OLYMPIA — After months of zooming their way remotely through public hearings and floor debates via teleconference, Washington lawmakers Sunday are set to wrap up the 2021 legislative session.
Starting sometime in the afternoon, House and Senate lawmakers are expected to take up a handful of high-profile votes to end the 105-day regularly-scheduled session that include:
- Approving a new $59 billion two-year state operating budget
- Passing an agreement on House Bill 1091, intended to lower the carbon content in transportation fuels
- In the Senate, a final vote on a new 7% tax on capital gains above $250,000
The 1,100-page budget agreement first made public Saturday afternoon also directs the spending of an additional $10 billion in federal COVID-19 aid to help businesses and families and recover from the public-health and economic travails.
The budget’s late arrival allows lawmakers and members of the public less than 36 hours, at most, to read through it before the session ends.
“The general public have a fundamental right to fair notice of what their elected leaders are proposing to do,” said Toby Nixon, president emeritus of the Washington Coalition for Open Government. “So that they have the ability to understand it and to provide feedback to their elected representatives before action is taken.”
“It also kind of really helps if the elected representatives have an opportunity to understand it themselves,” added Nixon, a former state lawmaker.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday will be joining lawmakers in remote mode by working from his own home, according to spokesperson Mike Faulk.
“He is planning to stay on Bainbridge and be engaged and monitor from there,” wrote Faulk in a text message.
Usually Inslee holds a news conference at the end of the final day of the legislative session, but that’s unlikely this year, wrote Faulk.
The governor instead may just record a video message, he wrote.
Helped by a strong recovery in tax collections and the new tax on capital gains, Washington’s proposed 2021-23 operating budget spends roughly $59 billion — about $5 billion more than the spending blueprint passed two years ago.
Negotiated between Democrats in the House and Senate, it funds a host of long-sought priorities, including additional child-care funding, a tax exemption for low-income families and new dollars for forest health and wildfire-response capabilities.
Lawmakers are also set to increase dollars to the state’s long-neglected public health system, which even before the COVID-19 pandemic was under strain.