Legislative session ends on time, provides funds for homelessness, transportation
A short but intense 60-day legislative session ended Thursday evening with lawmakers taking action on a number of the governor’s priorities, including more than $170 million for services to address the state’s homeless crisis. The Legislature also provided funds for crucial transportation needs; approved changes to a Boeing tax incentive that will help the state avoid international tariffs; took some steps on legislation to address climate change; and passed bills that will improve social equity statewide.
The Legislature also fully funded the governor’s request of $200 million to address the coronavirus outbreak in Washington. Lawmakers voted unanimously to approve HB 2965, which provides $200 million from state reserves to help the state, local governments and federally recognized tribes respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The funds will be used to slow the outbreak, test for the virus and help with treatment for more severe cases of respiratory illness.
There are resources available for businesses to help alleviate the unemployment tax impact of COVID-19 through the Employment Security Department. It also modifies the job search requirements for workers on unemployment benefits while they are quarantined.
“I am pleased the Legislature agreed with my plan to tackle homelessness and provide sheltering for some of our most vulnerable people. There was good progress made on a number of fronts during this supplemental budget year,” Inslee said. “However, I am disappointed that the Legislature failed to act on other important pieces of climate legislation as well as public safety legislation that would have reduced gun violence in Washington. While I wish they would have gone farther on a number of important issues, I thank the Legislature for their work on behalf of Washingtonians.”
Here are some legislative highlights:
The Legislature’s supplemental operating budget includes $156 million for essential needs like rent assistance, permanent supportive housing assistance, and help low-income seniors and the disabled with housing needs in certain counties. It puts $60 million to fund increased shelter capacity in localities across the state.
The capital budget includes another $14.5 million for shelter capacity and community housing developments.
The Legislature also passed governor-requested legislation (HB 2456) to implement a 12-month grace period for families that experience homelessness in the Working Connections Child Care subsidy program, which serves families up to 200% of the federal poverty level so they can work or prepare for work. Currently, the grace period is four months. This time frame is proving too short to meaningfully benefit many families that experience homelessness.
You can read more about the governor’s homelessness budget proposal on his Medium page.
The Legislature also approved a supplemental transportation budget that will allow the governor to unpause highway, rail and other projects. The Department of Transportation froze these projects at the direction of Gov. Inslee after the November 2019 passage of Initiative 976.
The initiative is projected to reduce state transportation funding by about $454 million in the current biennium and by more than $1.9 billion over six years. In addition, total revenue losses for local governments and Sound Transit is projected at more than $2.3 billion over six years.
“Because of the resources saved during the pause — and due to some one-time opportunities to capture unspent funds this biennium — I am directing WSDOT to move forward on projects that have been paused,” Inslee said. “I have asked the department to move as expeditiously as possible to restart the paused projects.”
To balance the budget and unpause projects, the Legislature largely followed the governor’s proposed plans. These included fund swaps, using ending-fund balances and transferring sales tax on construction of Connecting Washington projects to the multimodal account.
The transportation budget also includes funding to meet the state’s obligation to improve fish passage barriers; continues to provide much-needed transit services for our most vulnerable; and prioritizes safety on our highways by retaining preservation funding and continuing to support the next class of state troopers.
Legislative transportation budget leaders stated this budget was designed to get the state through this biennium. But given the passage of the initiative and the growing needs of Washington’s transportation infrastructure, the state will need a plan in the next biennium for important transportation investments.
You can read more about how Washington is taking its first steps toward electric ferries on the governor’s Medium page.
Lawmakers passed legislation to adopt a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard, an important step toward accelerating the use of electric vehicles and ensuring Washington consumers have access to a full range of models. This legislation will require automakers to approximately double the number of electric vehicles sold annually in Washington.
The Legislature also approved a bill that commits our state to being carbon neutral by 2050. The legislation also strengthens intermediate goals for 2030 and 2040 to ensure the state is on course. Lawmakers also passed a bill to extend incentives for community solar energy projects that benefit low-income households (HB 2248), and legislation to authorize counties to create financing programs to help commercial building owners finance energy efficiency and earthquake resiliency (HB 2405).
