2021 Legislative Progress
Washington’s 2021 legislative session ended on schedule April 25, 2021. With the constraints of largely virtual proceedings, legislators considered fewer bills than in recent sessions. Nevertheless, Washington legislators passed key policy changes and a new two-year budget that will have far-reaching consequences – including adopting many of EOI’s legislative priorities to build a more equitable and just economy.
Taking Steps Toward a Fairer Tax Structure
The Legislature took two historic steps toward balancing Washington’s tax code – the most unfair tax structure in the nation:
- A restructured Working Families Tax Credit passed with strong bipartisan votes. HB 1297 will refund a portion of the regressive sales and property taxes that lower income Washingtonians pay. It improves on the original Working Families Tax Exemption – which passed in 2008 but was never funded – by expanding the number of people eligible, increasing the amount of the refunds, and most importantly, moving the credit into the base state budget so it won’t require a special appropriation every two years.
- A new tax on people who enjoy more than $250,000 in capital gains on the sale of stocks and investments in a year brings Washington’s wealthiest residents a little closer to paying their fair share for state services. SB 5096 squeaked through with only Democratic votes. While it will certainly be challenged in court, its legal foundation is strong. Passage of SB 5096 means our state will have a fairer and more stable flow of public revenue to invest in education, health, and opportunity for all Washingtonians.
EOI was the lead organization in developing proposals for a Wealth Tax on billionaires, HB 1406, and an Estate Tax Reform proposal, HB 1465. Neither passed this session, but we have laid the groundwork for continued progress.
To read more about the importance of a more fair tax code in rebuilding Washington’s economy, click here.
Investing in Quality Early Learning and Care for Washington’s Children and Families
A combination of new federal and state funding and smart state policy changes may have saved the child care industry from collapse. Even before the pandemic, providers and teachers did not make enough to stay in the field, yet parents could not afford care. Passage of SB 5247, the Fair Start Act, plus innovative provisions in the two-year operating budget which begins on July 1 provide hope that quality child care will be accessible, with more families getting subsidies, providers getting larger state payments, and licensed providers gaining access to grants. For the first time in a decade, the state is funding compensation for child care workers. Child care workers will also gain access to premium-free insurance through the Health Benefit Exchange.
Expanding Access to Health Care
Public health, behavioral health, and greater access to health care coverage all received boosts in funding. EOI focused particular attention on two important steps to improve health care affordability:
- SB 5068 – Governor Inslee signed SB 5068 into law to address our state’s maternal health crisis, improve women and children’s health, and address racial and gender disparities in our state. The bill, which passed both chambers with bipartisan support, extends Medicaid coverage for one year after giving birth, regardless of immigration status. The final budget includes $1.2m for funds to implement and fund the program. This expands Washington’s existing Pregnancy Medicaid program, which terminates coverage for many new moms at around two months postpartum. This important advancement takes the postpartum provisions in the federal American Rescue Plan one step further by allowing individuals to enroll during the postpartum period, even if they didn’t have Medicaid coverage during their pregnancy. This ensures coverage for those who may have lost their jobs or health care through a spouse after giving birth. Overall, this policy will help ensure the health and economic security of new families at a vulnerable time, and is a key win for racial and gender equity in our state.
- SB 5377, Cascade Care 2.0 – The bill to provide health insurance premium subsidies to low-income workers passed the Legislature with bipartisan support. The final operating budget includes $50 million for subsidies for people with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level ($32,200 for a single adult, or $66,250 for a family of four), plus implementation funds, starting in 2023. The final bill also limits non-standard plans on the Exchange and includes a provision to require hospitals that contract with public health programs, like Medicaid, PEBB, and SEBB, to contract with at least one public option plan.
Read EOI’s Cascade Care policy brief here.
Read EOI’s Postpartum Coverage policy brief, here.
Building Equitable Pathways to Higher Education
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the detrimental effects of inequity to our economy – including in higher education. Clearing a pathway to higher education for all students, particularly those that occupy multiple marginalized identities, can help spur stronger economic recovery. With the passage of SB 5194 and HB 1044, the Legislature prioritized equity and access for underserved populations and groups – students at community and technical colleges and incarcerated folks seeking educational pathways.
- SB 5194 takes major steps to achieve equity at our community and technical colleges. The bill aims to improve the experiences of low-income, first-generation and BIPOC students by investing in the necessary and proven supports to help them overcome their unique challenges and complete their degrees. As passed by the legislature, SB 5194 will require CTCs to implement diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plans, increase full-time faculty positions by 200 by 2023, and create a grant program to improve access to mental health counselors. The bill also includes additional funding for the full implementation of guided pathways, a program that aims to support students in college completion.
- HB 1044 creates and expands the prison-to-postsecondary education pathway for incarcerated individuals. The bill aims to improve reintegration and reduce recidivism. The bill expands access to college degrees and certificate programs and improves equitable access to those programs by taking into consideration learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and cognitive impairments. The bill also prioritizes continuity of education when considering transfers and makes access to important documentation such as transcripts easier.
Expanding Equitable Access to Paid Family & Medical Leave
Two policy changes aim at making Washington’s Paid Family & Medical Leave program more equitably accessible:
- HB 1073 allows workers impacted by COVID layoffs to qualify for PFML based on 2019 or early 2020 work.
- SB 5097 expands the definition of family beyond a specific list to include others with a close relationship who depend on an employee for care, especially important for BIPOC and LGBTQ workers and their families. It has passed the legislature and awaits the Governor’s signature.
In addition, HB 1087 makes a technical correction to allow workers whose rights were violated by employers in 2018 and 2019 to pursue claims. Governor Inslee has signed it into law.
Undoing Racist Structures
EOI stands as an ally with communities impacted by racist structures in supporting police accountability, ending mass incarceration, and confronting legacies of racism and oppression. This session, legislators responded to calls from Black-led grassroots organizations to pass significant incremental reforms that begin to undo racist structures, including:
- HB 1078, a historic bill and a significant step in restoring voting rights for previously incarcerated people. The bill automatically restores the voting rights of those convicted of a felony and ensures that failing to pay legal financial obligations is not a barrier to the restoration of their rights.
- SB 5259 allows for data collection on police tactics and use of force and aims to aide in police accountability by increasing transparency. The bill 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 and institute to implement the program. It also requires law enforcement agencies to report data on police tactics once the program is implemented.
- HB 1054 is a direct response to Black Lives Matter protests across the United States, and aims to limit police tactics and use of force. The bill limits and studies various police officer tactics, including the use of chokeholds and neck restraints, the use of canine teams, the use of tear gas, the use of military equipment, and the use of search and arrest warrants.