State laws will shut its doorways within the 2021 session

The Washington state legislature closed its term on Monday after a session like no other. The tremendous events of last year required a robust response from Washington lawmakers, who worked hard to put themselves at the forefront – despite the difficult circumstances in which they had to work.

One problem, above all, was what the state legislature was doing – the global coronavirus pandemic. Washington was the first to register US cases and the impact of the pandemic on Washingtoners was severe.

Legislators passed two key bills at the start of the session to help tackle the damage COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc on the economy: Senate Bill 5061, signed by Governor Jay Inslee on February 8, slowed the wave of pandemic in the Related layoffs in 2020 would not increase corporate unemployment tax dramatically. and House Bill 1368, signed eleven days later, poured $ 2.2 billion into the Washington economy, propping up troubled small businesses, schools, tenants, and many others.

The presence of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt throughout the session. All legislative committees met through Zoom, as did most lawmakers during the floor sessions, with the exception of a few masked and socially distant people who stood up to speak while surrounded by empty desks. Legislation was not immune to the technical problems other industries were experiencing in exodus. Legislators often had problems unmuting, using the remote voting devices, or dealing with faulty zoom backgrounds.

The other major legislature priority was responding to protests against racial justice last year. While every state faced the Black Lives Matter movement, Seattle briefly became the focus of national attention during the June protests when activists declared a police-free "autonomous zone" covering several blocks of the Capitol Hill area.

The legislature's reaction to the events of last summer came through a series of police reform measures.

These have been divided into two broad categories. Several bills set new standards for the way police perform their duties: HB 1054 restricted the tactics police authorities can use, banning chokeholds, tear gas, warrants and other controversial methods. HB 1310 set a standard for the police to only use lethal force "if this is necessary to protect against imminent serious bodily harm or death". SB 5066 made it mandatory for police officers to intervene against excessive use of force by their colleagues. and a number of bills made it mandatory for both individual officers and law enforcement agencies to report excessive use of force and other types of misconduct to superiors and other government agencies.

Lawmakers also expanded the ability to hold police officers accountable. HB 1267 set up an independent investigation bureau in the governor's office to investigate police behavior. In addition to the powers of investigation, the legislature also made it easier to punish abusive officers: SB 5051 made it easier for the departments to decertify police officers for dishonesty, excessive violence or misconduct. However, a large number of police reform bills failed to make it through legislation, which shows how complicated the law enforcement reform process is.

On Sunday, lawmakers approved an important piece of tax reform legislation, SB 5096, which provides an excise tax on capital gains to fund the expansion and affordability of childcare, early learning, and the state's duty to fund education in Washington.

After the legislation came into force, according to a press release, a tax of 7 percent will be levied on “extraordinary profits from the voluntary sale or exchange of stocks and bonds and other highly valued investments”. The first profit of $ 250,000 is tax exempt annually.

According to the press release, the tax is designed to avoid taxation on working families and also includes exemptions for all real estate, retirement accounts, livestock, farm land, fishing privileges, a qualified family owned small business and much more.

The bill, passed on April 21, was sent to conference because the Senators refused to sign the House amendments. With the final bill, the distribution of collected revenue was adjusted by capping deposits into the Education Legacy Trust account to $ 500 million per year and transferring additional revenue to the Common School Construction Account.

It also now includes a donation allowance for taxpayers who donate at least $ 250,000 to qualifying nonprofits this tax year.

"This excise tax on capital gains, along with the working family tax rebate we approved earlier in this session, will help support working families in every corner of our state," said Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, Chairman of the House Finance Committee in a press release. “By asking the richest among us to share the responsibility of funding the needs of our communities and putting money in the pockets of low-income families through a sales tax discount, these measures are the first steps towards balancing our tax code. We will continue on this path of tax reform with the ongoing work of the Tax Structure Working Group. "

When this excise duty will come into effect is uncertain as it is likely to be challenged in litigation.

Environmental issues also had a high priority for the legislature at this meeting. Two major bills will dramatically affect the state's carbon emissions.

HB 1091 will establish a standard for clean fuel, while SB 5126, known as the Washington Climate Commitment Act, aims to create a cap-and-trade program – similar to that in California – that locks in pollution-emitting companies Have CO2 certificates that allow them to sell and trade with one another. SB 5126 is a top priority for Governor Jay Inslee, and the Senate bill was introduced at the request of his office.

Both bills passed on Saturday, even though SB 5126 had a lot of back and forth between Senate and House trying to reach an agreement.

The legislature also dealt with a variety of other issues during the session.

In addition to responding directly to the pandemic, lawmakers introduced laws addressing more general health issues, extending Medicaid coverage to new mothers, expanding patients' right to sue hospitals, and allowing the state to use generic drugs as a To buy or manufacture in response to price drops. SB 5030 had an impact on both health and education by improving mental health services in schools.

Other bills passed by law included a ban on new private prison contracts that will directly affect the Tacoma Immigration and Customs Control Detention Center. a bill prohibiting the use of a weapon in protest in response to the January 6th Uprising in the US Capitol; and legal counsel for tenants facing eviction.

– The editor Jessica Keller contributed to this report