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2019 Session Review: Improving our behavioral health system

July 22nd, 2019|

For decades, Washington state has struggled to meet the needs of people with mental health or substance use disorders, now commonly referred to as “behavioral health.” We have relied on 19th-century models of care and have failed to invest in building community-based treatment facilities and training enough professionals to help our neighbors facing such challenges. The results – from people in crisis strapped to gurneys at Harborview Medical Center to chronically homeless people living under freeways – are a source of shame for us all.

The 2019 Legislature worked on several bipartisan efforts to expand the capacity of behavioral health treatment facilities, improve funding and staffing levels at our state hospitals, and to push government at all levels to take a clinical approach rather than a criminal justice approach to addressing these challenges.

New UW teaching hospital

A significant behavioral health workforce shortage has created a two- to three-month wait for treatment in most areas of the state. Our rapidly growing population will only increase the demand for services. In response to this challenge, the Legislature passed HB 1593 to create a behavioral health innovation and integration campus within the University of Washington School of Medicine. The bill, championed by House Speaker Frank Chopp, will allow us not only to teach an integrated behavioral health curriculum to the next generation of behavioral health care providers, but also to expand the number of inpatient beds. This will include a 150-bed psychiatric unit to replace capacity at the outdated Western State Hospital.

Other behavioral health investments in the 2019 budget include:

  • $70 million toward meeting a court-mandated timeline to improve access to mental-health treatment for people waiting in jail for competency evaluations.
  • $58 million for patient safety enhancements, preservation and ward renovations at Eastern State Hospital and Western State Hospital.
  • $28.7 million for construction of two new forensic wards, providing 60 additional forensic beds at Western State Hospital.
  • $8 million for a new Treatment and Recovery Center at Western State Hospital.
  • $25 million for predesign, design, siting and site work of two state-constructed community civil bed facilities — one providing 16 state-operated civil beds and one providing 48 mixed-use beds.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, climate change, or orca recovery, you can read those here.

2019 Session Review: Protecting Puget Sound Orcas

July 15th, 2019|

Orcas and salmon are integral to our region’s cultural identity, economy and tourism industry. Both southern resident orcas and Chinook salmon populations are declining due to the last century of development and human activity along the Puget Sound and Columbia River, along with the effects of climate change. The historically healthy population of around 200 resident orcas has dwindled to 76. Last summer, the story of Tahlequah carrying her dead calf for days in the Puget Sound touched people here at home and across the globe. With great grassroots public support, the Legislature took several important steps to protect these iconic creatures.

Orca recovery

Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • SB 5577 increases the distance vessels must keep from southern resident orcas and sets vessel speed limits within a half mile of orcas. Though it does not impose a two-year moratorium on southern resident orca commercial whale watching, as Gov. Inslee’s task force proposed, it requires state fish and wildlife officials to establish a commercial license for whale watching activities and to limit vessel times and locations.
  • HB 1579 undertakes habitat protection measures for orcas and the salmon on which they feed by providing additional compliance and enforcement measures, including catch limits for fish orcas feed on.
  • SB 5918 requires state parks to include whale watching guidelines and other informational material in the Boating Safety Education Program.
  • SB 5135 will help eliminate toxic chemicals that harm orcas and other marine species. The bill directs the state Department of Ecology to identify high-priority chemicals of concern, particularly in consumer products, explore safer alternatives, and adopt restrictions on the manufacture, sale or use of those dangerous chemicals.
  • HB 1578 will reduce the risk of an oil spill by requiring tug escorts for oil tankers, towed oil barges, and articulated tug-barges in Rosario Strait. It also directs the Board of Pilotage Commissions to adopt tug escort rules by 2025 for other waterways in Puget Sound.

There is no one, easy solution to saving Washington’s resident orcas. The environmental conditions that threaten their survival took generations to create and will require a grand, coordinated effort to reverse. I look forward to working on further action to ensure the survival of these beloved creatures.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, or climate change, you can read those here.

2019 Session Review: Fighting climate change

July 8th, 2019|

The growing threat of climate change is among the top policy, business and moral issues of our time. Human activities have caused current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases to exceed all levels measured for at least the past 800,000 years – and we are witnessing the effects here in Washington.

Last summer, Seattle experienced the worst air quality in the world.

Dangerous air quality from worse and more frequent wildfires, depleted snowpacks in the Cascades, alarming reports of species and habitat loss, threats to critical infrastructure and vulnerable communities – these warning signs require us to act quickly. Experts believe it may not be too late to avoid catastrophe, but our time is running out. This year the Legislature passed several landmark pieces of legislation, making our state one of the leaders in the fight against climate change.

