Plenty of work to do in special session | The Petri Dish

  • Thursday, May 11, 2017 5:30pm
  • Opinion

Not a whole lot is going on around the Capitol these days as the first not-so-special session reaches the end of its third week.

Negotiations on the funding and operations of public schools are occurring on most weekdays, not weekends, and there’s no guesstimate of when Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate may cut a deal.

And periodic conversations are taking place on matters of import, such as paid family leave, but not so much on touchy subjects, including internet privacy, Sound Transit car tabs and the Hirst decision on water rights. Most lawmakers aren’t participants in any conversations so they’re home and won’t be back in Olympia unless summoned for votes.

As for Gov. Jay Inslee, he too is watching and waiting for legislators to settle their differences and send him a budget to keep the wheels of government churning when the new fiscal year starts July 1.

Amid such monumental inactivity, it’s easy to forget the 147 citizen lawmakers did accomplish a few things in the 105 days of regular session they hope will make society safer, business less cumbersome and the quality of life in Washington better.

Lawmakers introduced 2,590 bills in the 2017 session and 339 made it to the governor’s desk, aka the finish line. He’s signed or will sign nearly all of them.

Remember the levy cliff? In mid-March they sent Senate Bill 5023 to the governor. It delayed a cut in local school levy rates for one year, preserving a critical stream of revenue for districts while lawmakers negotiate a long-term strategy for fully funding education. (They are in special session because they haven’t figured it out yet.)

A desire to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people resulted in a bill Inslee signed Wednesday, May 10. House bill 1501 requires firearms dealers to keep track when they turn down a sale after a background check reveals the customer is ineligible to acquire a gun. Information on those denials — which customers can appeal — is supposed to reach the Washington State Patrol and put in a database used by law enforcement.

Another gun bill signed Wednesday seeks to erase lingering concerns stirred by passage of Initiative 594 requiring universal background checks. Pretty much everything it does is spelled out in the 123-word title. Senate Bill 5552 makes clear in-laws are covered by the family member exemption and clarifies sale of flare guns and construction tools don’t require background checks.

It won’t be easy for a company to make money off a person’s biometric identifiers. House Bill 1493 prohibits selling, leasing, or disclosing of an identifier such as a fingerprint, voiceprint or an eye scan for a commercial purpose without the person’s consent.

Speaking of the private sector businesses, lawmakers attempted to ease the strain of rules and regulations on smaller businesses. One new law requires state agencies find ways to offset the cost of new rules to the bottom line of smaller outfits. Another law seeks to simplify getting a city business license by having the state Department of Revenue process the requests.

Washington’s maturing marijuana industry got a bipartisan tweaking. Senate Bill 5131 revises rules for producers and retailers, bars ads on buses and bans outdoor ads containing depictions of marijuana plants, marijuana products, or images that might be appealing to children. Also, under House Bill 1250, retailers will be able to give customers a free lockable storage box for their marijuana products in order to keep them from being found and consumed by children.

Starting next year women are going to be able to get a year’s supply of birth control pills. Under House Bill 1234, a health plan issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1 that includes coverage for contraceptives must cover a 12-month refill in most cases. In 2016, the Republican-led Senate bottled up this legislation. This year, it passed without a squabble.

And a supermajority of lawmakers passed a bill they hope reduces injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving. Their bill – which Inslee has said he’ll sign – bars use of a personal electronic device while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle starting Jan. 1, 2019. That means no texting or checking emails even while at a stop light.

You can find all the bills signed into law at governor.wa.gov. Reading them is something to do to pass the time in special session.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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