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WashingtonVotes NEWS: Friday, February 15, 2019

State lawmakers picking up the pace as first deadline looms. Senate passes anti-fracking bill, plastic bag ban measures advance out of committee.

With 33 days of this year’s scheduled 105-day regular session behind them, state lawmakers are picking up the pace of legislative action on some of the more than 2,100 bills they have introduced so far.

The first deadline of the session is Friday, February 22nd. Bills that don’t make it out of committee by then are likely dead for this session.

Following cancellations caused by snow storms earlier this week, legislative committees resumed a full schedule of public hearings on dozens of bills, including a controversial proposal to exempt legislators from state public transparency laws (SB 5784). Open-government advocates, including Eastern Washington citizens who weighed in via remote testimony, strongly criticized the measure in a hearing before the Senate Committee on Government, Tribal Relations, and Elections on Wednesday. The committee took no action on the bill.

A pair of linked bills that would ban retailers from giving single-use plastic bags to shoppers, including compostable bags, have now cleared committees in both chambers. The Senate version, SB 5323, passed the Senate Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee in late January and was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The House Environment and Energy Committee approved the companion bill, HB 1205, on Tuesday and referred it to the House Finance Committee.

If enacted into law, either of these bills would repeal local regulations and prohibit single-use plastic bags starting in 2020. They would also set requirements for other types of bags and require stores to charge a 10-cent fee for each paper or reusable bag shoppers receive. Although the committee actions are early steps, both measures have now progressed further than similar legislation proposed in previous years.

The full House and Senate passed more than a dozen bills this week, including a measure to ban a process used in other parts of the country to find and produce oil and natural gas. The Senate passed SB 5145 on Wednesday to prohibit hydraulic fracturing, a process of injecting water into the ground under pressure commonly known as “fracking,” by a mostly party-line 29-18 vote.

The proposed ban is meaningless since there is currently no oil and gas exploration in Washington. Still, Senate Republicans noted that fracking is effective, and safe, and could be an energy-producing option in Eastern Washington areas. Sen. Shelly Short (R-Addy) said finding more sources of energy is increasingly important as the state’s population grows. “It’s a sad day that we unilaterally take something off the table,” Short said.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jesse Saloman (D-Shoreline) said the state should be moving in another direction for its energy. “Should we be drilling for more fossil fuel, or should we be moving to renewable energy?” he asked.

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