100% Clean Energy

Electricity comprises about 20% of Washington’s carbon footprint, and almost a third of our electricity comes from coal and natural gas. SB 5116 will require electric utilities to drop coal-fired power from their supply to customers by 2025. Utilities must become “carbon neutral” by 2030, meaning 80% of power must come from non-carbon-emitting sources; the remainder can be offset by emission reduction measures. By 2045, utilities must supply Washington customers entirely with power from carbon-free sources. Investing resources into clean energy will spur the growth of renewable energy, supporting local industry and creating sustainable jobs, businesses and infrastructure.

Increasing energy efficiency

  • Buildings are the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, accounting for about 20% of total emissions. They are also assets that last for a very long time, so it is essential to construct new buildings to be as efficient as possible and to make old buildings more efficient. HB 1257 will require the state Commerce Department to establish an energy performance standard for existing large commercial buildings, beginning with the largest buildings in 2026.
  • Increased efficiency in the appliances we use every day to cook or wash our clothes has the potential to reduce emissions and save consumers money. HB 1444 is part of a multi-state effort – organized by Washington under the umbrella of the U.S. Climate Alliance – to help move the market to modern, lower-energy technologies. As new products required by the bill come to market, Washington will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumers will save $2 billion in energy and water costs over the next 15 years.

Eliminating superpollutants

Super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), heavily used in appliances and autos as a substitute for ozone-depleting substances banned in the late 1980s, are a class of chemicals thousands of times more damaging than carbon dioxide as atmospheric warming agents. In Washington, they are responsible for more carbon pollution than all marine vessels combined. HB 1112 will phase out HFCs in new products from 2020-24, with the Department of Ecology authorized to delay or modify standards to ensure the new products meet safety requirements.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety, civil rights, or consumer debt, you can read those here.

Best wishes,

Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District
(360) 786-7628

2019 Session Review: Ending the cycle of debt

July 1st, 2019|

Many people struggle with debt. Whether the debts are incurred intentionally (such as student loans) or unexpectedly (such as emergency medical bills), they can become overwhelming for consumers. Unfortunately, Washington state’s laws have helped contribute to an endless cycle of increasing debt for too many people. The Legislature created several new consumer protections to address unfair debt collection practices in 2019.

New consumer protections

  • HB 1730 ends an unethical debt collection practice in which consumers were tricked into making small payments on old and expired debts. Under a law that had not been amended since 1881, these old debts would then be revived and the clock would start again on the statute of limitations, which is why they were referred to as “zombie debt”. Under the new law, when a creditor fails to pursue collection and the statute of limitations runs, the debt is canceled.
  • HB 1066 increases fairness and transparency for consumers by ending a debt collection practice called “pocket service”. Under that practice, consumers are served with a summons and complaint, but the debt collector does not file a case in court. Diligent consumers will call the court to make sure that the case is not fraudulent, only to be told that no such case exists.  But if the consumer fails to respond, the collector can obtain a default judgment, which will mar the consumer’s credit report. Under the new law, collectors will be required to file their cases before serving the consumer with the summons.
  • HB 1531 will help prevent patients from drowning in debts arising from medical bills. The bill lowers the interest rate on medical debt, prohibits health care providers from selling medical debt to collection agencies for at least 120 days after the first billing notice, and requires patients be informed of opportunities to apply for charity care. 
  • HB 1602 protects workers against losing their homes or ability to care for their families because of wage garnishment. The new law reduces the interest rate on consumer debt and lets people retain more of their wages so they can pay for basic living expenses, such as food and rent.

These changes are both complex and hugely consequential for millions of Washington residents.  I was therefore proud to help shepherd each of these bills through the Senate Law & Justice Committee and across the Senate floor. Together, the bills will help many Washington consumers get their books back in order.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on important issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on health care, gun safety or civil rights, you can read those here.

2019 Session Review: Advancing civil rights

June 24th, 2019|

Washington state has been fortunate for many years to have courageous champions in the state Legislature who stand up for historically-marginalized communities. Their work on behalf of communities of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community helped our state advance civil rights protections long before other states or the federal government. Here are highlights of the progress we made in 2019.

LGBTQ rights

Members of the Washington State Legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus include, from left, Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), Rep. Beth Doglio (D-Olympia), Rep. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle), Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood), Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), Rep. Christine Kilduff (D-University Place).

