill, but added a study. Since both chambers made amendments, the final step in the legislature is for concurrence on an agreed to version, then the bill goes to Governor Inslee to be signed into law.
HB 1087 Technical corrections – Passed both the House and Senate with large bipartisan majorities. It is now headed to Governor Inslee’s desk. This bill makes a technical fix to allow people to continue pursuing claims if employers violated their rights to unpaid leave in 2017-19.
Undoing Racist Structures
EOI stands as an ally with communities impacted by racist structures in supporting police accountability, reform of our criminal justice system, and confronting legacies of racism and oppression, including supporting:
HB 1078 –Voting rights restorationfor previously incarcerated people passed the House 57 to 41 and the Senate 27 to 22. On April 7, Governor Inslee signed the bill into law.
SB 5259 – Police Accountability: Law Enforcement Data Collection passed the Senate and through House committees. It is now ready for a vote by the full House. As amended, it directs the Attorney General to establish an advisory group to recommend a system for collecting and publishing use of force data, and to establish a competitive procurement process to select an institution to implement the program. It also requires law enforcement agencies to report data once the program is implemented.
SHB 1016 –Juneteenth holiday passed the House 89 to 9 and the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 47 to 1.
SHB 1054 – Prohibiting chokeholds and restricting other violent police tactics passed the House with some clarifying amendments and the Senate Law & Justice Committee. It is now in Senate Rules.