Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In my last email update, I provided an overview of the three budgets and the capital gains income tax. With so many major policy issues I am providing a second end-of-session update to cover some of the other high-profile issues that came before us during the 2021 legislative session.
Cap and tax scheme
Senate Bill 5126 is a big part of the governor's climate change agenda. The majority party was able to pass this in the last hours off the session – despite bipartisan opposition. It passed the House by a vote of 54-43, with all Republicans and three Democrats voting “no.” The Senate vote was 27-22, with all Republicans and two Democrats voting against the bill.
The legislation would establish a cap-and-invest program (or cap-and-tax), for greenhouse gas emissions to be implemented by the Department of Ecology. This new, bureaucratic scheme is regressive. It will increase the costs of gas, food, goods, and heating on those who can least afford it, the low- and middle-income families.
Low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS)
On the final day of session, majority Democrats were also able to pass their LCFS mandate, House Bill 1091. This is another piece of the governor's climate agenda he has been pushing for quite some time. The legislation authorizes the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program by rule to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. So, once again, a state agency will be making rules related to a controversial and expensive program.
The LCFS mandate will increase the cost of gas and diesel without generating any new revenue for transportation projects, and do very little to improve air quality. The greatest impact will once again be on our low- and middle-income citizens, which flies in the face of what the other side says about our regressive tax structure. The LCFS is yet another regressive tax on Washingtonians.
A low-carbon fuel standard, cap-and-tax, and eventually a state gas tax increase to fund a new transportation revenue package could greatly increase fuel prices at the pump. Estimates range from 55 cents to $1.05 per gallon. This could be devastating for individuals, families and small businesses as they work their way out of the pandemic and the difficult economic and financial situation we have dealt with over the last year.
Police reform legislation
There were many bills introduced this session related to police reform. We do need to improve the public's trust in law enforcement and strengthen accountability with officers. It will make our law enforcement officers and agencies better. However, we must be careful that it does not come at the expense of putting public safety or our communities at risk.
Here is a breakdown of the law enforcement legislation passed this session.
House Bill 1310 would establish a use of force standard for law enforcement officers, failing to recognize a number of circumstances where force may be required to ensure public safety. It also undercuts the reasonable officer standard approved and established by voters through I-940. For those reasons I voted “no” on this bill.
House Bill 1054 relates to limiting certain police tactics and equipment, which I opposed. I have heard concerns from law enforcement officials that this would take away some of the tools officers rely on to de-escalate situations and avoid the need to use deadly force. Removing these tools or tactics would make their job even more dangerous. That also decreases public safety and puts our communities at risk of more criminal activity. That is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve with this legislation.
Senate Bill 5066 would require a peace officer to intervene when the officer witnesses a fellow peace officer engaging in the use of excessive force. There were some initial concerns about the language in the bill being clear. However, in the end, I voted “yes” for this bill. It is important our officers are in a position to call out wrongdoing and intervene when they need to.
House Bill 1267 would establish the Office of Independent Investigations within the Office of the Governor for the purpose of investigating deadly force incidents involving peace officers. I am concerned this bill seeks to transition the responsibilities for conducting criminal investigations to non-law enforcement officers, civilians should not be conducting criminal investigations. The majority of officers are true public servants and work to protect their communities. Law enforcement needs to be part of the solution and their voices need to be included in the process. I believe this bill also negates the hard work associated with the passing of I-940 and the rulemaking following it. For those reasons I voted “no” on this legislation.
I am concerned some of these police reform bills go too far. We are already hearing stories of shortages in law enforcement personnel at a time when people are concerned about feeling safe in their communities.
Emergency powers reform
The Legislature adjourned without addressing one of the most pressing issues before us this session – emergency powers reform. Unfortunately, majority Democrats refused to tackle this issue.
A couple of weeks ago, House Republicans made a motion that would have allowed us to bring important emergency powers reform legislation to the floor for a full vote – House Bill 1557. It is a balanced bill, sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, and it would have established a greater role for the Legislature during a state of emergency – without taking away the governor's ability to respond quickly to emergencies.
Unfortunately, our motion was rejected on a party-line vote of 41-56. The majority party stated if we circumvented the rules or cutoff dates for one bill, it would create an expectation that could be done for other legislation. However, the reality is, we have been pushing for emergency power reforms since last May and we had bills ready to go on the first day of session.
Some states, Republican and Democrat, have amended their emergency powers laws during the pandemic. Currently, Washington state ranks near the bottom in terms of governmental balance of power because we bestow on our governor the sole authority to determine when and where an emergency exists, and when an emergency ceases to exist.
Complete indefinite control from one branch of government is not the way our state government was intended to function.
Stay in touch
I am pleased the “virtual” legislative session is over. I hope you will reach out to me if you have any questions, concerns or comments about legislation or state government related issues. I look forward to hearing from you and hope we can connect during the interim. Please reach out to my office to set up an appointment, to arrange a speaking opportunity, or to ask any questions you may have.
It's an honor to serve you!
Robert J. Sutherland
WA State Representative, District 39