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Waning days of legislative session may hold some surprises, as state lawmakers take last-minute actions on contentious issues


April 22, 2021

After last Sunday's cut-off deadlines for passing policy bills in this year's legislative session, floor action has focused mostly on House and Senate concurrence calendars. Bills that have passed with amendments by the opposite chamber must be returned to the house of origin for concurrence-agreement with the amendments, and for a vote on final passage before finalized bills can be sent to the governor for his signature or veto.

So far, each chamber has concurred on several dozen bills, with dozens more scheduled for action in the remaining 10 days of this year's session. Amended bills on which both houses cannot agree are classified as "in-dispute," and a "conference committee," appointed by leadership in both chambers, works out the differences-typically with a compromise that is then voted on by the full House and Senate.

The operating and transportation budget proposals are among the bills that are in dispute, and budget writers continue to meet behind closed doors to create final versions of these spending plans. The final budget vote is usually one of the last actions taken before the end of session.

Both chambers are also acting on original bills that are not subject to cut-off deadlines. In a surprise move on Thursday, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate joined to approve a revised version of SB 5476, to reinstate criminal penalties for possession of illicit drugs.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) and ten other Senators as a response to the state Supreme Court's "Blake" decision in February that struck down Washington's existing felony drug possession law.

Sen. Dhingra's bill provided for outright decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, allowing for possession of specified amounts of drugs, including narcotics like oxycodone, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Sen. Dhingra and other proponents of this version ended up speaking against passage of the bill during an extended debate, after a striking amendment that would bring back penalties for possession was adopted. Although some Senators favored treating such possession as a felony, the bill, as passed, would treat it as a gross misdemeanor.

SB 5476 passed by a 28-20 margin, with 15 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting in favor. Eleven Democrats, including Sen. Dhingra and other sponsors of the bill voted against it. The bill is now headed to the House for its consideration.

An effort to bring a bill "back from the dead" is underway in the House today. Minority Republicans have introduced a motion (HCR 4402) to bring back and force a vote on HB 1557, which did not survive last Sunday's cut-off. The bill would limit the governor's emergency proclamations to 60 days unless an extension is approved by the Legislature. Governor Inslee has governed the state by executive order for over 400 days under emergency powers.

The so-called "8th Order of Business" motion is not debatable and would go straight to a vote in the House. If the motion is approved by a majority, HB 1557 could then be considered and voted on by the full House.

Also, today, the House Finance Committee is taking action on SB 5096, the proposed income tax on capital gains that was passed by the Senate by a narrow 25-24 vote last month. A proposed amendment by the Committee Chair, Rep. Noel Frame (D-Seattle), would re-impose an emergency clause that was removed from the bill during Senate action. If passed with an emergency clause, state voters would not have a chance to approve or reject the bill via referendum vote later this year. is a free service provided by Washington Policy Center and is the go-to tracking tool to keep up with all the action in Olympia, especially during this mostly virtual session. Please check in often and follow us on Facebook and Twitter at #waleg.

–Wechers-Gregory is the Director at the Washington Policy Center


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