UWPNW Washington Legislative Update - February 9, 2021

This year, the Legislature’s primary job is to deliver an operating budget that will govern state spending for the next two years starting July 1. As a result, the Senate this week is collecting and reviewing funding requests to guide the Senate Ways and Means Committee in formulating a response to Governor Inslee’s proposed budget (SB 5092). Read about the WA 211 request and other legislative activity below.

WA 211 Seeks Modest Bump in State Funding to Handle Growth in Call Volume
It’s been crazy busy at the seven regional centers that receive 2-1-1 calls where Washingtonians with questions and needs are given accurate information and referrals to local services. When call volumes flooded the system a few weeks back with concerns about access to COVID vaccinations, the seven regional centers scrambled to get 200 temporary specialists to handle the volume. Last week, the system handled over 22,000 calls. In the current budget cycle, Washington 211 received $2 million in state funding. For the fiscal year starting July 1, WA 211 is seeking an additional $1 million for a total of $3 million. The additional funding will support an increase in the system’s base number of call specialists so that it can better handle call volume growth as well as temporary surges. Please contact your legislator regarding the Senate operating budget proposal and indicate support for $3 million state funding for Washington 211.

Renter Protection Bill Requires Payment Plans Before Eviction
The Senate Housing and Local Government committee approved Senate Bill 5160 last week. This bill requires payment plans be established so tenants can catch up on back rent accrued during the eviction moratorium. It also prevents rent debt accrued during the pandemic from being used to deny housing in the future, keeps tenants out of court by expanding dispute resolution, and provides legal counsel for tenants who do go to eviction court. The next step for this bill is to clear the Senate Ways and Means committee. You can comment on Senate Bill 5160 here

House and Senate Committee Continue Work on Fair Start for Kids Act 
Both HB 1213 and SB 5237 have passed out of their policy committees and have been referred to their respective fiscal committee. These bills expand eligibility and access to affordable, quality child care and other critical early learning services. While the two bills started out the same (companion bills), they were each amended in committee. The Fair Start for Kids Act is consistent with the United Ways of the Pacific Northwest agenda to "properly invest in our child care and early learning system to ensure it is affordable and accessible for all working parents."

Webinar on Capital Gains Tax to Support Fair Start
Rep. Tana Senn (D - Mercer Island) introduced HB 1496, a capital gains tax, which is intended to serve as the financing mechanism for the Fair Start initiative. This bill dedicates 50 percent of revenues created by the bill to the Fair Start for Kids fund from 2022-25 and 60 percent of revenues beyond July 2025. On Wednesday, February 10 at 12:30 p.m., Rep. Senn and Sen. Claire Wilson (D - Federal Way) will host a webinar on the merits of this bill. At this briefing, Andy Nicholas, a capital gains policy expert from Budget and Policy Center, will overview the bill, highlight differences and overlaps with past proposals, and answer policy questions. You can register for the webinar here. It will be moderated by League of Education Voters Communications Director Arik Korman.