Dinosaurs, drug laws and police pursuits on lawmaker to-do lists

WA legislators are queuing up bills they want to debate next year. Here are 8 certain to garner attention.

OLYMPIA — Honoring Suciasaurus rex, celebrating Chinese-Americans, reining in the state schools superintendent and making drug possession a felony again are on the to-do list for lawmakers next year.

Whether they get these done in the rapidly approaching 2023 legislative session is another matter.

Legislators have begun pre-filing bills for introduction on the first day, Jan. 9. They’ll then have the rest of the 105-day session to get them through both chambers and onto the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee.

Not every one will make it through. Often, the early filings are of legislation that failed before.

Here are snapshots of a few certain to garner attention.

Lowering the limit

If you are of legal age to drink, you may get cut off a little sooner. Democratic Sens. John Lovick, of Mill Creek, and Marko Liias, of Everett, are pushing Senate Bill 5002 to lower the lower the maximum blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, for drivers from 0.08% to 0.05%. At that mark, Washington would join Utah with the toughest standard in the nation.

Earlier start

The compulsory age for attending public school in Washington is 8. Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, chair of the Senate education committee, set out in 2022 to lower it to six. Washington is an outlier as in the other 49 states, it ranges from 5 to 7.

She encountered a wall of opposition from those who said parents should be the ones deciding the appropriate time to enroll their child in a public school. The legislation never got a vote in the Senate. She’s trying again with Senate Bill 5020. All signs point to a replay of the debate.

Police pursuits

Concern that suspected wrongdoers are fleeing from those with a badge has incited mayors and law enforcement officials to pressure state lawmakers to rewrite the rules for vehicle pursuits. The answer they seek is in Senate Bill 5034 authored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

Current law says cops need “probable cause” to engage in a pursuit. Padden’s bill would bring it down a legal notch to “reasonable suspicion.”

Lawmakers nearly made the change in March. With six days to go in the session, the House, on an 86-12 vote, passed a heavily massaged bill containing the “reasonable suspicion” verbiage. But the Senate never took it up amid claims of broken promises and bad faith dealmaking from all corners.

Drug possession

In 2021, the state Supreme Court erased a law making simple drug possession a felony. Rather than come up with a fix to make it constitutional, lawmakers tried a different approach. They passed a law saying a person stopped for drug possession should be offered treatment for their first offenses, and charged with a misdemeanor on the third. Those mayors and cops say that doesn’t work. Without a legitimate threat of arrest on a felony charge, there’s no authority to get those folks into treatment. That presumes there are services to sent them to.

Those rules expire July 1. Some lawmakers want to simply decriminalize drug possession for good and focus on expanding services. Padden is proposing a stick-and-carrot approach. His Senate Bill 5035 would once again make it a felony to “knowingly” possess a controlled substance. It also encourages prosecutors to “divert such cases for assessment, treatment, or other services for a person’s first two violations.”

State dinosaur

Is this the year Suciasaurus rex earns the honor of Washington’s official state dinosaur? Democratic Rep. Melanie Morgan is trying, again, with House Bill 1020.

She’s tried three times already. In 2020, it passed 91-7 in the House then died in the Senate. It didn’t get a vote the last two session. Students who brought forth the idea may be filling out college applications by now.

If you’re wondering, 12 states already have official state dinosaurs. So, too, does Washington, D.C. It’s Capitalsaurus. Seriously.

Reining in the boss

There are school board members across the state frustrated with the breadth and depth of mandates coming out of Olympia. The directives, they argue, limit their ability to develop and deliver a program of basic education they feel will best serve students in their communities.

To regain a balance of power, Sen. Shelley Short, R-Addy, wants to set clear limits on the reach of the office of the superintendent of public instruction, which enforces of the mandates.

Senate Bill 5029 asserts the “primary duty” of the state schools chief “is one of support, not supervision, and that school boards are vested with the final responsibility to set policies that serve their students.”

Repeal this

WA Cares, the long-term care program funded with a payroll tax, got put on hold back in January amid concerns about its financial viability and who will derive benefits. The program, and payroll tax, are now set to start up in mid-2023.

Republicans called for repealing WA Cares and starting over. They had to settle for the delay. They are trying again. Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, is providing the vehicle with House Bill 1011. Everyone is talking about the cost of long term care, the bill notes. The next step should be a discussion “about incentivizing and supporting Washingtonians in responsibly planning for their long-term care needs.”

Can’t we all get along?

A messy fight looms on which month, if any, should be designated for recognizing contributions of Americans of Chinese descent. Senate Bill 5000 would make it January. When Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, the author, introduced a similar bill in 2022, his colleagues passed it 48-0. But House Democrats buried it.

The reasons are complicated. Some think it should be another month, like May. Others dislike the public bashing dished out from the ranks of one group, Washington Asians for Equality, which flexed its political muscle a couple years back by rolling back an affirmative action measure embraced by Democrats.

Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, who represents the Chinatown International District in Seattle, intends to introduce a bill on the subject this session. She plans to ask scholars in Asian-American studies for input. Where it ends up is unclear. Maybe the compromise will be two months of celebrating.

The 2023 session is slated to run 105 days and end April 24.