Lawmakers have agreed on a $33.4 billion two-year budget — about $4 billion more in state spending than the last biennium. Lawmakers burned through almost...
Bills that are passed or still alive
Lawmakers have agreed on a $33.4 billion two-year budget — about $4 billion more in state spending than the last biennium. Lawmakers burned through almost two-thirds of a projected $2 billion surplus in tax revenue, setting aside $724 million in reserves. Those reserves include a hard-to-tap, $134 million “rainy-day” account that can be used when the economy turns sour. The budget would add nearly 3,000 state jobs, spend about $800 million on pay raises for teachers and state workers, boost spending on public schools by $341 million and add $156 million for new health-care programs and to expand existing ones.
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The Legislature overwhelmingly approved a constitutionally protected “rainy-day” state savings account, an idea that lawmakers have kicked around for years. It now goes before voters on the November ballot. The state would set aside 1 percent of general-fund tax collections each year. The fund could be tapped only with a 60 percent vote of the Legislature, except during severe economic downturns or fiscal emergencies.
Lawmakers on Saturday were still negotiating a delay in requiring that students must pass the math and science portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) in order to graduate. The proposal would postpone the requirement for several years.
After years of failed attempts, the Legislature took steps to make it easier for school districts to get property-tax levies approved by voters. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow school levies to be approved by a simple majority of voters instead of a 60 percent supermajority. The amendment will go before voters in November. It needs a simple majority vote to pass.
The Senate passed a bill aimed at cutting offender recidivism rates by requiring inmates to have “re-entry” plans — including education, job training and other needs — upon release from prison, and halving their sentences if they take part in rehabilitation programs behind bars. The measure, which was before the House on Saturday, also cracks down on ex-cons who violate their terms of release.
One of the biggest priorities of the session was to figure out a way to replace the earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct. But lawmakers failed to reach a decision. Instead, they announced a $915 million plan to start work on the north and south ends of the viaduct while postponing to late 2008 a decision on the section along the downtown waterfront. The Legislature also did not come up with a way to fully fund a new Highway 520 floating bridge.
Lawmakers showed little enthusiasm for a proposed Sonics basketball arena in Renton or a NASCAR racetrack near Bremerton, both of which called for significant taxpayer support. But they approved public financing for some smaller projects, including an events center/ice arena in Kent and a rodeo/equestrian arena in Lewis County.
Gay and lesbian couples will have many of the same rights as married couples under legislation approved this session. Those rights also were extended to unmarried heterosexuals in which at least one partner is 62 or older.
Paid family leave
Lawmakers were close to approving a controversial bill Saturday to give parents paid family leave to bond with newborn or newly adopted children, but delaying until next year a decision on how to pay for it. Starting in fall 2009, workers could get up to five weeks of paid leave, initially capped at $250 a week.
A mental-health bill passed by lawmakers requires health plans for individuals and small-employer groups to provide the same level of coverage for psychiatric conditions as for any other medical condition. The law matches an existing parity law for large-group plans.
Lawmakers extended Medicaid coverage to an estimated 38,000 more children. Children in families at 300 percent of poverty — $60,000 annual income for a family of four — will now be eligible. Lawmakers also expanded coverage for foster children and illegal immigrant children.
An ambitious plan to join 1 million residents in a statewide insurance pool and require all adults to carry health coverage by 2012 was whittled down to a pilot program aimed only at small businesses. An unknown number of small-business employees will be able to buy coverage through a state insurance board. Employers will not be required to provide insurance or to subsidize employee premiums.
Lawmakers sought to clarify Washington’s law allowing qualifying patients to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana for medical use. The bill directs the Department of Health to determine how much marijuana reasonably makes up a 60-day supply, and tells police they’re not required to confiscate pot if they believe a patient is in compliance with the law.
Environmentalists won a partial victory in their bid to ban potentially toxic flame retardants known as PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers. But they had to compromise on a version of the chemical that’s used chiefly in electronic equipment. It wasn’t banned outright; the decision rests with a committee that will review whether there is a safer alternative before deciding whether to ban the chemical from a particular group of products.
Washington joins California as one of the only states with a law setting future targets to cut greenhouse gases, as well as restrictions on use of electricity generated by burning coal, which produces the emissions that are blamed in part for global warming. But a critical question was postponed: How does the state reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions? A governor-appointed committee is working on recommendations.
A new agency will spearhead a campaign to clean Puget Sound by 2020. The Puget Sound Partnership is supposed to come up with an overall restoration plan, steer money toward projects and make sure local governments follow the plan. Still unresolved is how to pay the $18 billion to $27 billion bill for the cleanup.
One of the more contentious measures approved this year requires schools that teach sex education to provide medically accurate information. That means both abstinence and contraception must be taught. Under current law, schools offering sex education must teach abstinence, but instruction about birth-control pills and other contraceptives is optional.
Lawmakers made it illegal to talk on a handheld cellphone or send text messages while driving. Using a handheld cellphone while driving is a secondary offense; you can’t be cited unless you’ve been pulled over for some other traffic violation.
Cranes and their operators must be certified under legislation that passed in the wake of a crane collapse that killed a man in Bellevue last fall. Crane operators can work unsupervised only if they pass exams and meet experience requirements. Cranes would have to pass inspections at least annually.
Bills that are dead
A perennial proposal by gun-control advocates to require criminal background checks for all purchases at gun shows died once again. Under current law, background checks are required on people who buy from licensed dealers, but not from private sellers.
The Senate stalled a bill to toughen educational standards for the 18,000 registered counselors. Currently, most anyone who pays a $40 fee and attends an AIDS awareness class qualifies for a credential. No education is required. More registered counselors have been disciplined for sexual misconduct than any other health profession, state records show. Some counselors argued that they would be thrust out of business. The bill is expected to be reintroduced next session.
Despite a big push by advocates for the poor, lawmakers could not agree on new restrictions on the payday-lending industry, including a cap on interest rates.
For the second straight year, lawmakers balked at union-backed “fair share” legislation aimed at cracking down on large companies that have numerous employees on state-subsidized health care.
Republicans and some Democrats tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation to re-enact Initiative 747, a property-tax cap approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2001. It was overturned last year by a District Court judge and is pending before the state Supreme Court.
The Senate passed legislation to mandate a variety of warranties on new homes to protect homeowners against faulty construction, but the bill died in the House.
Compiled by staff reporters Ralph Thomas, Andrew Garber, Kyung Song, Carol M. Ostrom, Michael Berens and Warren Cornwall. Material from the Associated Press was used in this article.