March 3, 2024

It’s the final countdown

Legislative Update 2024 SessionBy Marie Sullivan,

Friday, March 1st was the final deadline by which bills had to pass out of the opposite chamber to remain under consideration this session. Many bills were amended in the opposite chamber, which means they will return to their “house of origin” for concurrence, dispute, or conference committee. Typically, conference committees are reserved for budgets or bills when the two chambers are far apart on final decisions.

The House held some late nights last week, spending a lot of time in Democratic and Republican caucuses. On February 29th, they worked until 1:20 AM, spilling over into Friday morning, debating for about two hours on ESB 5462, promoting inclusive learning standards and instructional materials in public schools. The bill passed 56-37 after lengthy debate over 14 amendments offered by House Republicans which were not adopted. The House continued on for another hour before finally adjourning. On March 1st, the House “5 PM bill” was ESB 5241, informally referred to as the “hospital merger bill.” When the House went “at ease” for the purpose of caucus, it likely was to discuss the nearly 40 amendments offered to the bill.  The House later adjourned without taking up the bill.

The Senate took a more measured approach, not working beyond 6 PM most nights, posting their run lists early in the day so people knew what to expect, and getting through the bills and floor amendments in an orderly manner. The final two days saw the most floor time devoted to passage of ESHB 1589, a bill that would apply only to Puget Sound Energy and was related to their transition away from providing natural gas to customers under the Clean Energy Transformation Act. After a ruling by Lt. Governor Denny Heck agreed with Republican Senator Shelly Short’s point that the bill, as drafted, violated Rule 26 of the Senate Rules, which does not allow state law to be amended by reference, Senate Democrats proposed a new striking amendment for consideration on March 1st. The bill was the final bill, with a debate run time of nearly an hour before the bill passed 27-22. Two Democrats voted “no” with Senate Republicans.

March 7th is the last day of the regular legislative session. Work in this final week will be reconciling differences between bills that were changed in the opposite chamber and budget releases and adoption. In addition, three Initiatives to the Legislature are likely to be adopted. These include initiatives to update police pursuit laws, establish a parent’s bill of rights in a new statute, and confirm that no state income tax will be adopted.

Bills that failed to pass the fiscal cutoff deadline of February 26th

  • HB 1332 would have required school districts to incorporate Since Time Immemorial, the tribal sovereignty curriculum, into their social studies curricula by September 1, 2024. It would have also required school districts to incorporate materials about the history, culture, and government of their nearest federally recognized tribe or tribes into their social studies curricula by September 1, 2026, and to consult with the tribes about meeting the requirement.
  • HB 1391 would have established a Statewide Building Energy Upgrade Navigator Program by January 1, 2025 to provide outreach and deliver energy services to residential building owners and renters and owners of commercial buildings under 20,000 square feet. The bill was being watched with an eye to applicability to school buildings.
  • HB 1692 would have created student advisory groups.
  • HB 1714 would have created a grant program for financial literacy education professional development. This could be a budget proviso in the 2024 supplemental operating budget.
  • SB 5344 would have created a public school construction revolving loan fund.
  • SB 5789 would have reimbursed school districts for the sales tax on school construction projects that are receiving a state match from the School Construction Assistance Program.
  • SB 5849 would have required students in the graduating class of 2030 to meet the state learning standards for computer science.
  • SB 5850 would have created a grant program for students who are chronically absent and at risk for not graduating high school.
  • SB 6016 would have created a green energy community fund by which energy developers could contribute funds to support school districts and nonprofit organizations that service the communities where renewable energy projects are located.

Bills that failed to pass the March 1st deadline

No bills on the tracking list failed to meet the March 1st cutoff.

Planning for the K-12 education budget

Based on bill action last week, we now have a pretty good idea about what to expect for NEW K-12 education funding in the 2024 supplemental operating budget.

SHB 2180, increasing the special education enrollment funding cap.

SHB 2180 was amended on the Senate floor and passed unanimously as the second to last bill on March 1st. The bill would increase the enrollment cap for special education funding from 15% to 16%. This is lower than the original proposal of 17.25% but higher than the Senate operating budget’s proposed 15.6%.

ESHB 2494, increasing state funding for operating costs in schools.

As passed the Senate, ESHB 2494 would increase MSOC per student rates by $21 dollars in the current school year and adjust rates in the 2024-25 school year.

2SSB 5882, increasing prototypical school staffing to better meet student needs.

In the wee hours of March 1st, the House passed 2SSB 5882, increasing classified staffing ratios for both instructional paraeducators and office support and other non-instructional aides. The additional funding would apply for the 2023-24 school year, and the annual sums will be doled out in a district’s remaining apportionment payments. We’ll have to wait for the total funding allocation, but according to the bill amendment effect statement, the increased staffing ratios would result in an additional $7.6 million in the 2023-25 biennium and $16.4 million over the four-year outlook. Other provisions are:

  • The first month’s distribution of additional amounts provided in the 2023-24 school year must be a proportion of the total annual additional amount equal to the sum of the proportional shares under the apportionment schedule (RCW 28A.510.250) from September 2023 to the first month’s distribution.
  • Staff units for nurses, social workers, psychologists, and counselors in this act, above those provided in section 5, chapter 379, Laws of 2023 may not be allocated until the 2024-25 school year.

Bill changes during floor action

The following relates only to bills that were changed substantially due to new floor amendments, some of which may have been made in the fiscal committees on February 26th and were adopted on the floor:

SHB 1044, providing capital financial assistance to small school districts with demonstrated funding challenges.

