The Legislature hit the ground running in the first week of the short session. One bill carried over from last year, HB 1329 (providing remote testimony options) passed off the House Floor and is in the Senate. We are hoping to move another remote testimony bill from last year, HB 1056 out of the House and into the Senate soon. This bill allows counties to conduct remote meetings (held over Zoom, phone, etc. without a traditional physical location) during a declared emergency (statewide or local) throughout the duration of the emergency. Both of these OPMA bills stalled in the Senate during the final days of Session last year.
Another carry-over from last year is HB 1202, which would allow counties to be sued under a fairly broad definition of police misconduct. The bill was heard in the House Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary on Wednesday. WSAC testified in opposition to the bill based on its expansive tort liability costs and our belief that court orders are a poor way to set policy and get at underlying reform. We have worked with the sponsor and advocacy groups to lessen the impacts by delaying when the bill is implemented to 2025 and also make awards of attorney’s fees discretionary as opposed to mandatory. We continue to oppose the bill because of its expected impact on our risk pools and ability to get insurance, and because we prefer solutions that prevent misconduct in the first place as opposed to litigation. We will keep working on it if it moves forward.
A number of election bills have been introduced this year, but I will only flag two of immediate concern. SB 5540 would move presidential primary dates (again!) forward to May, with candidate filing periods moved to February. WSAC has concerns about how this would affect the logistics of elections and other operations. This bill is set to be heard on January 14 in the Senate Committee on State Government & Elections. Another bill with a long list of operational problems is SB 5597, a sweeping voting rights omnibus bill modeled on pending federal legislation. Among other things, this bill creates thresholds for minority populations (10% of voter totals) that would require pre-clearance (e.g., approval from a court or the Attorney General) before a local government could undertake a variety of actions relating to voting, boundaries, and “plans of government.” This is a sweeping and ill-defined language that could unintentionally affect a variety of county functions. The bill also creates a state demographics database at the University of Washington and requires reporting of data regularly to this database. Whatever the merits of the bill’s policy aims, it is presently a mess as drafted, and WSAC is working to flag concerns and logistical challenges—over and above any policy aims—so that we are not stuck with an unworkable set of new mandates. This bill is also set to be heard on January 14 in the Senate Committee on State Government & Elections.