‘We played defense better’: WA Republicans on the just-ended legislative session

By Carleen Johnson | The Center Square

Mar 8, 2024

(The Center Square) – Washington state lawmakers are spending their first day in two months not consumed with legislative business. The 60-day 2024 session wrapped up on Thursday.

Nearly 1,200 bills were introduced during session, with less than half that number passing the Legislature.

Minority party Republicans offered some initial reactions on the just-concluded session. 

“Broadly, this has been a very successful session for the people of the state of Washington,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, told The Center Square. “Republicans pushed really hard on the initiatives, and we were successful in getting three of them approved, and that’s an historic feat; never happened in our state before.”

Braun was referencing a group of six initiatives to the Legislature that were filed by and largely supported by Republicans. 

Three of those initiatives – one outlining more rights for parents to oversee their kids’ schooling, one to ban income taxes at the state and local levels, and one to ease certain limits on police engaging in vehicle pursuits – were passed by the Legislature on Monday. These initiatives, which don’t need Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, will become law in 90 days. 

“I think we should celebrate that, but at the same time there’s three more that didn’t get the attention they deserve,” Braun said.

The other three initiatives – to repeal the state’s capital gains tax, to scrap the state’s Climate Commitment Act and its carbon market, and to allow certain people to opt out of the state’s long-term care insurance program – will be decided by voters in November. 

“I will tell you now, had they come up for a vote here, every Republican in the Legislature would have voted yes,” Braun said. “I think all three will get a warm reception in November.”

Republicans were able to hold the line on what they consider subpar legislation, the Republican Senate leader indicated.

“You’ve seen the efforts of Republicans this year, and a few Democrats to hold back on bad bills, and it gives you a sense for what balance would look like in Olympia, where if we had a little more balance, we’d stop some of the very controversial and very one-sided bills,” he noted. “We did stop some of the really bad bills.”

One of those bills, according to Braun, is House Bill 1893 that would have allowed striking workers to access unemployment insurance benefits for up to four weeks. Workers also would have been able to access unemployment insurance benefits during employer-initiated lockouts.

“That’s a very controversial bill – a bill that prioritizes 10 to 15% of our population over everybody else who would have to pay,” he said. “That’s what balance looks like, and it’s what the people of the state of Washington deserve from Olympia.”

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, also spoke with The Center Square.

“We are still in a position of having to play defense, but we played defense better than we have in recent years,” Walsh said. “We killed a lot of really bad bills, including that stupid hospital bill.”

That was a reference to House Bill 5241 that would have increased oversight of Washington hospital consolidations. 

Walsh didn’t hold back on his thoughts on the legislation, calling it “absolutely disastrous for rural and suburban hospitals, doctors and practices.”

He added, “We’ve got enough of a problem keeping doctor groups there, and this would have totally obliterated doctors’ practices in rural areas.”

HB 5241 was driven in part by Democrats’ concerns over abortion access and gender-affirming care within health organizations that have religious affiliations.

Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, who ultimately squelched the measure in the House of Representatives, raised concerns about the bill bogging down small hospitals with more red tape.

Republicans also claimed victory over Senate Bill 5770 that would have allowed local governments in Washington to exceed the 1% cap on annual property tax increase up to 3%.

Republicans say the public uproar over the bill led to its demise. 

Another piece of legislation that went down to the relief of Republicans was House Bill 2114 to prohibit landlords from raising an existing tenant’s rent more than 7% in a year.

Opponents argued rent caps would ultimately worsen the housing shortage crisis and several moderate Democrats agreed, ultimately deciding they could not support the bill.