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Analysis: No shortage of bills nearly halfway through the legislative session

Washington House representatives listen to testimony, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, before they unanimously voted to approve a code of conduct for the Legislature in Olympia, Wash.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
Washington House representatives listen to testimony, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, before they unanimously voted to approve a code of conduct for the Legislature in Olympia, Wash.

State lawmakers are approaching the halfway point of their 105-day session, and they’re closing in on the deadline to pass non-budget-related bills out of their house of origin. Democrats control both chambers this year, and they’re flexing their majority muscles. Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins updated Morning Edition producer Ariel Van Cleave on the latest progress.

“This one stands out on a couple of fronts,” Jenkins said of the session. “First, just the sheer number of bills that have been introduced.”

The nearly 2,500 bills average out to about 17 bills per member of the Legislature, he said. “That’s a lot of legislation."

Those include groundbreaking proposals from the large freshman class of lawmakers. This session welcomed 29 new members from diverse backgrounds. “These new members are already making their mark,” Jenkins said. One example, he noted, is the black caucus recently formed by African-American members of the state House.

And the list of topics trending in the Legislature is long, too: from affordable housing to criminal justice reform.

Individual bills Jenkins is monitoring include a digital privacy bill moving through the Senate now. “The idea here is to give consumers more control over their data, similar to the protections that are now granted to consumers in Europe,” he said.

Additionally, both the House and Senate are forwarding bills to do away with single-use plastic bags.

Then there’s the Senate bill proposing a sex-education requirement for public schools starting in 2020. “That’s been kind of a lightning-rod issue,” Jenkins said.

But with such a large crop of bills, not everything survives. “Nothing is for sure dead until the gavel falls,” he said. One measure that has died, though, is the proposed creation of a 51st state in Eastern Washington.

Minority Republicans are frustrated as they watch their proposals fizzle. They’ve circulated a so-called “bad bills” list, just as Democrats prepare to release budget proposals at the end of this month.

“This is really where the rubber hits the road," Jenkins said, "and you get to see the spending and policy priorities of the party that’s in charge."

Listen to their full conversation above.    

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.
Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.