Six weeks into the 2023 legislative session, the state Senate has reached the end of its first round of work. The calendar we adopted on the session’s opening day set Feb. 17 as the “policy cutoff,” meaning the Senate’s 12 policy committees had until then to act on the bills referred to them. The House of Representatives had the same deadline for its policy committees.
Now that we see which bills have moved forward, it’s easier to get a sense of who is coming out ahead at this point in the session.
It doesn’t appear to be our K-12 students and their parents, even though providing for basic education is the Legislature’s number-one constitutional responsibility.
Republican proposals accounted for less than 20 percent of the K-12 bills that have moved forward in the Senate. That means worthwhile measures like Senate Bill 5024 were left on the sideline. It would have created a parents’ bill of rights and did receive a public hearing — but the K-12 committee chair would go no farther.
Instead, the committee’s Democrats voted to give a green light to measures like Senate Bill 5019, which would undercut support for the school resource officers who help protect children while at school, and SB 5020, which takes a swing at homeschooling by proposing to lower the minimum age for attending school. It would mean a pile of new paperwork demands on home-based instruction.
I had anticipated a robust discussion about the shocking amount of learning loss caused by classroom closures. This is the equity issue of our time, seeing how the failure of remote instruction was particularly harmful to students who were already at a disadvantage. Still, Democrats seem oblivious. The closest thing so far to an acknowledgment of the problem is the K-12 committee’s approval of Senate Bill 5248. That’s a bipartisan bill I sponsored to take unspent federal COVID-19 relief funding and invest it in high-quality tutoring and rigorous extended-learning programs.
This first round of the session also was hit-and-miss on addressing the shortage of housing people can afford. Predictably, the $4 billion government-housing scheme proposed by the governor made it past the policy-committee stage in time. Fortunately, so did SB 5609. It is a bipartisan proposal which would require local governments to issue building permits based on a population-based formula. But that win will likely be offset by the approval of SB 5203, a partisan Democratic bill which would inject “climate” into permitting considerations.
Another bill that stalled at the policy level is SB 5473, a good bipartisan bill to improve permitting timelines and give the building industry more of the certainty needed to encourage development.
That brings us to public safety. Specifically, the police-pursuit issue that continues to be mishandled by Democrats in general, not just the Senate majority.
In the Senate, the Law and Justice Committee had the opportunity to consider two bipartisan measures that would ease the pursuit restrictions this year, and allow officers to again make pursuit decisions based on reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed. Neither Senate Bill 5034 nor Senate Bill 5352 advanced.
Instead, the lone pursuit-related bill to come out of committee in time is Senate Bill 5533. It is only a study and would not produce a legislative solution before 2025.
On Feb. 16 the corresponding House committee approved two pursuit-related bills: a study bill similar to SB 5533, and House Bill 1363, which for two years would slightly loosen the extreme restrictions Democrats had adopted in 2021 — although not enough to allow the pursuit of suspected car thieves.
In other words, the only pursuit-related bills still in play would essentially tell criminals that they can keep stealing cars and catalytic converters and using stolen cars to smash storefronts, without fear of being pursued. That means the criminals are coming out ahead so far this session – more than students, parents, homebuyers or taxpayers. They have won the first round.
Senate Republicans have been clear about wanting to reestablish public safety and deal with the lawlessness in our communities. We recognize, even if Democrats don’t, how having a car stolen can be as life-changing as a violent crime, especially for a single mom who loses her job because she can no longer get to work.
Fortunately, there are more rounds to go before this session ends April 23. A bill that is bad coming out of committee can often be fixed on the floor. We must do better.
Sen. John Braun, of Centralia, serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.