Sine Die has come and gone, and the Voting Rights Act, SB 5597, did not pass. This was an omnibus bill involving many interests and some laudable policy goals, but it was operationally very complex and WSAC objected to the preclearance mechanisms and the potential endless litigation that could result under some standards as drafted. WSAC worked very hard on this bill and offered multiple amendments that would make the policy work better and apply more equitably to counties (e.g., we disfavor a pure population-based calculation to determine preclearance), and we expect to see it back again next year.

Since the start of the pandemic, counties have been able to conduct meetings remotely pursuant to various proclamations by the Governor. We have sought to codify some of these provisions to better serve the public and allow us to conduct remote meetings under various circumstances (chiefly, local emergencies) irrespective of Governor action. The Senate earlier 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. The newly-combined bill (HB 1329) passed the Legislature and is expected to be signed by the Governor shortly.

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 start to accrue 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 governments from its application, but the House took this amendment out. We have worked very hard with other stakeholders to keep current law on post-judgment interest for public agencies. The bill was controversial, and, in the end, it did not pass the Legislature this year, but we would expect to see a version of it back again next year.

Miscellaneous roundup:

  • HB 1982 has passed the Legislature and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor shortly. This is a follow-up to a bill on delinquent penalties and interest from last year, designed to provide relief to homeowners who fell behind on mortgage payments. This bill clarifies the application of last year’s changes so that it functions as intended. It’s a small bill that makes needed administrative changes, and WSAC supported this clarification of the law.
  • SB 5514 would have allowed counties to have meetings outside of the county seat up to one time per month (presently, they may do so up to four times per year). This flexibility was supported by WSAC (it was optional), but the bill failed to make it out of the Legislature before cutoff.
  • SB 5676 provides a cost-of-living benefit to retirees in the PERS-1 and TERS-1 systems. WSAC supports helping our retirees but expressed concerns over the cost of these COLA and the solvency of the accounts. This bill passed the Legislature and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor shortly.
  • Various election bills which WSAC monitored and upon which we expressed operational concerns died in the final days of session.
    • SB 5540 would have moved primary election dates.
    • SB 5584 would have allowed ranked-choice voting for local elections, while HB 1926 and SB 5851 would have used ranked-choice voting for presidential primaries.
    • HB 1727 would have abolished odd-year elections.
    • None of these bills passed, but we can expect to see some of these ideas back again next year.
  • HB 1202 relates to liability for police misconduct. WSAC opposed this bill on the basis of creating liability for counties over actions which they lacked oversight or direct control, and pushed for other ways to proactively prevent misconduct from occurring. The bill did not pass.