The nine LGBTQ members in the House and Senate work closely together to address inequities affecting the LGBTQ community. This year we celebrated the passage of several important bills:

  • SB 5332 modernizes the state’s 1950s-era vital records statutes, which govern birth, death, and marriage records. The revised statute will conform to our updated Uniform Parentage Act, recognizing that families come in many configurations. It also confirms in statute the right to have a non-binary gender marker on records.
  • HB 1732 replaces the term “malicious harassment” with the better understood “hate crime” and increases the punitive damages that a victim may seek.
  • SB 5602, the Reproductive Health Access for All Act, guarantees access to reproductive health services regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression for all plans regulated by the state. 
  • SB 5356 creates a Washington State LGBT Commission and designates June of each year as LGBTQ month.
  • SB 5689 requires the state school directors association and the state superintendent of education to develop and update a model transgender student policy to eliminate discrimination based on gender expression in public schools.
  • SB 5027 adds a prior conviction for a hate crime to the list of factors a court must consider in determining whether to issue an extreme risk protection order.

Equality and opportunity

In 1998, voters approved I-200 to ban the use of affirmative action in public education, employment and education. After 20 years of experience with the consequences, nearly 400,000 people signed Initiative 1000 and sent it to the Legislature. In the final hours of the 2019 session, the Legislature passed I-1000 into law, which will:

  • Define “affirmative action” to mean a permissible policy in which the use of race, gender or similar characteristics “are factors considered in the selection (of individuals) for public education, employment and contracting.”
  • Define “preferential treatment” to mean an impermissible policy in which race, gender or similar characteristics are the sole qualifying factor to select a less-qualified candidate.
  • Expand the list of characteristics to include (in addition to sex and race): age, sexual orientation, disability, and military/veteran status.
  • Create a Governor’s Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, responsible for ensuring compliance with the measure.

Protecting our immigrant neighbors

Our state’s booming economy relies on a talented workforce. That includes thousands of immigrants who call Washington home. In recent years, federal law enforcement authorities have sought to make state and local law enforcement collect and report immigration status information that is unrelated to the commission of a crime. SB 5497 prohibits local authorities from asking about people’s immigration status and directs the state to develop model policies limiting immigration enforcement in public schools, public health facilities, courthouses and shelters.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to share updates on issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my previous updates on our efforts to reduce gun violence or improve health care, you can read those here.

2019 Session Review: Improving public health

June 17th, 2019|

When Senate Democrats met late last year to prepare for the 2019 legislative session, we agreed that access to quality health care should be one of our top priorities. Washington state has dramatically improved access to health care over the last decade. The passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, along with bipartisan legislation at the state level to expand Medicaid in 2013, helped our state achieve a record-low uninsured rate. This session, we built on that strong base.

Protecting the public from communicable diseases

Recent measles outbreaks around the state provide a stark reminder of why widespread immunization is crucial to our collective health and safety. In recent years, some parents have been swayed by online campaigns to sow doubt as to the safety of vaccinations and have declined to vaccinate their children. This year’s passage of HB 1638 eliminates the personal belief exemption from vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). Absent a medical or religious exemption, all students attending public or private schools will be required to be vaccinated for MMR.

Protecting consumers from surprise billing

For years, medical providers and insurance companies have argued about who should pay, and how much, when a patient receives emergency services from a hospital or doctor who is not under contract with the patient’s insurance company. Consumers have been caught in the middle, left with surprise medical bills that are sometimes in the thousands of dollars. HB 1065 will protect consumers by creating mechanisms for the providers and insurers to work these issues out.

Landmark insurance program for workers’ long-term care

Most people will need long-term care at some point. Many will see their life savings and property consumed to pay the costs of nursing homes or other care. No one should have to spend their way into poverty to be eligible for long-term care through Medicaid, which is the grim reality facing too many households today. HB 1087 establishes the Long Term Care Trust Act, a public long-term care program funded by a monthly payroll fee of just over one half of 1 percent – or 58 cents for every hundred dollars in income. Once the program is up and running, eligible recipients will receive up to $100 a day for 365 days to help meet the cost of long-term care. It’s a modest first step that will help millions of Washingtonians prepare for the future.

First state to provide a public option

While we’ve significantly lowered the number of Washingtonians without health insurance, many households still struggle to access affordable health insurance. SB 5526, also known as Cascade Care, is designed to lower premiums and deductibles for families and people purchasing insurance on the individual market – households that do not receive health insurance through an employer or qualify for Medicaid. The new law caps total provider and facility reimbursement rates, which will help keep premium and deductible costs down for patients.

