Here are the big takeaways from WA’s 2024 legislative session

By: Jeanie Lindsay, Northwest News Network

Washington’s 60-day legislative session has ended. Spirits were high in Olympia Thursday as lawmakers adjourned “sine die.” Many legislators donned sequin or sparkly accessories, joking that they were about to adjourn “shiny die.”

On a serious note, legislators made progress throughout the session on several priorities for Democrats and Republicans alike, including measures to address the opioid crisis, education needs and behavioral health.

This year’s short session featured tense debates over big bills that were left behind as a handful of high-profile voter initiatives loomed over the rotunda. Many leaders in Olympia also won’t be coming back next year.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who’s leaving office when his term ends in early 2025, told reporters that he’s impressed with what the Legislature got done this year.

“I think this was another step forward in many ways, multiple ways. I would consider it a banner year in a short session,” Inslee said.

Major takeaways

Several new policies and millions of new dollars are going toward core issues like schools and behavioral health, including increases in special education funding and support for tribes leading the response to the state’s opioid crisis. Democrats also approved a slate of firearm legislation and a utility and natural gas bill that stirred up controversy in the final days.

The Legislature approved three of six voter initiatives to kick off the last week of this year’s session. The three measures that will become law ban new income taxes, outline more than a dozen rights for parents to oversee their kids’ schooling, and ease certain rules around police pursuits. Those measures were a top priority for many legislative Republicans.

Even with some of the more controversial bills that did pass, Republican Senate Leader John Braun (R-Centralia) said earlier in the week that from his point of view, this session went pretty well.

“Good session for Republicans, yeah. Great session for the people of Washington, absolutely,” Braun said.

There was plenty left on the table though. The rent stabilization bill prioritized by many Democrats didn’t make it, and a couple of other key housing bills – on transit-oriented development and rural accessory dwelling units – also didn’t pass.

The short timeframe of this year’s session and the focus on those voter initiatives worked against complicated or controversial bills. Plenty of those that stalled, including legislation to provide unemployment benefits for striking workers and a hospital merger oversight bill, could return next year.

Lawmakers leaving

Speaking of next year, the Legislature is going to look a lot different in 2025.

The final days of this year’s session brought with them a cascade of retirement announcements from lawmakers who decided they won’t be running for re-election. The entire House of Representatives is up for election this fall, as well as about half of the Senate. Among the list of legislators who won’t be coming back to Olympia are:

  • Rep. J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm), the former House Republican leader
  • Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver), the ranking Republican member on the budget committee
  • Sen. Andy Billig, (D-Spokane) majority leader for Senate Democrats
  • Sen. Sam Hunt, (D-Olympia), who has been in the Legislature since 2001

Other lawmakers who aren’t returning include Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah), who is running for governor, and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Lake Sutherland), who is running for lands commissioner.
Some of the members running for other offices could come back if they don’t win the seats they’re vying for, including Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), who is running to become attorney general, Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), who is running to become insurance commissioner, and Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), who is running for a seat in Congress.

The leaving senators are prompting some shuffling in the House too – Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-Olympia) for example, has already announced she’ll run for Hunt’s seat, while Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) has announced a run to replace Billig.

That means the dynamic in Olympia will feel a lot different after this fall’s election, especially because Washingtonians are also electing a new governor, attorney general and more.

Budget deals

The final days of session also solidified changes to the state’s current budget. Hundreds of millions of dollars are going toward core issues like education, opioids, and behavioral health. Lawmakers put more Climate Commitment Act funding into action, including $200 utility credits for low- and medium-income households.

Here are a few highlights:

  • $335 million for K-12 schools
  • $338 million for behavioral health, including state hospital facilities
  • $60 million for local housing and homelessness services

The Legislature also made adjustments to the state’s transportation budget after costs went up for a number of projects and road deaths have continued to rise. It features $100 million for road preservation, more than $30 million for traffic safety, and another $150 million for removal of fish barriers across the state. The transportation budget also put another $196 million of Climate Commitment Act funding toward new hybrid-electric ferries and support for the existing ferry fleet.