BY SANJAY WALVEKAR
The 105-day 2023 legislative session began on Jan. 9 and adjourned sine die on April 23. Legislators passed a two-year, $69.2 billion state operating budget11 https://fiscal.wa.gov/statebudgets/ 2023proposals/so2325bien. providing funding increases for K-12 schools, with an emphasis on special education and programs to support affordable housing,22 www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/wa-lawmakers-propose-69-billion-budget-targeting-schools-housing/. as well as a $13.5 billion biennial transportation budget33 https://ofm.wa.gov/budget/state-budgets/gov-inslees-proposed-2023-25-budgets/2023-25-transportation-plan. that supports improvements to the Washington State Ferry System, increases bicycle and pedestrian access to schools, and funds major highway construction projects statewide.44 www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/wa-highways-aging-ferries-get-big-slice-of-13-5b-transportation-plan/.
Several significant policy measures passed this year. The Legislature voted to allow multi-family housing in nearly every part of the state to increase the number of housing units in neighborhoods currently reserved for single-family homes (Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1110). A number of bills related to policing and criminal justice reform passed this session, including legislation clarifying situations when police can engage in a vehicular pursuit (Engrossed Senate Bill 5352) and removing the death penalty from state law after a decades-long effort to end the practice (Substitute Senate Bill 5087). The Legislature also implemented changes to civil protection orders by increasing access to civil legal support and enhancing overall support to domestic violence victims, among other changes (Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1715).
Legislation around firearms continued to be a priority for Democrats in the majority. Lawmakers passed bills banning the manufacture, sale, or distribution of gun models defined as “assault weapons” (Substitute House Bill 1240); imposing a 10-day waiting period on purchases of all guns and requiring proof that buyers have completed gun-safety training (Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1143); and allowing the state attorney general or private citizens to sue gun manufacturers and dealers under public nuisance laws if they negligently allow their guns to be sold to minors or straw purchasers (Substitute Senate Bill 5078).
Below are some of the bills the WSBA Legislative Affairs team focused on this session.
Bar-request Bill Passes
One of the WSBA’s main priorities during each legislative session is to support legislative proposals initiated by WSBA Sections and approved by the Board of Governors. This year’s request legislation, Senate Bill (SB) 5004, passed both chambers unanimously and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. Originating from the Corporate Act Revision Committee of the Business Law Section, SB 5004 aims to modernize and clarify portions of Washington’s Business Corporations Act (WBCA) by amending chapters of the WBCA regarding holding company reorganization transactions, stock splits, and other provisions.
WSBA Sections Weigh In
In addition to Bar-request legislation, the WSBA Legislative Affairs team monitors and takes appropriate action on legislative proposals significant to the practice of law and administration of justice. The WSBA Legislative Affairs team was busy this year, referring and tracking nearly 500 bills for WSBA Sections through the end of session. Key bills involving WSBA Section action and collaboration include:
Substitute House Bill 1088
Concerning the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act. This bill adopts the Uniform Law Commission’s Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act to create a statutory scheme for the arbitration of family law disputes. The bill was supported by the Family Law Section and the Dispute Resolution Section and signed into law by Gov. Inslee.
Substitute Senate Bill 5077
Concerning the Uniform Commercial Code.This bill amends general provisions and definitions that apply throughout the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC); amends articles of the UCC governing sales, leases, negotiable instruments, fund transfers, letters of credit, documents of title, investment securities, and secured transactions; establishes a new article in the UCC governing controllable electronic records; and provides an adjustment date on or after which certain transactions must conform to the requirements of the Act to remain valid, enforceable, or perfected. The bill was supported by the Business Law Section and was signed into law by Gov. Inslee.
Second Substitute Senate Bill 5112
Updating processes related to voter registration. This bill requires that the Department of Licensing make voter registration, signing up to register, or voter registration updates automatic for enhanced driver’s license and enhanced identicard applicants unless subsequently declined in writing; modifies procedures and timelines related to challenges to a voter’s eligibility; exempts date of birth, rather than year of birth, in voter registration files from public disclosure requirements; and sets penalties for failure to transmit voter registration information automatically and for intentional registration of ineligible persons. This legislation was supported by the Civil Rights Law Section and was signed into law by Gov. Inslee.
May Special Session
A special legislative session was called by Gov. Inslee to address the lack of a statewide drug possession statute caused by the failure to pass Second Substitute Senate Bill 5536 during the regular session. The House and Senate convened on May 16 to pass a striking amendment to Second Substitute Senate Bill 5536. The striking amendment maintains the original bill’s classification of knowing possession and public use of controlled substances as a gross misdemeanor crime, with some modifications to the monetary and confinement penalties. The amendment provides additional funding to the Office of Public Defense to provide public defense services for defendants charged with possession or public use in lesser-populated cities and counties statewide. Gov. Inslee signed the bill into law.
Issues to Watch Next Year
For bills that did not achieve final passage this year, legislators have already expressed an interest in studying issues for potential reintroduction in 2024. A few bills and issues to watch include:
Substitute Senate Bill 5318
Limiting estate recovery. This legislation exempts the Health Care Authority and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) from filing liens against property or seeking adjustment and recovery prior to the death of certain individuals and removes requirement for funds and accounting to be sent to DSHS when a resident who received long-term care services paid for by the state dies. The bill is supported by the Elder Law Section and is expected to be reconsidered next session.
Substitute Senate Bill 5589
Concerning probate. This bill modifies provisions relating to family support and exemptions from creditors’ claims for probate and nonprobate property; clarifies the exemptions from attachment, execution, and forced sale that apply after a decedent’s death; establishes a procedure for allocating the exempt property among claimants; and establishes a procedure by which the decedent’s surviving spouse, surviving registered domestic partner, or surviving dependent children may request basic financial support during the pendency of any court proceedings relating to the decedent’s probate or nonprobate assets. The bill is supported by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Section and is expected to be reconsidered next session.
Substitute Senate Bill 5205
Concerning limitations in parenting plans related to parental conduct. This bill clarifies limitations on parenting plans to protect children when one or both parents are engaging in certain conduct. This legislation was monitored by the Low Bono Section and Family Law Section and is expected to be reconsidered next session.
House Bill 1484
Updating the estate tax exclusion amount. This bill increases the exclusion amount for the estate tax and updates the reference for the annual consumer price index adjustment for the exclusion amount. This bill was monitored by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Section, the Taxation Section, and the Elder Law Section. It is expected to be reconsidered next session.
House Bill 1795
Making the estate tax more progressive. This bill increases the exclusion amount for the estate tax; changes deductions; makes changes to the rates and rate structure; and directs any increased estate tax revenues into the newly created Progressive Policy Account. This legislation was monitored by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Section, the Taxation Section, and the Elder Law Section. It is expected to be reconsidered next session.
Second Substitute House Bill 1579
Establishing a mechanism for independent prosecutions within the Office of the Attorney General of criminal conduct arising from police use of force. This bill establishes the Office of Independent Prosecutions (OIP), led by an independent counsel, as a separate division within the Office of the Attorney General; and provides OIP with jurisdiction concurrent with county prosecuting attorneys to review investigations and initiate and conduct prosecutions of crimes involving use of deadly force by involved officers. This legislation was monitored by the Criminal Law Section and the Civil Rights Law Section. It is expected to be reconsidered next session.
The next legislative session will begin in January 2024 and is scheduled for 60 days, marking the second half of the 2023-2024 biennium. During the interim and the upcoming session, the WSBA will continue to monitor and take action on legislation significant to the practice of law and administration of justice.