Protecting existing benefits

Unfortunately, protections that consumers have come to rely on since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 have been targeted for elimination. This year, we passed HB 1870, which will ensure that health care policies sold in Washington maintain existing patient protections even if those standards are eliminated at the federal level. Among other things, this means you cannot be denied insurance after surviving cancer or other pre-existing conditions; you cannot be forced into bankruptcy because of a lifetime cap on health costs; and you cannot be forced to pay extra for basic and essential health benefits such as contraception and mammograms.

Cracking down on prescription drug price increases

One of the major frustrations in health care today is the confusion over how the prescription drugs we need are priced. Patients frequently struggle to navigate a maze of confusing and convoluted terminology, pricing, paperwork and decisions. Drug prices seem to spike with little warning or justification. HB 1224 adds clarity and control by requiring drug manufacturers, pharmaceutical benefit managers, and others in the supply chain to disclose past and planned changes in prescription drug prices and explain those changes.

We also passed several other key measures related to health care this year:

  • HB 1155 will improve patient care by ensuring nurses receive reliable meal and rest breaks.
  • SB 5380 directs our key health agencies to make opioid concerns a statewide priority and to expand treatment, awareness and prevention.
  • HB 1074 will increase the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21 starting in 2020. I hope that this change will interrupt the cycle of addiction and improve public health.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll share updates on other issues the Legislature addressed this year. If you missed my update on our efforts to reduce gun violence, you can read that here.

Best wishes,

Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District
(360) 786-7628

2019 Session Review: Reducing gun violence

June 11th, 2019|

The 2019 legislative session wrapped up several weeks ago after a busy and productive 105 days in Olympia. We finished a “long” session on time for the first time in a decade. With Democrats in control of the Legislature for the second year, we made remarkable progress on many fronts, including groundbreaking legislation addressing climate change and the nation’s first public long-term care benefit. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sending newsletters focused on specific issues the legislature addressed this session. This first newsletter will detail the progress we have made together to reduce gun violence in our state.

We’ve made progress on gun safety legislation in recent years thanks to the passion and dedication of advocates across the state who are committed to making our communities safer.

Reducing gun violence in our community is one of my primary objectives as chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee. After decades of inaction, the tide is turning in favor of common-sense gun safety measures. Washington voters are responsible for much of the progress, passing statewide ballot measures to extend background checks to private sales and allowing family members to seek court orders to keep guns away from those who are at risk of hurting themselves or others.

In 2018, the legislature banned bump stocks, added domestic violence harassment to the list of conditions that prevent people from buying a firearm, and adopted a first-in-nation measure enabling people struggling with mental illness to place themselves on a firearms do-not-purchase list. The voters capped 2018 by passing an ambitious ballot measure increasing the purchase age and requiring enhanced background checks for semi-automatic weapons, as well as requiring safe storage of all firearms.

In 2019, the legislature passed ten additional firearms safety bills to save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of people who pose a threat to themselves or others. These included:

  • SB 5181, which prohibits possession of a firearm for six months by someone placed in involuntary treatment for a 72-hour period. That individual may petition the court after six months to regain access to his or her firearms.
  • HB 1225, which facilitates the removal of firearms after reported incidents of domestic violence;
  • SB 5205, which prohibits possession of a firearm by someone found by a court to be incompetent to stand trial and who has a history of violent acts.
  • SB 5027, which improves the state’s extreme risk protection order law, passed by voters in 2016. The bill clarifies the law’s applicability to minors and adds a prior conviction for a hate crime to the list of factors the court must consider when determining whether to issue an extreme risk protection order.
  • HB 1739, which prohibits the manufacture, sale, or possession of undetectable firearms, such as 3D printed firearms. These weapons would not be detected by airport or courthouse screeners and so present a giant public safety risk.

Over 2,000 people signed in to express their views on these measures in the Senate Law & Justice Committee. The passion and dedication of community advocates helped us to pass all of these new laws, which should reduce injuries and deaths of our friends and neighbors.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. Please reach out to me with any questions or concerns.

