2008 Session Roundups: Washington

In just sixty days, the Washington State legislature passed a remarkable 335 bills. The legislature passed strong bills protecting the environment, consumers, and people affected by the mortgage crisis, making the state one of the country's leaders in progressive victories.

Toxic Toys:  We've highlighted the great efforts in Washington state to protect children from toxics in their toys and products.  The legislature passed HB 2647, which is one of the most comprehensive toxic toys protection bills in the country.  Not only does the bill ban phthalates, but it also reduces the allowable lead limit to 40 parts per million.  Additionally, it requires identification of other chemicals of high concern and publishes information on chemicals used in children's products and whether any safer alternatives exist.

Climate Change:  Washington state continues its great record of taking action against climate change by passing:

  • HB 2815 - requires reduction of greenhouse gases by 50% below 1990 levels by 2050 and provides funding for green collar jobs.  We've highlighted the importance of developing a green workforce before and Washington state is leading the states by passing this bill.
  • SB 6580 - requires the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development to provide municipalities with a tool to measure greenhouse gas emissions, and establishes a competitive grant program to give funds to municipalities implementing programs to fight climate change.

Mortgage Crisis and Affordable Housing:  The legislature passed a package of bills that offers protections from subprime loans and deceptive lending practices, including:

  • SB 6381 - creates fiduciary duties for mortgage brokers, ensuring that they look out for the interest of borrowers.
  • SB 6471 - protects consumers by closing a loophole between federal and state jurisdictions and requires all mortgage brokers be regulated by the State Department of Financial Institutions.
  • HB 2770 - sets up limits on pre-payment penalties and forbids brokers from tricking unwary borrowers into accepting a subprime loan when they know that the borrower is qualified for a lower interest loan.
  • SB 6272 - expands financial literacy through education and counseling to promote greater homeownership security.
  • HB 2014 - requires landlords to provide tenants with relocation compensation for condominium conversions and extends the time period that tenants have to move out to 120 days.  It also allows cities to restrict the number of condominium conversions.

Health Care:  As highlighted last week, Washington state is on its way to providing affordable health care for all its residents. While SB 6221, which would have provided comprehensive care, did not pass, SB 6333 did pass. SB 6333 creates the Citizens' Work Group on Health Care Reform, which authorizes a detailed analysis of leading health care reform models and requires engaging the public in developing recommendations for comprehensive reform.  Other positive health care measures include SB 5261, which gives the insurance commissioner authority to review the rate increases of health benefit plans; rates have increased dramatically since the authority stopped regulating it.  Unfortunately, SB 6241, which would have prohibited the sale or use of prescription data for marketing purposes, failed to pass the House.  

Immigration:  Governor Christine Gregoire signed an Executive Order creating a New Americans Policy Council to promote strategies to help legal immigrants become naturalized, learn English language skills, and facilitate public-private partnerships to better integrate those new Americans into the fabric of the state's society and economy.  The Washington state legislature took the additional step of providing $340,000 in funding to promote community economic development and build the capacity of organizations across the state to provide naturalization assistance to legal permanent residents.

Other Steps Forward included:

  • Campaign Finance: SB 5278 was signed into law allowing voters in cities and counties to decide whether to use public money for local election campaigns.
  • Expanding rights for same sex couples: SB 3104 grants about 170 of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to those in domestic partnerships, including being able to share bank accounts, hold property together, and have immunity from testifying against each other in a court of law.  The bill has been signed into law.
  • Investing in broadband development: The legislature has sent to the Governor SB 6438, which would create a statewide needs assessment of broadband Internet resources as well as a working group to develop a high-speed Internet deployment and adoption strategy for the state.
  • Encouraging schools to offer healthier choices: SB 6483 makes it easier for schools to buy locally grown food; it has been delivered to the Governor.
  • Working Families Credit: SB 6809 was passed by the legislature and delivered to the Governor.  It would establish the Working Families Credit (WFC), which will give qualifying families a credit equal to 10% of their federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), although funding for the program was left for next year.
  • Nursing ratios:  To protect patient safety and reduce stress on nurses, HB 3123 requires hospitals to implement nurse staffing plans, with nurses themselves having a central role in developing and evaluating the plans.  The Governor has signed the bill into law.

Failed bills:  While there were substantial gains, the legislature did fail to pass a few important measures, most notably:

  • HB 2449, which would have allowed for day care worker unionization. The bill died after a contentious battle between House and Senate.
  • HB 2833, which would have added Pierce County to all-mail voting but died in committee.

Washington state legislators truly took the lead on implementing a progressive agenda, particularly given the short length of their session.  As House Speak Frank Chopp said, "We did a whole lot this session, and I'm proud of that."