Legislature: History, investigations and new laws

The 2019 session of the Legislature included controversy, compromise, surprise, new law and more.

Bob Roegner

Bob Roegner

Even with one-party rule, the 2019 session of the Washington Legislature had it all!

National attention, history, controversy, compromise, surprise and new laws. Gov. Jay Inslee is running for president, Attorney General Bob Ferguson is running for governor — maybe, it depends on Inslee. Same for King County Executive Dow Constantine, and possibly Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. If Ferguson runs, then Solicitor General Noah Purcell moves into the frontrunner spot for attorney general.

The surprise was state Rep. Mike Pellicciotti (D-30th District) is running for state treasurer against Duane Davidson, one of only two statewide positions held by Republicans. The other Republican, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, remains popular with voters from both parties and continues to resist attempts to get her to run for governor. She will run for re-election. Who will carry the the Republican mantle in 2020? It might be Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier.

There is already interest in Pellicciotti’s legislative seat and at least six potential candidates are testing the waters. Will other legislators step up or out for next year?

And history was made as Frank Chopp put a cap on his two-decade tenure as Speaker of the House, and at the same time set the stage for more history as the next speaker will be the first woman to hold the job. The candidates for speaker remain the same as they were going into the session: Reps. June Robinson, Laurie Jinkins, Monica Stonier and Gael Tarleton.

Democrats will vote for speaker at the end of July, but Rep. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek) will be the acting speaker until next January when the full House will vote.

Then there were the media distractions, such as a report that state Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) had talked to right-wing interests about spying on other Spokane residents, and state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) had signed a contract to provide lobbying for the government of Cambodia for $500,000 per year and registered as a foreign agent. His job will be to “promote improved relations with Cambodia” with state and federal governments. And Lovick will have to follow up on the complaint against Rep. Jeff Morris (D-Mt. Vernon) and his management style.

In between all that, some good legislation was passed and the session adjourned on time for the first time in nine years. Education continued to be a priority as higher education and new trade opportunities were funded. And a new program was funded to train our future behavioral health workers.

One of the most controversial pieces of legislation was SB 5395, a K-12 sex education bill, which passed the Senate but did not get a hearing in the House. During district days as legislators were home to visit with constituents, some events became almost unwieldy as organized opposition to the bill showed up in force to urge legislators to oppose the bill, and seemed more focused on religious issues and homosexuality than the actual bill. Parents could choose to have their children not take the class. Many of the same people had shown up at a school board meeting in Federal Way when state Sen. Claire Wilson (D-30th District) was still on the school board.

Measles, thought to be a past issue, resurfaced in Clark County and the Legislature passed a bill to remove the personal exemption for measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, although the religious and medical exemptions remain. For those concerned about guns, some headway was made allowing temporary gun ownership bans on people being released from short-term psychiatric holds, or those found incompetent to stand trial. A prohibition against “ghost guns” also passed. The smoking age was increased to 21, and daylight saving time was passed by the House and Senate — and needs final approval from Congress for the state to make the switch.

The state will pay for you to send in your election ballot. One of the most interesting items was the passage of I-1000, which will allow affirmative action to return to Washington. But it is being challenged, and the opponents have 90 days to obtain 130,000 signatures to put it on the fall ballot. While the majority of voters in this blue state may be comfortable with the goal of affirmative action, and the legislative votes were close to party line, opponents see an opportunity to increase voter turnout to help elect conservatives to local office and help prepare for next year.

Even with the Democrats firmly in control, some of their “to do” list didn’t pass. No abolishment of the death penalty, or reduction in car tabs or taxing capital gains.

There was a significant number of new legislators going to Olympia for the first time. How did they do, and which ones will be vulnerable in 2020? Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) worked on the homelessness problem through eviction reforms. According to insiders, others to watch are House members Matt Boehnke (R-8th District), Melanie Morgan (D-29th District), Lauren Davis (D-32nd District), Chris Cory (R-14th District), Debra Entenman (D-47th District), Chris Gildon (R-25th District), and Amy Walen (D-48th District). New senators to watch are Emily Randall (D-26th District), Joe Nguyen (D-34th District), and Jesse Salomon (D-32nd District).

All of this comes against a backdrop of President Donald Trump and next year’s national and state elections.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.

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