The Washington State Legislature adjourned April 23 after failing to approve a controversial bill setting drug possession penalties, raising the possibility of a special session in the coming weeks to resolve the issue.
Drug possession became a misdemeanor two years ago when the Supreme Court invalidated the law that made drug possession a felony. Hurried legislation made the crime a misdemeanor, but many thought that charge was too light. The Legislature debated Senate Bill 5536, which would have stiffened penalties, but it failed to pass.
“SB 5536 was supposed to be a ‘fix’ to the Washington State Supreme Court’s Blake decision, which effectively decriminalized possession of hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen. “That decision is a big reason that fentanyl has become such a problem in this state. But SB 5536 didn’t actually fix the problem.”
The bill would have made possession a gross misdemeanor, with a fine of $5,000 and up to one year of jail time. The final vote was 43-55 in the House. Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, blamed Republicans. “The fact that we are not going to have a piece of legislation on this, their failure to have any votes for this bill, is going to result in methamphetamines, fentanyl and heroin, the possession of those drugs being legalized across the state of Washington,” she said.
Gov. Jay Inslee said a fix needs to happen. “We expect the Washington State Legislature to produce a bill that will not decriminalize drugs,” he said. Inslee said a fix must be made by July 1 when the current law expires.
The state operating budget allocates $69.3 billion for areas such as behavioral health, K-12 education and more for the 2023-25 biennium. The operating budget includes $2.9 billion for K-12 education and $400 million for the Climate Commitment Act, which helps prepare for climate crises such as flooding and drought.
“Our new budget investments reflect the needs we see in communities across the state. People want strong schools, safe communities, affordable housing, climate action and an innovative economy,” said Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island. “This is a responsible spending plan that will improve lives and move our state forward.”
The budget also includes $519 million for housing. The state capital budget allocates $8.98 billion for 2023-25. The budget includes funds for K-12 school construction, housing, grant programs and higher education.
“The capital budget is proof bipartisanship does exist in Olympia. This plan reflects key priorities that don’t simply serve minority interests, but all of Washington state,” said Rep. Mike Steele, R-Chelan. “This budget supports development, encourages economic vitality, and puts people to work, even in the smallest of communities.”
The state transportation budget passed that allocates $13.5 billion for Washington’s transportation needs over the next two years, including traffic safety, highway projects and more.
House Bill 1002, by Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, also known as the Sam Martinez Stop Hazing Act, is named after a Washington State University freshman who died from hazing in 2019. The act modifies the hazing offense so that no student can haze another student and is reclassified from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. Additional penalties include up to 364 days of jail time and a maximum fine of $5,000, rather than up to 90 days of jail time and a maximum fine of $1,000.
Senate Bill 5242, by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, eliminates cost-sharing for abortion services and insurance companies will need to cover the entire procedure. “This bill is about removing barriers to access to abortion services, regardless of the ability to pay,” Cleveland said.
Substitute House Bill 1177, by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Samish Island, creates a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Cold Case Investigations Assistance Unit, which will help investigate cases of missing Indigenous people throughout the state. “It is not just a crisis of Indian country, it’s a crisis of all of our governing bodies,” Lekanoff said. Inslee signed it April 20.
Substitute House Bill 1240, by Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, prohibits the sale and distribution of any assault weapon, with certain exceptions. “Yes, there are other guns that create death and tragedy in communities, and certainly even other weapons do the same,” Peterson said. “But the percentage of mass shootings that are used by these weapons of war is something that we here in the state of Washington can do something about.”
Substitute House Bill 1658, by Rep. Clyde Shavers, D-Oak Harbor, authorizes high school students over the age of 16 to earn up to two elective credits for paid work outside of school, beginning in the 2023-24 school year. “Let’s provide our high school students the flexibility to pursue these job opportunities, to gain the work experience, the leadership skills, to support their family without harming their academic performance or jeopardizing their graduation,” Shavers said. The bill was signed into law April 20.
House Bill 1020, by Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, establishes a state dinosaur, a fossil nicknamed “Suciasaurus Rex,” after a fourth grade class did research and brought it to legislation. “Some may scoff at this bill and think it’s a silly bill, but I believe that this bill holds a greater significance. Our youth are engaging with the state Legislature.” It passed both chambers and was delivered to the governor.
Another bill prohibits involuntary power shutoff during extreme heat waves where the temperature exceeds 90 degrees, among other conditions. Inslee signed it April 20.
What didn’t pass
A catalytic converter is a pollution control device on the emission system in a car, and costs thousands of dollars to replace. There were over 12,000 catalytic converter thefts in 2021, 4,000 of those being in Washington. A bill that would have made it a Class C felony for a second offense never received a hearing.
A bill that would have expanded training for police dogs to include components on finding fentanyl made it out of committee but did not make it out of the House.
A bill that would have lowered the legal blood alcohol concentration to operate a motor vehicle from .08 to .05 made it out of its initial committee but did not make it out of the Senate.
A bill that would have expanded the K-12 school year from 180 to 185 days did not make it out of the Senate.
A bill that would have allowed high school sophomores to participate in Running Start courses, mainly online, stalled in the Senate.
A bill that would have protected state employers with tools against retaliation from states with anti-abortion laws did not make it out of committee.
A bill that would have required delivery drivers who handle alcohol to have a class 12 liquor license, which is already required for bartenders and servers, did not make it out of committee.
A bill passed the Senate that would have designated ‘The Evergreen State” as Washington’s official nickname, but it never made it off the House floor.