Policy fights, political tension loom for state lawmakers

A 60-day session begins Monday. They’ll tackle car tabs, homelessness and whether to expel Matt Shea.

A trove of policy disputes, a bit of political tension and a historic leadership change awaited lawmakers on Monday when they began a 60-day session.

Voters made clear in November they want to pay less for their car tabs, and lawmakers are feeling some heat to craft a response.

While the fate of Initiative 976 is in the hands of judges, legislators say they must figure out what to do if the state loses a bundle of money for its transportation system, should it be upheld.

Lawmakers also will be wrangling on proposals to provide shelter to more people who are homeless, fight climate change with a new clean fuel standard and ban assault weapons.

In the meantime, there may be uncomfortable moments surrounding Republican Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley.

A House-commissioned report issued last month concluded Shea promoted and engaged in armed anti-government protests in Nevada, Idaho and Oregon in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The report described such activities as domestic terrorism.

Shea said last week he has been “falsely accused” and he vowed not to resign. There’s nervous anticipation of whether Shea’s friends in far-right political groups will show up on opening day to vociferously defend their legislative ally.

And Monday was expected to bring an historic change of command in the House.

For the first time in a generation, there will be a new speaker, and for the first in the state’s history, it will be a woman.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, will take the reins of power that Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, had held since the turn of the century. How she guides the caucus, including its response to Shea, will be closely watched.

And don’t forget this is an election year. All 98 House seats and roughly half the 49 Senate seats are on the ballot this year. This usually means lawmakers steer wide of politically touchy matters in order to finish on time.

“This is going to be a sprint,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo.

Homelessness

Another issue drawing bipartisan interest is homelessness. Revising state laws to increase the supply of housing, as well as making sure existing dollars are being used efficiently to reduce the number of homeless people, are concerns shared by Democrats and Republicans.

Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing to siphon $319 million from emergency reserves, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, for a state-driven effort to reduce the number of people living outside by 50 percent in the next two years.

His blueprint calls for the state, working with cities, counties and nonprofits, to add 2,100 beds in local shelters, give housing assistance to 2,300 people, and provide supportive housing for 1,080.

“This is a statewide crisis, and it calls for a statewide solution,”’ Inslee said last week.

Democratic and Republican leaders on Thursday acknowledged the need for a response, but rejected using emergency reserves to pay for it. Inslee said he wasn’t wedded to the source of funds, as long as the dollars are not obtained by cutting other programs.

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A couple of popular Democratic ideas — a capital gains tax and an assault weapons ban — may not happen.

On a bill to ban assault weapons, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said “it is too early” to say if it has a chance. The priority, he said, is making sure the background check system is functioning.

Another unknown is whether lawmakers will behave any differently knowing their emails and other records are now subject to public disclosure.

A landmark Supreme Court ruling in December made clear the Public Records Act applies to legislators. Before the decision, several lawmakers worried disclosure of their records could stifle the exchange of ideas with constituents and lobbyists in the course of writing legislation.

The 2020 session formally began at noon Monday.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.


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