Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

WaLeg Recap: Progress Made – but Far More is Needed

Voters face stark choices in November - and lawmakers have to get serious about revenue in 2025

  1. WaLeg Sine Die 2024

The 2024 legislative session wrapped up with a number of small but important wins for Washington’s workers and families, some dangerous initiatives heading to the November ballot, and a lot of work left to do in 2025.

Expectations weren’t especially high for this short 60-day session, but the EOI team worked tirelessly on our legislative priorities – with several of them passing and now headed to the governor’s desk.

While we can feel good about a few key wins, overall, the Washington Legislature’s list of accomplishments fell short of the job before them. As the final gavel sounded, many Washington residents are still left without comprehensive solutions for economic stability.

Here are the wins we’re celebrating this session:
  • Those applying for Paid Family & Medical Leave will be able to rely on timely medical certification from their doctor now that medical providers will be required to sign the required paperwork within 7 calendar days which means people will have smoother and faster access to their benefits.
  • Washington’s Paid Sick and Safe Leave law will be more equitable. The definition of family in that law will expand to include chosen family, aligning it with the existing language of Paid Family & Medical Leave. This bill will ensure that everyone in Washington can access paid leave to take care of a sick loved one, regardless of how they’re related.
  • A bill strengthening the state’s Health Care Cost Transparency Board will enable it track patient affordability challenges; add patient and labor representation; evaluate how industry profits contribute to health care spending; and provide an annual public hearing on cost trends.
  • Patients will be protected from surprise bills when they call for an ambulance. This bill adds ground ambulance use to our existing balance billing laws which protect patients and control costs. Under this change, ground ambulance providers will be prohibited from sending patients extra bills to cover the amount beyond what insurance pays for an ambulance ride.
  • Lawmakers included approximately $28 million in our budget to fund the state’s new Apple Health Expansion program to provide health care access for all low-income residents, regardless of immigration status.
  • People who don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work will be able to use a state-administered Individual Retirement Account, through a new program called Washington Saves (once it’s up and running in a couple of years).
  • The Equal Pay and Opportunity Act will protect more Washingtonians by including other protected classes (in addition to gender), ensuring people can act against wage discrimination at work.

All of these policies will help put some additional economic security and opportunity more within reach for more Washington residents. That said, lawmakers left a lot of work on the table they’ll have to pick up in 2025 to find comprehensive solutions to meet our state’s many needs.

But first: there’s the matter of the November elections, where Washington voters will decide whether Washington state will be the kind of place that can even make serious investments in the public good.

A Threat In November

Right-wing multi-millionaire Bryan Heywood has single-handedly funded multiple ballot initiatives aimed at undoing much of our state’s progress made over the past two decades. His Let’s Go Washington campaign is promoting a libertarian austerity agenda – one that will have real and dire consequences if enacted, including revoking the state’s capital gains tax, which will provide a nice tax cut for Heywood at the expense of millions of dollars in cuts to the state’s K-12, early learning, and childcare programs.

Rejecting the Let’s Go Washington initiatives this November will preserve critical revenue for the things we value, like excellent education for our kids, and cleaner air and water for everyone.

That said, just preserving the revenue we have is not enough. We have our sights set on a 2025 Legislature that steps up to the very achievable task of passing progressive revenue that will fund vital programs to boost economic stability for all Washingtonians.

Washingtonians Need Comprehensive Solutions for Economic Stability

When the EOI policy team hit the road last fall, we connected with our partners and others working for economic justice in their communities throughout Washington. During these trips, we heard about very similar struggles everywhere we went.

The top concerns: Affordable housing, access to affordable and quality healthcare, and generally being able to make ends meet. The data back this up, too: over 670,000 households in Washington do not have enough income to meet the minimum cost of living in their area – in spite of the fact that 80% of those households have at least one working adult.

Washington’s legislators had several opportunities in 2024 to address these problems and significantly improve the lives of struggling Washingtonians – including:

  • The Keep Our Care Act, which would have helped address our state’s dual crises in health care: affordability and access. If passed, KOCA would have regulated health care consolidations and prevented mergers from moving forward if they would raise prices, restrict reproductive or gender affirming care, or harm minority communities.
  • A Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program and a Working Families Tax Credit expansion would have provided a vital lifeline to those struggling to make ends meet.
  • A bill offering one year of cost-free community or technical college would have given thousands of young people a chance to get a jump start on their lives and careers.
  • The Washington Future Fund (a.k.a. Baby Bonds) would directly promote racial and economic justice by providing a $4000 investment to every child born under Medicaid. Those funds – complete with interest accrued – would then become available for them to use for higher education, buying a home, or starting a business after age 18.
In 2025, Lawmakers Have To Get Serious About Revenue

The biggest thing standing in the way of these – and other – progressive public policy ideas: tax reform. Washington’s tax system falls too heavily on people with too little, while letting the very wealthy skate by – in fact, we have the second most regressive tax structure in the nation. The result? When the opportunity to invest in Washington’s future presents itself, the cost is often too steep for lawmakers to look past.

What’s Next for Washington?

It’s hugely challenging to pass legislation that balances our tax code and fixes this revenue issue, given the enormous pressure that monied interests can bring to bear on our political system. The Affordable Homes Act, which offered a progressive revenue solution to one of the biggest challenges our state faces, failed to pass. Likewise, the wealth tax legislation first heard in 2023 – too resounding public support also failed to move forward in 2024.

But: We know our state can fund a multitude of programs that will help Washingtonians thrive by asking those with extreme wealth to pay what they owe through a state wealth tax. And polling shows Washington residents enjoy the programs and services that our taxes fund – and would like to see them fully funded, rather than subjected to cuts and austerity in the name of billionaires having even more money.

In 2024, we need our elected officials to make decisions and cast votes that benefit the many working Washingtonians who have seen life get harder and harder each year – and need change on a systemic level to have a shot at a better life.

So while lawmakers could have done more in 2024, we’re clear-eyed about what we need to do to move them in the right direction. And we know that we can’t do it without your support! If you’d like to learn more about what happened this session and where EOI is heading in the year to come, join us on March 28th for our Session Recap webinar!

Join us for our Legislative wrap-up event!

This casual conversation will feature information from our policy teams about what passed, what didn’t, and what’s next for Washington and its residents.

Thursday | March 28th | 4:00 pm

RSVP for this virtual discussion!

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