Although the state’s electric marine battery incentive was designed to support battery electric propulsion systems in small craft, it can also help our state develop a home-grown marine battery supply chain for larger vessels, like electric ferries. Washington state is beginning a $14.6 billion long range ferry plan that will transform the fleet to battery electric propulsion. By extending the incentive’s sunset clause (HB 2486) from 2025 to 2035, we can provide predictability in this growing maritime business and, in the near-term, help recruit a strategic marine battery factory to our state that could provide up to $1 billion in private capital investment and hundreds of high paying clean-tech jobs, likely in a rural part of our state.
However, there were disappointments. A handful of state senators managed to block legislation that would have dramatically reduced carbon emissions in our state by implementing a clean fuel standard (HB 1110) to require fuels burn with reduced carbon. Senators also blocked legislation (SB 6628) that would have given Ecology clear authority to regulate “indirect emitters” of emissions, which contribute to the majority of the state’s air pollution.
You can read more about the governor’s initial climate legislation proposal on his Medium page.
There was broad consensus among lawmakers, the governor, Boeing and its unions that action was needed this session to head off retaliatory tariffs that would harm a broad spectrum of industry and commerce in Washington. The Legislature passed legislation (SB 6690) to take the necessary action and keep Washington the best place in the world to build airplanes.
The Governor’s Office was deeply involved in negotiations, working with legislative leaders, Boeing and its unions to craft a solution to avoid tariffs by suspending tax incentives for Boeing. The action was in response to ongoing disputes between the United States and the European Union on subsidies for commercial airline manufacturers.
The legislation also has the first-ever aerospace requirements for using apprenticeships as a percentage of the total workforce in order to qualify for the incentive. Strengthening our state’s aerospace workforce was a goal for all involved when they crafted the proposal.
The budget fully funds the governor’s proposed state Equity Office (HB 1783). The office will help ensure all Washingtonians will be welcomed and included in Washington’s workforce regardless of race, ethnicity, country of origin, immigration status, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or military status.
The office will design a performance dashboard that measures state agencies’ progress in meeting diversity goals. The budget also provides funding for the Department of Enterprise Services to create and offer a standardized diversity, equity and inclusion online curriculum for state agencies.
In addition to funding from the operating budget, the Legislature added more than $4 million in the capital budget to support diversity, equity and inclusion. Lawmakers also passed a bill that bans hair discrimination in the state, an equity issue that affects people of color in particular.
Behavioral health, aging and disability
At the governor’s request, the Legislature approved the creation of a joint executive and legislative task force to implement recommendations from a report by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center regarding residential habilitation centers (SB 6419). Implementation of these recommendations will move our system of care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities toward a more community-based system of care and reduce the footprint of our state institutions.
The Legislature also approved a request bill (HB 2426) from the Department of Health to create greater oversight and enforcement over the state’s private psychiatric hospitals.
Investing in Washington’s workforce
The supplemental budget advances the governor’s previous work with business and labor on strategies to expand training and career-connected learning opportunities statewide.
The budget provides $21.5 million in investments in workforce development, including increased incumbent worker training for mid-career workers, targeted investments to build capacity in the aerospace sector, continue expansion of career-connected learning, new data reporting requirements to better inform future workforce investments, and continued work to establish protections for domestic workers.
None of the governor’s or the attorney general’s request legislation to address gun violence passed this session. However, the budget does fund other measures that will address firearm safety. It gives the State Patrol $400,000 to develop a firearms background check unit and $1 million to implement it this biennium.
The Legislature approved two bills that would lower the cost of certain medications in Washington. Senate Bill 6088 would establish a drug-affordability board charged with identifying drugs that are excessively priced or quickly increasing in price, and set price limits for state purchasers.
House Bill 2662 creates a $100 cap on out-of-pocket costs for a month’s supply of insulin, expiring in 2023. It would establish a work group to explore how to reduce the cost of insulin, which may entail establishing a centralized purchasing program in the future.
“As I said when I rolled out my proposed supplemental budget in December, there’s nothing Washingtonians can’t accomplish when they are united,” Inslee said. “While we did not get everything we wanted for Washingtonians, our state showed we can act in the face of crises when we dedicate ourselves to it, as evidenced by our funding commitments to address homelessness and the unprecedented measures taken to address the COVID-19 outbreak.”