Aside from state budget, Legislature has been busy
While the lawmakers are preoccupied with the state budget, they've still found time to act on dozens of other bills. Here are some of the...
While the lawmakers are preoccupied with the state budget, they've still found time to act on dozens of other bills.
Here are some of the issues the Legislature has tackled so far.
Unemployment benefits: Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a $300 million unemployment-tax break for businesses and a temporary pay increase for people collecting unemployment. The bill will allow businesses to avoid an expected 36 percent jump in unemployment taxes and temporarily raise benefits for unemployed workers by $25 a week.
Workers' compensation: One of the most contentious issues has been retooling the state-run workers' compensation system, which a state auditor's report in December said had a 95 percent chance of insolvency within the next five years. The Senate approved a bill that would establish a lump-sum settlement option for injured workers, something most other states already have.
Labor groups, who support pensions and long-term benefit payments for employees, say the settlement option would favor only workers who can afford a good lawyer.
The House approved a package of bills aimed at streamlining the workers' compensation process and increasing oversight for employers. A compromise has yet to be worked out.
Education: The governor's proposal to consolidate most of Washington's education programs into one department is sitting in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, while the Senate considers the House's alternative approach. The House bill would establish a council to develop recommendations for a new preschool through the college-education system.
The Senate has passed a Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) bill that would make the popular prepaid-tuition program's terms less generous. Payouts for credits purchased under the current program would not be affected. The bill is now in the House.
Other bills would give the state's four-year schools some authority to increase tuition. One proposal would blunt the impact of tuition increases on lower- and middle-income families by creating a private financial-aid endowment. The bills appear to be on hold for now.
Ferry system: Gregoire's proposal to create a regional ferry authority hasn't gotten much traction. Earlier this month, the governor signed an agreement with the ferry union that should save the state about $10 million annually. If ferry workers ratify it, Gregoire's office says the new contract and other administrative cuts should trim about $80 million from the ferry budget for the next two years.
Other ferry-related bills would bring ferry-worker benefits more in line with those of other state workers, add a 25-cent surcharge on fares to help fund boat construction, and privatize ferry management if the department doesn't meet certain performance criteria.
Marijuana: A bill would further clarify the state's law on medical-marijuana sales and distribution. It passed the Senate and is now in the House, though opponents argued it moved the state closer to legalization.
A separate proposal to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana hasn't fared so well. Neither the House nor Senate version has been voted out of committee. But discussion of the issue is expected to continue, and a citizens initiative to legalize pot has been filed.
Campaign finance: The Senate approved a bill tightening regulations for campaign-finance disclosure. Political-action groups would face more specific naming guidelines and stricter contribution-reporting requirements to ensure voters know where information comes from.
Environment: Washington's only coal-fired power plant would phase out coal-burning by 2025 under a measure that passed the Senate and was negotiated by environmentalists, state officials and Canada-based TransAlta. The company agreed to contribute $55 million for community reinvestment and other support.
Crime: In response to a young woman who threatened suicide rather than be questioned by her accused rapist in trial, the House passed a bill asking the state Supreme Court adopt rules that would limit how pro se defendants accused of sex offenses cross-examine their accusers. The bill is now before the Senate.
The House also passed a bill that would remove the statute of limitations for first- and second-degree rape of a child, meaning the accused can be prosecuted at any time after the crime is commissioned. It's now before the Senate.
Pregnancy centers: A bill that would require limited-service pregnancy centers to tell patients upfront which services they don't offer never made it to the House floor. The measure was supported by abortion-rights advocates. The bill's opponents criticized it for targeting businesses that provide free services to women.
Drivers licenses: Efforts to impose stricter rules on who can get a driver's license and use it for identification without providing a Social Security number or proving legal residency appear dead. The bill didn't come to a vote on the Senate floor, and it's unclear whether or not the bill will be reworked this session.
Signature gatherers: A proposal requiring all paid signature gatherers to register with the Secretary of State did not make it to the Senate floor. The measure also would have upped the filing fee for initiatives from $5 to $500.
Seattle Times staff writers Joanna Nolasco, Queenie Wong and Katherine Long contributed to this report.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.