OLYMPIA — Four weeks into the 2020 legislative session, it’s impossible to say what new laws will be created to address major issues like the environment, homelessness or taxes. It is possible to predict with some certainty some bills that won’t become law.
Friday was the first of several deadlines known as cut-off dates, which a bill has to get past with a minimum level of approval to remain viable in the scramble to push legislation through the two chambers before the session ends March 12.
Those that didn’t make it out of their first committee aren’t quite as dead as the Wicked Witch of the East under Dorothy’s house, but they’ll need some parliamentary magic to come off life support.
Here are some of the casualties:
• It seems all but certain there will be no state ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles, or “assault weapons,” despite the calls from gun-control advocates. Several bills to do that were proposed, but none received committee approval.
• Proposals to limit the rounds in high-capacity magazines are still viable in both houses, having been approved by their initial committee, although the question of whether the limit would be set at 10 rounds or 15 remains a question. A training requirement for concealed pistol license applicants also remains a possibility after being sent to the Senate for a possible floor vote.
• Statewide elections won’t be scrubbed in odd-numbered years, despite the belief by some legislators that doing so would increase turnout in the even-numbered years. Military service and overseas voters likely will still be able to return their ballots by fax or email, at least for the 2020 election, although concerns about possible malware and computer viruses seem likely to continue generating discussions.
• The state’s primary, now in early August, won’t be moved up to May.
• The state won’t have a blanket ban on single-use plastic straws or Styrofoam containers, although it could put restrictions on some plastic items associated with food services.
• The state will not tell local governments to lay off kids selling lemonade. The House and Senate both had bills to allow youngsters to set up a lemonade stand without fear of being shut down by a local health official or a city official demanding a business license. The House bill got a committee hearing, although it seemed like the problems encountered by young Washington entrepreneurs were fairly limited.
• State workers won’t get another paid holiday on June 19. The holiday would be to celebrate Juneteenth, the day when slaves in Texas learned the Civil War was over and they had been freed. Giving state workers a paid holiday had an estimated cost of about $3 million a year, the state Office of Financial Management reported.
• Republican efforts to end the practice of Title Only bills, which are blank until they pop up at the end of the session filled in with a complicated policy or spending plan, generated some early buzz but never got a committee hearing. Some people call them “Ghost Bills” but the effort to stop them seems dead for the session.
• The Legislature will not try to tell the state judiciary that it is subject to the Public Records Act just months after the state Supreme Court ruled lawmakers were. Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, the bill’s sponsor, insisted the bill was not about “retribution” for the legislators’ December loss in a lawsuit filed by the Associated Press, The Spokesman-Review and other members of the state media challenging rules that restricted access to legislative records.
But it was clear at a hearing Friday that some lawmakers are still unhappy about the ruling, complaining that the high court’s ruling was “dumped” on them at the start of the session.
In discussing another public records bill that would have restricted the release of certain medical records sent to them by constituents, Senate State Government Committee Chairman Sam Hunt said if anyone wants those records from him “they’ll have to take me to court.”
Neither bill passed the committee, which adjourned for the final time before cutoff without voting on them.
Friday’s cutoff was only the first of a series of deadlines.
Any bill that is going to cost the state money or is connected to transportation issues must make it through its first budget committee by Tuesday. House bills must pass the full House and Senate bills the full Senate, by Feb. 19, which then send them to the opposite chamber to go through the process again.
They’ll have to get out of the first committee in the opposite chamber by Feb. 28, and the second budget committee by March 2.
Unless the Legislature goes into special session, any bill that doesn’t pass by midnight on March 12, will be, in the words of the Munchkin Coroner “not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.”