Best wishes,

Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District
(360) 786-7628

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    Legislative update: Affordable housing & school construction

Legislative update: Affordable housing & school construction

February 27th, 2019|

Last week’s historic snow disrupted school, work, and life in general for many of us. As a parent with four kids in Seattle Public Schools, I know our entire family was itching for schools to reopen. The Legislature was also disrupted, as all committee hearings were canceled last Monday – the first weather-related interruption of a legislative session in recent memory. We now face the session’s first key deadline: policy bills that do not pass out of committee by this Friday are dead unless they are necessary to implement the budget. In this update, I’ll highlight a few of the measures that I have been working on this year.

School construction

For several years, I have been working on modernizing our state’s school construction assistance program. Schools here in Seattle and around the state rely on this funding to relieve overcrowding and enhance instructional space. This past summer I served on the School Construction Task Force, which held hearings and visited schools around the state. We learned that the outdated formula in the current program understates both the size of facilities needed for effective and modern schools and the cost of construction. This leaves school districts with limited capital support from the state to modernize facilities. If passed, SB 5853 would update the formula to reflect actual costs and student space needs and increase the minimum amount of state support. The bill received a public hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee last week. I am hopeful that we can make these long-overdue changes to address the needs of our students and educators. 

Affordable housing

One piece of the puzzle of increasing the supply of affordable housing in our region is to lower barriers to building condominiums. During the interim, I held a work session in the Senate Law & Justice Committee on this issue and heard compelling testimony both about the crucial role that condos can play in a well-functioning housing market and about challenges with our existing statutory warranties of quality. I then worked to broker a deal among the major stakeholders in this area, including the Washington Realtors, the Building Industry Association of Washington, the Master Builders, the Washington State Association for Justice, and the Community Associations Institute. The resulting bill, SB 5334, will make changes to the condo warranty statute to provide a better balance between builders and buyers. The bill passed unanimously out of the Law & Justice Committee and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

Sexual assault

Another subject that my committee tackled over the last interim was sexual assault. We heard from victims, prosecutors, public defenders, and advocates about how our current statutes of limitation prevent justice. For example, if an adult victim does not report a rape within one year, then prosecutors have only three years to bring charges. SB 5649 would eliminate the statutes of limitation for child rape and child sexual molestation; eliminate the reporting requirement for rape of an adult and lengthen the statute of limitations to 20 years (for Rape 1 and 2) and 10 years (for Rape 3); and change the definition of Rape 3 to remove the requirement that a victim express a lack of consent. The bill passed unanimously out of the Law & Justice Committee.

Ending the death penalty

It has been nine years since the death penalty was administered in our state, and last year the state Supreme Court ruled that the law is unconstitutional because it was “imposed in an arbitrary and racially-based manner.” Last Friday, the Senate passed SB 5339, which would remove the death penalty from our law, leaving life in prison without the possibility of release or parole as the punishment for anyone convicted of aggravated first-degree murder. I believe that the time has come for our state to put an end to capital punishment, which is expensive, morally problematic, and inconsistently applied.

Human remains

A few weeks ago, I wrote about ESSB 5001, which would expand options for disposing of human remains. The bill would allow both alkaline hydrolysis (reducing remains in a bath of water and a strong chemical base) and natural organic reduction (placing bodies in a vessel with organic material such as wood chips, accelerating the natural transition to nutrient-dense soil). I am happy to report that the Senate passed the bill last week by a vote of 36-11; it is already scheduled for a public hearing in the House Consumer Protection & Business Committee this week. You can watch my floor speech on the measure here.

Pedersen bill would open up legislative records

January 31st, 2019|

OLYMPIA – Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, introduced legislation today to subject the Legislature to the state Public Records Act and make a broad range of records available to the public and press.

“The people of our state value both open government and effective government.  This bill attempts to strike a balance between those important principles.” Pedersen said. “It’s time for the Legislature to recognize the ideals voters overwhelmingly approved in 1972.  We must enable Washingtonians to know who is influencing the lawmaking process without compromising the ability of their elected representatives to craft sound legislation.”

Tentatively scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 13, Senate Bill 5784 would subject the Legislature to the Public Records Act and its disclosure requirements.  Records that would become available include:

  • Legislators’ correspondence on legislative business to and from persons outside the Legislature – most significantly, with lobbyists — including email and text messages. Constituent communications would also be available with personal details redacted to protect constituent privacy.
  • Legislators’ calendars, including the names of individuals and organizations with whom legislators have met and the dates of the meetings.
  • Final decisions of investigations and disciplinary proceedings by the Facilities and Operations and Executive Rules committees of the Senate and House, respectively.

The bill would apply to records in the possession of the legislative branch whether created before or after the effective date of the act.

