State lawmakers reached a milestone this week when the first bill passed by both Houses in this year’s legislature went to the governor’s desk for signature. Measure SB 5061 would prevent automatic unemployment insurance tax increases of $ 1.7 billion from taking effect from 2021 to 2025. The bill was passed by 89-8 votes late Friday after the Senate had previously passed 427-7.
The 105-day meeting will take place on February 24th. The first deadline for legislative action ends February 15 in less than two weeks. This is the last day the committees must pass bills from their Chamber of Origin for consideration by the entire House or Senate. This first “reference date” generally reduces half of the invoices still under consideration. More than 900 measures have been rolled out by 2021 and the roll-out is expected to continue swiftly through the deadline. Typically, more than 2,000 invoices are introduced during a regular 105 day session, around 400 of which make the final passage into law.
Following a late night debate on Monday, the House passed HB 1368 to distribute $ 2.2 billion in federal COVID aid funds made available to the state. It includes $ 668 million for school funding and $ 618 for a Public Health Response account for programs like COVID testing and contact tracing. An additional $ 68 million is earmarked for vaccine distribution and administration.
The bill would also provide $ 365 million in housing and rental assistance and $ 240 million in grants for Washington’s small businesses. It would also allocate $ 65 million to the Washington Immigrant Relief Fund and $ 50 million to provide financial assistance to childcare workers.
The debate on the bill revolved around proposals for amendments to increase funding for programs such as additional childcare grants, accelerated learning opportunities, and emergency rentals and assistance programs. Most of these reflected a proposed rescue package announced last week by Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn), senior Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee. The proposal (HB 1334) would have spent nearly $ 4 billion, including $ 1.8 billion from the state fund for “Rainy Days”.
During the debate on the amendments, Members of the House of Representatives expressed grave concern about “delving into the state’s rainy day reserves while the macroeconomic impact of the pandemic is still unknown”. However, the House unanimously passed HB 1367, a separate bill intended to spend $ 167 from the “Rainy Day” fund on higher provider rates in the state Department of Social and Health Services.
The COVID Aid Act HB 1368 was passed with 61-36 votes, with one member being excused. It has been sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for action before the end of this week. Check the bill on washingtonvotes.org to see how your lawmaker voted.
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