(The Center Square) – The Washington legislative session is underway.
Lawmakers will spend the next two months focusing on – among other issues – mental health, homelessness, the fentanyl crisis, the environment, transportation and policing.
In a Crosscut/Elway poll out last week, Washington voters listed their top priorities as the economy, public safety, homelessness, taxes, government, education and the environment.
Then there’s the issue of how majority-party Democrats will handle a half-dozen Republican-backed voter initiatives to the Legislature, assuming the initiatives have enough valid signatures to be certified by the Secretary of State’s Office.
Voter advocacy group Let’s Go Washington has turned in what appears to be more than enough valid signatures that would repeal the state’s cap-and-trade program, get rid of the new capital gains tax, remove some restrictions on police engaging in vehicle pursuits, make it easier to bar state and local governments from imposing income taxes, creating parents’ “bill of rights” for public school students, and eliminating the long-term care payroll tax.
Each initiative would automatically go on the November 2024 ballot unless they are adopted by lawmakers, who have the option of putting an alternative to any or all of the initiatives on the ballot.
Members of the House and Senate on Monday held separate opening ceremonies in their respective chambers as new interns and pages, legislative aides and members of the media stood in the wings for the presentation of the color by a State Patrol honor guard, singing of the national anthem and an opening prayer to mark the start of the 6868th legislative session.
Lawmakers won’t be writing a new two-year budget this 60-day session, but they will likely haggle over how to spend or save some of a surplus of more than $1 billion from the state’s new capital gains tax and carbon credit auctions, both of which brought in more revenue than anticipated.
Among Gov. Jay Inslee’s priorities, as expressed in the supplemental budget he submitted last month: dealing with mental and behavioral health issues.
He wants money to pay for adding 100 new beds for patients committed to a new psychiatric hospital in Tukwila purchased by the state in August.
“When you’ve got a 15-year-old in a mental health crisis and it takes six months to get them into a place for help, we need to do better than that,” Inslee said.
Inslee also wants more money to recruit and retain workers at Eastern State and Western State hospitals, where staffing has long been a safety and security risk.
“It’s not going to be cheap,” the governor noted. “There’s no tooth fairy who can fix this.”
Inslee’s supplemental budget also requests millions more related to fighting opioid abuse, including prevention efforts, education on the issue and public awareness campaigns.
Across the aisle, minority Republicans are focused on giving constituents some relief from high gas prices, which they blame in part on the carbon credit auctions that started last year as part of the Climate Commitment Act.
“The governor needs to take a more holistic view of the state’s environment and what it means for our families today,” Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, told The Center Square. “His policies on cap-and-trade are threatening the economy’s sustainability and threaten our children much more significantly, forcing them to leave the state to find opportunities.”
Last week, Inslee denied the Washington Policy Center’s claim that documents from his administration showed he has known for about a decade that taxing carbon emissions would significantly increase gas prices.