The Washington State Legislature’s scheduled 60-day session is progressing smoothly. My colleagues and I are approaching the halfway point of session. Senators will spend the majority of time during the middle days of session in the full Senate chambers, considering bills approved from committees. At this stage in the process, if bills have not been approved by their committees, they are likely unable to advance further. Also, since this is the second year of the biennium, the two-year legislative period, bills that do not advance will not be eligible again unless they are reintroduced next session.
"Floor cutoff" is February 13
February 13 is the “floor cutoff” date, which is the deadline for the Senate to pass bills that were introduced in our chamber, except for budget-related bills. Once the floor cutoff has passed, my Senate colleagues and I will return to committee meetings to focus on bills approved by the House of Representatives. The House will similarly consider Senate-approved legislation in its committees as well.
Major session topics
This year's session is shorter since the legislature approved the 2023-2025 budgets during last year’s long session. Regardless of length, each session inevitably involves many items and key topics. Things have been very busy, with over 3,000 bills initially under consideration for this session. Here are some of the major topics of the session:
- State Budget Updates: The legislature meets annually each January but alternates between longer sessions of 105 days when developing the state’s two-year budgets and shorter sessions of 60 days when updating those budgets. This year, the Legislature is meeting for a 60-day session with a primary focus of updating the operating, transportation, and capital budgets. Modest updates, rather than major changes, are expected for each of the three budgets.
- Initiatives to Legislature: Several initiatives have been filed to the legislature related to the capital gains tax, climate commitment act, police pursuits, long-term care, and other policies. These measures were a result of citizen signatures collected in 2023. The legislature can either approve the initiatives as delivered or propose alternatives. If an alternative is approved, both measures advance to a statewide vote. If no action is taken, the initiative itself advances directly to the ballot.
- Special Education Funding: Washington has a state constitutional obligation to provide ample funding to our educational system. Many school districts struggle with the increasing costs of special education staffing and compliance. The legislature took significant steps during the 2023 session to enhance funding for special education and more measures are being considered this session. Helping schools meet their special education needs continues to be a bipartisan effort.
- Transportation Cost Escalations: The legislature approved a 16-year, $17 billion transportation investment plan in 2022, known as “Move Ahead Washington.” Since its approval, several major transportation projects have experienced significant cost escalations due to recent inflationary factors, staffing shortages, and supply chain issues. Legislators are seeking solutions related to supplemental funding for its transportation plan and how to complete its timeline.
- Capital Gains Tax Revenues: A new capital gains tax was approved in 2021, which is subject to repeal this November. The 7% tax applies to gains of more than $250,000 in stocks, bonds, and certain real estate. The first year of revenues collected totaled nearly $900 million. Approximately $400 million was collected in excess of what was anticipated. The additional funds must be spent on school construction projects. Legislators are considering what to do, if anything, with these excess funds this year.
- Climate Commitment Act: The legislature approved the Climate Commitment Act in 2021, which is also subject to repeal this November. It established an annual cap on greenhouse gas emissions and an allowance auction program. Auction revenues exceeded $1.8 billion in its first year of implementation, far beyond what was forecasted. Analysts estimate Washington gas prices have increased between 25 – 50 cents per gallon as a result of the program. Debate continues about spending the excess auction revenues.
How to follow legislative activities
The Legislature provides resources at leg.wa.gov, which include voting calendars, committee schedules, bill tracking, roll call votes, and official agendas. For more information, you can contact the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Television Washington or TVW.org provides live and on demand access to committee hearings, press conferences, and floor debates. My office is also happy to assist with your questions. My senatorbradhawkins.org website offers contact information and details about my activities on your behalf.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.
Brad Hawkins serves as State Senator for Legislative District 12