This bill regarding small district access to school construction funding was a political football last session, going back and forth between the chambers and ultimately dying due to lack of action. This session, the bill passed the House unanimously in one form, and was changed dramatically again in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

It could be a shot across the bow between the Senate and House regarding school construction in general – the House Capital Budget Committee failed to act on SB 5789 (sales tax reimbursement for school construction) and SB 5344 (creating a school construction revolving loan fund), basically killing them off at the fiscal cutoff.

The bill will return to the House for its consideration of the changes.

E2SHB 1368, requiring and funding the purchase of zero emission school buses.

As amended in Senate Ways & Means on February 26th and as adopted on the Senate floor, the striking amendment would direct OSPI to develop preliminary guidance regarding the formula factors used to calculate the total cost of ownership for zero emission school buses and diesel school buses. The amendment also would create an exception to the depreciation reimbursement and contracting requirements for up to five years if a school district has mileage or other unique needs that cannot be met by zero emission buses or if a school district does not have appropriate charging infrastructure or the capacity to install such infrastructure.

The House is expected to concur with the changes made in the Senate.

SHB 1903, reporting lost or stolen firearms.

An amendment from Senator Jim McCune, R-Enumclaw, would require the local licensing authorities, when issuing a firearm dealer’s license, to also issue signage to the dealer that warns customers of the penalties for unsafe gun storage and the failure to report lost or stolen firearms. Another floor amendment from McCune would clarify that the infraction related to the failure to report lost or stolen firearms seeks to address the failure to report the event and not the “number” of firearms lost or stolen in a single event.

The House is expected to support these additions.

SHB 1915, making financial education instruction a graduation prerequisite and a required component of public education.

Senator Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, successfully offered a floor amendment that removed financial education as a graduation requirement. The bill would still require school districts to offer students in high school the opportunity to earn one-half a credit in financial education by the 2027-28 school year.

Bill sponsor Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, opposed removing financial education as a graduation requirement, but reportedly the State Treasurer agreed with the change. Rude sponsored the bill at the request of State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti, Democrat. It’s unclear how this will go in the House, since House Education Chair Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, also supports this as a graduation requirement.

ESHB 2118, protecting the public from gun violence by establishing additional requirements for the business operations of licensed firearms dealers.

One of the many bills that ate up several hours on the Senate floor last week, ESHB 2118 was amended by Senator Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, to require firearm dealers to maintain surveillance recordings for a minimum of 90 days for recordings of areas where firearms are displayed and points of sale, and for 45 days for all other recordings.

The changes are expected to be accepted by the House.

ESSB 5444, concerning firearms in sensitive places.

“Transit facilities” and bus stops were added as sensitive locations in the House policy committee. The floor amendment offered by Rep. Darya Farivar, D-Seattle, clarified that transit stations and facilities do not include transit vehicles.

The Senate is expected to concur with the House changes.

ESB 5790, concerning bleeding control equipment in schools.

An amendment by Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, removed the requirement for school districts to have an AED in every school and also removed the AED training requirement. The bill returned to its original form, focused on bleeding control equipment and changes are expected to be accepted in the Senate.

SB 5904, extending the terms of eligibility for financial aid programs.

Rep. Kelly Chambers, R-Pierce County, inserted a requirement for the Education Research and Data Center to annually report to the Legislature on how degree completion outcomes are impacted by extending eligibility for awards under the Washington College Grant, College Bound Scholarship, and Passport to Careers Program.

There was no opposition to the amendment, so it likely will be accepted in the Senate.

ESSB 6031, modifying the student transportation allocation to accommodate multiple vehicle types for transporting students.

What started as a bill to authorize school districts to use whichever type of vehicle the school board of directors “deemed” best suited to the route or to serve students was amended in the House Appropriations Committee to instead require OSPI to study transportation funding formulas and propose and an alternative funding formula for the 2026-27 school year.

Due to the complete change from the underlying bill, it isn’t clear if bill sponsor Senator John Braun, R-Centralia, will support the amendments. The Senate may ask the House to recede, which could result in some back and forth discussions the final four days of session.

Advocacy in action

  • WSPTA President Angela Steck shared comments on Initiative 2081, concerning parental rights relating to public school education, at the joint meeting of the House Education and Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committees Wednesday, February 28th. Angela noted that WSPTA had a long history of supporting the health, safety and welfare of children and youth and that family engagement is at the heart of PTA’s mission. She also pointed out that since the Initiative to the Legislature doesn’t change any specific state laws it may lead to some confusion during implementation, and asked the Legislature to correct any conflicts in a future legislative session. Watch Angela here.

To watch the hour-long public hearing, which also included a detailed staff briefing at the beginning, please watch here. Finally, the following documents were provided for committee members:

I-2081 passed out of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and the House Education Committee on March 1st. Initiatives to the Legislature are not subject to the cutoff deadlines.  It is expected that the Legislature will approve this measure before adjourning March 7th.

Initiative watch

House and Senate committees met jointly on February 27th to discuss initiatives to amend the police pursuit laws (I-2113) and to formally declare the state would not adopt an income tax (I-2111).

All three Initiatives to the Legislature passed out of their respective committees on March 1st. Initiatives to the Legislature are not subject to the cutoff deadlines.  It is expected that this measure will be approved before adjourning March 7th.

Initiatives to repeal the Climate Commitment Act, the Capital Gains Tax, and the state’s Long-Term Care investment fund have not been scheduled for public hearings and likely will be sent directly to the November General Election ballot.

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