Today is the 50th day of the 105-day legislative session. Last Friday marked the second important milestone of the session – the cutoff for bills coming out of the fiscal committees.
This week the main focus will be on floor action in both the House and Senate. Legislators will be working to pass their bills before the next cutoff date which is March 11. Bills must be voted out of their house of origin by this date.
House to Take up Labor Bills
Late last Friday night, House Democratic leadership pulled a group of bills to the floor calendar from the Rules Committee. Three of these bills – HB 1354, 1355, and 1356 – involve issues that Washington Farm Bureau has opposed for years:
These bills will add costs, risks, and regulations on farmers, and Farm Bureau strongly opposes them.
Senate Passes Transportation Reform, Revenue Bills
Last Friday, the Senate debated and voted on eight transportation reform bills that are part of a package to fund maintenance of our current roadways and pay for new projects.
Washington Farm Bureau supported the reform bills because we believe substantive reforms to transportation budgeting and project delivery need to be enacted if legislators are going to ask rural residents to pay higher gas taxes.
The reform bills, all sponsored by Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), are as follows:
Following the passage of the reform bills, the Senate took up SB 5987, also sponsored by Sen. King. That bill would impose an 11.7-cent gas tax implemented in stages over the next three years (5 cents, 4.2 cents, and 2.5 cents), as well as increase in several fees.
After amendments were adopted on Friday afternoon and the bill seemed slated for final passage, Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), asked whether the bill needed a two-thirds supermajority vote under the Senate rules adopted at the start of session to advance it from second reading to third reading. Senate rules require this two-thirds vote on bills that impose “new taxes.” Sen. King stated that raising the gas tax was not imposing a new tax, merely adjusting an existing tax. Further action on the bill was delayed until Lt. Gov. Brad Owen could make an official ruling on the issue.
The Senate proceeded to vote on SB 5987, passing it in a bipartisan 27-22 vote. Also, the Senate passed SB 5988, which would appropriate the money raised by SB 5987. It passed 41-8. The final transportation revenue bill, SB 5989, which would authorize bonds for these transportation projects, still needs to be considered by the Senate.