The bill would identify a narrowly-tailored set of exemptions from disclosure, including:

  • Communications with whistleblowers reporting allegations of improper governmental action; and
  • Preliminary and deliberative process records and internal caucus communications, such as drafts of bills and amendments, and legislators’ communications with staff or other legislators; legal, fiscal, and policy analyses of such draft proposals; ballots for internal caucus elections; budget offers and counteroffers between caucuses and chambers; and preliminary vote counts on bills and amendments.

Any decision not to release a record would be subject to review by the judicial branch, beginning in Thurston County Superior Court.

The issue of access to legislative records resurfaced in 2017 when a group of media organizations sued the Legislature. The Legislature had denied the media access to records that the Public Records Act requires state agencies to disclose on request. Since the Legislature is not a state agency under the executive branch but an independent branch of government, it has considered itself exempt from many provisions of the act. Last year, however, a Thurston County superior court judge ruled that although the Legislature is not an agency, individual legislators’ offices are agencies and thus subject to the act. Both sides appealed that decision and the case remains in litigation.

Last year, the Legislature attempted to clarify the law by passing SB 6617. The bill drew widespread criticism for the manner and speed with which it was passed, as well as its approach of creating a separate disclosure act for legislative records and self-policing about what records would be released.  After public outcry, Gov. Inslee vetoed the bill.

“We have listened and learned from the mistakes we made last year,” Pedersen said. “The Public Records Act has strengthened our state’s democratic standards and created a level of access to government strongly valued by Washingtonians. This legislation will strengthen the Public Records Act by substantially expanding access to legislative records. I look forward to a robust conversation with my colleagues about how we can continue to serve the public within the mandate that the public has given us for transparency in our work.”

Sen. Pedersen’s legislative update: 2019 session begins

January 22nd, 2019|

The 2019 legislative session began on January 14. This will be a “long” regular session, because we will pass two-year operating, capital, and transportation budgets for the state before our scheduled adjournment on Sunday, April 28.

After the 2019 election, Democrats hold larger majorities in the Senate (28-21) and House (57-41). Our team of Senate Democrats is strong, diverse, and determined to create smart policy and make targeted investments that will improve life for people in our communities.


I will continue to chair the Senate Law & Justice Committee, which has jurisdiction over civil and criminal law issues such as gun regulations, family law, the death penalty, and police use of deadly force. I will continue to serve on the Senate Ways & Means Committee, which writes the state’s operating and capital budgets and reviews every bill with a fiscal impact. I will also sit on the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and on the Senate Rules Committee, which decides which bills the full Senate will consider.

My bills

Senators have introduced more than 400 bills so far this year. I am the prime sponsor of seven of those bills. Here are two highlights:

Condo liability

The lack of affordable housing is one of the great challenges that our region faces. Experts tell us that an inadequate supply of condominiums has exacerbated this problem. Condos provide a critical rung on the housing ladder, both allowing people to purchase a first home and start building equity and also allowing empty-nesters an opportunity to leave a single-family home without going directly to assisted living.

Unfortunately, developers have built very few new condominiums in the Puget Sound region in the last 10 years. Part of the reason is the common perception that Washington law imposes substantial liability on developers and contractors for claimed construction defects. Over the summer and fall, I brought stakeholders together to negotiate a compromise to help revitalize this market. SB 5334 is the result of those negotiations. I am hopeful that its carefully crafted language will strike a better balance between protecting consumers who purchase defective homes and protecting developers and contractors from unfounded claims.

The bill will have its first public hearing next Monday, Jan. 28 in the Senate Law & Justice Committee.


It’s not often that a bill introduced in the Washington State Legislature makes news in New York and London, but SB 5001 has sparked interest from national and international media outlets in the past few weeks. The legislation would expand options in our state for disposing of human remains. It would allow both alkaline hydrolysis (reducing remains in a bath of water and a strong base) and recomposition (placing bodies in a vessel with organic material such as wood chips, accelerating the natural transition to nutrient-dense soil). Researchers from Washington State University have found the process to be safe and less expensive and better for the environment than burial or cremation.

Thinking about death and the disposition of our bodies is not pleasant, but every one of us will face this issue. Technology has transformed most aspects of our lives, but state law leaves us with the only two options – burial and cremation – people have used for thousands of years. It is time that Washington residents have other, better options.

Stay in touch

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. I feel honored to begin my 13th year serving you in Olympia and welcome your comments and questions about issues before the legislature.

Best wishes,

Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District
(360) 786-7628