Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

Top 10 issues in Washington state’s 2021 legislative session

Democrats used their majorities to muscle through social, economic, environmental and tax policies.

  • By Jerry Cornfield jcornfield@soundpublishing.com
  • Wednesday, April 28, 2021 7:05pm
  • NewsNorthwest

Washington’s Legislature adjourned on Sunday after a 105-day session. The magnitude of what transpired, often on a partisan basis, might be without precedent in the breadth and depth of its impact on residents’ daily lives. Here are the top 10 issues at a glance.

1. Budget

The two-year budget spends $59.2 billion in state tax collections and roughly $10 billion in federal COVID-19 relief dollars to deal with the state’s ongoing pandemic response. It also strengthens the safety net of social services, expands child care and confronts long-term challenges posed by wildfires. It funds, for the first time, a working families tax rebate. It covers the costs of a slew of policing reforms and anti-racism training in public schools and colleges, and it bolsters treatment and outreach for those with substance use disorder.

2. Carbon pricing

Some of the state’s largest polluters will soon face limits on their carbon emissions. Under the so-called cap-and-trade approach, the state will impose limits on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. Those limits will go down over time. Companies will thus need to curb their emissions or buy allowances. Those dollars will get used to curb the number of vehicles on roads and to offset negative impacts of pollution on communities.

3. Clean fuel standard

A new clean fuels program, similar to ones in California and Oregon, will require fuel producers and importers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with gasoline and other transportation fuels. Starting in 2023, fuel producers will need to develop blends which, when burned, produce less carbon emission.

4. Capital gains tax

A new tax looms for those who pocket more than $250,000 in capital gains from the sale of long-terms assets like stocks and bonds. A tax rate of 7% would be imposed on amounts in excess of $250,000. Collections would start in 2024. An estimated 8,000 taxpayers, or fewer, could be affected. It is certain to face a legal challenge from those who contend it violates the state constitution’s ban on taxing income.

5. Tax rebate

Roughly 420,000 taxpayers could be in line for annual rebates of $50 to $1,200 starting in 2023. That’s an estimate of individuals and families eligible for a Working Families Tax Exemption. This program has been on the books since 2008 but never funded until now.

6. Law enforcement

Officers will be barred from using chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants; will face restrictions on when they can undertake vehicle pursuits; and must obtain approval from an elected official to use tear gas to quell a riot. Other reforms will create a statewide standard for use of force, make it easier to decertify officers, and require cops to intervene when they see fellow officers engaging in the use of excessive force. Also, a new state agency is created carry out independent investigations when a person dies at the hands of an officer.

7. Controlled substances

It will be a misdemeanor to knowingly possess illicit drugs without a prescription. This is an element of a multi-faceted response to a state Supreme Court decision nixing a state law that had made drug possession a felony. With the lesser penalty, there will be treatment, outreach and recovery services for those with substance use disorder and financial help for courts dealing with thousands of cases affected by the legal ruling.

8. Child care

Under the Fair Start Act, the state will hike child care subsidy rates, extend health coverage to child care workers, improve payments to providers and steadily expand access to early childhood education and assistance programs.

9. Tenant rights

Evicting tenants, now barred by a statewide moratorium, will be different when the moratorium ends. Justifications for eviction are getting clarified and protections for tenants are expanded. And Washington will be the first state to guarantee a right to legal counsel for qualified low-income tenants facing an eviction.

10. Open carry

People will be banned from openly carrying guns and other weapons at the Capitol and at or near permitted public demonstrations across the state.


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