This week, the Senate agreed to a request from WSAC and AWC to combine the key provisions of two bills into one bill by adding parts of HB 1056 into HB 1329, which would provide remote testimony options. The combined bill would allow 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, but we are hopeful that the newly-combined bill (HB 1329) will make it through the process this year and be enacted.
SB 5155 is a tort liability bill carried over from last year. This bill would allow interest on judgments for tortious conduct to begin to accrue from the date on which a person suffers an injury or loss. This means interest would begin accruing before a claim was filed and, in some cases, even before a county was made aware of the injury or loss. Current law provides that interest begins to accrue on the date a judgment is entered by a court. The date when interest starts is especially important in an era where litigation and even settlement negotiations can drag on for years. Much delay can result from plaintiff choices or court schedules, neither of which is in county control. The Senate adopted an amendment that exempts local government from its application, but the House took this amendment out. Please contact your House members and urge them to oppose SB 5155 without an amendment to exempt local government from its application.
The Voting Rights Act, SB 5597, continues to progress. The good news is that the House policy committee did accept some of our amendments, many of which were technical but important to the operation of the law. They also accepted our amendment to allow reliance on prior preclearance to be considered when awarding attorney’s fees. We are still working to clarify that the Attorney General is responsible for defending its own certification—not other actions of a county, but the certification actually issued by the Attorney General and relied upon by a county.
When preclearance is mandatory, it seems only fair that counties be allowed to rely on that preclearance without being sued later for following that mandatory process.
The policy committee did reduce the number of covered jurisdictions such that the number of counties subjected to preclearance from a potential of 24 down to 13, but please note that they did so through a complicated calculation involving poverty, health insurance, and high school diploma rates. Some counties are now included in this version that were not in the prior version. We believe this will cover these counties:
- Adams (newly in)
- Douglas (newly in)
- Ferry (newly in)
- Klickitat (newly in)
- Okanogan (newly in)
- Walla Walla
While this new calculation does cover fewer counties than the older calculation, we believe it is an unusual standard, and we are working to get it changed to a standard that is related to prior voting rights violations instead. All of the preclearance provisions will sunset on June 30, 2029, but we continue to work on issues relating to preclearance standards, finality, appeals, and attorney’s fees.