The Legislature is moving quickly through a series of major deadlines, and the pace is truly intense.
Fiscal bills deadline. Tuesday last week was the cut-off for bills to be reported out of fiscal committees. As a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I can report that we were exceptionally busy considering so many bills----ranging from modest spending increases, spending cuts, spending reprioritization, improved cost-effectiveness of services, and assistance for local governments.
The exception to this fiscal deadline is bills “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB), which will be considered after the new state revenue forecast coming out Thursday, February 16.
Chamber of Origin deadline. The next big deadline is tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14, at 5 pm. This is the deadline for bills to pass their “Chamber of Origin”---meaning the deadline for Senate Bills to pass the Senate and House Bills to pass the House. Again, NTIBs are exempt from this deadline.
Bills passed to date. So far, the Senate has passed about 140 bills and the House has passed over 200 bills. We are working steadily as the February 14 deadline approaches, so these numbers will increase.
The next deadlines. After Tuesday’s deadline, two processes will take center stage:
(1) Consideration of the other Chamber’s bills. Each Chamber’s policy committees will be considering bills that passed the other Chamber----Senate Committees will consider House Bills and House Committees will consider Senate Bills.
The deadline for this Committee action is: Friday, February 24. If any bills coming out of Committee have fiscal impacts, fiscal committees have until Monday, February 27 to act on them.
(2) The budgets. The state’s operating, capital, and transportation budgets and bills related to them, which are exempt from all cut-off dates.
Friday, March 2 is the deadline for bills to pass their second Chamber---Senate Bills to pass the House, and House Bills to pass the Senate.
Between Saturday, March 3 and Thursday March 8 we will be engaged in working out differences between the Senate and the House on bills and in finalizing the budgets and bills related to them.
March 8, Midnight, is the constitutionally mandated end to this legislative session. Final adjournment is called by the Latin term “Sine Die.”
The Pacific Northwest’s Energy Surplus: A big problem last year and a big issue this year
In my recent e-newsletter, I reported that the Senate was briefed on an unusual energy surplus situation in the Pacific Northwest last year, and that a difficult policy debate about this is taking place this year.
A number of readers asked me whether the State might be able to benefit financially from this by selling the energy. The answer is “no” because state government is NOT an energy producer. Energy production facilities in our region are owned by federal and local government agencies and some private companies.
The energy surplus occurred last year, and the policy debate is taking place now. Last year, the Pacific Northwest experienced an unusually high winter snowfall and a later than usual snowmelt. The Columbia River was running at very high levels for several weeks last May and June.
Since the many dams on the Columbia River can hold only a fraction of the runoff from this mighty river, there were only two options for dealing with the high water flow at each of the dams which have hydroelectric generating facilities –- either to (1) "spill" the water; or (2) direct that water through the electricity generating turbines.
The problem regulators faced was this. Too much "spill" would harm downstream salmon and other fish because of the elevated dissolved gases caused by the spill (the fish in essence get the "bends"). On the other hand, the generating turbines could not generate more power than the transmission system can handle and the end-users of the power can use (the "load"). It amounts to a type of “Catch 22.”
The "spill" is regulated by a complex set of environmental standards designed to assist the recovery of endangered salmon runs.
During the high runoff last Spring, BPA found itself in a very difficult situation. It had reached the limits of what it could "spill" AND at the same time was faced with the need to curtail power generation in order to avoid an imbalance between energy use and energy supply on the transmission lines. Among their goals was to avoid "negative" prices for the power---meaning avoiding paying some users to take the power!
BPA addressed this situation by first curtailing nuclear and fossil fuel generation, but also requiring some of the wind generation to be curtailed.
The owners of the wind generation projects strenuously objected to curtailing their use of the transmission system during that time, contending this: (1) was contrary to their contracts with BPA; (2) constituted unlawful discrimination of access under federal law; (3) reduced the value of their federal tax credits that depend upon power production; and (4) denied their Washington customers the benefit of the renewable energy compliance "credit" that the state's Energy Independence Act (Initiative 937) requires larger Washington utilities to obtain.
BPA’s response was that the curtailment schedule was fair to the power generators and that the region's ratepayers should not absorb all of the costs of the power curtailment.
This dispute is currently before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In the meantime, BPA and the wind generators have been attempting to negotiate a settlement that would balance the impacts to the generators with the impacts to the region's ratepayers during these high runoff events.
It’s important that our region have a policy in place for the future.
BPA proposal. On February 7, BPA announced their proposal to provide compensation to wind generators in an amount that would roughly divide the financial impacts between the wind generators and the region's electricity ratepayers.
If an agreement is reached, the state Legislature might be asked to enact legislation recognizing this "curtailed" wind power as “renewable energy” within the Energy Independence Act (Initiative 937) because of the important environmental values, such as protection of fish, that the curtailment served. Stay tuned!
There is a March 6 deadline for the BPA to file with FERC a proposal to resolve the dispute. BPA will take public comments until tomorrow, February 14. Detailed information may be obtained at the BPA website: http://www.bpa.gov/corporate/AgencyTopics/
Senate bills combat human trafficking---a scourge here and everywhere
Sadly, human trafficking is one of the most lucrative and fast-growing criminal enterprises in the world. The amount of money estimated to be involved globally is similar to the amounts estimated to be involved with arms trafficking and drug trafficking!
Human trafficking includes the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor, sex, organ transplants or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt, bondage or slavery.
We can all feel proud that Washington has long been a leader among states in addressing this hideous practice. Our package of bills will further Washington as a national leader, and influence similar legislation in other states.
I played a key role in coordinating the Senate package of bills, and worked closely with Olympia resident Rose Gunderson, and her organization WA Engage. I’m very pleased that this package has bipartisan sponsors, and strong bipartisan support in the Senate, where all the following bills passed and are now being considered by the House:
-SB 6251 – “escort” ads. Seeks to keep minors from being sexually exploited by requiring that print and online ads for “escorts” (such as are advertised in Backpage.com) are at least age 18.
-SB 6103 – Foot massage and reflexology. Improves regulation.
-SB 6252 – Criminal Profiteering Act. Adds “commercial sexual abuse of a minor to the list of offenses that may constitute a pattern of criminal profiteering activity.
-SB 6253 – Property seizure. Allows seizure and forfeiture of property involved in crimes of commercial sexual abuse of a minor and promoting prostitution in the first degree.
-SB 6254 – Mentally disabled persons. Makes it a crime to compel a person of any age who has a mental disability to engage in prostitution, whether or not force is used.
-SB 6255 –Vacation of victims’ sentences. Allows a court to vacate a prostitution conviction if the facts demonstrate that the conviction was the result of trafficking, and therefore, the convicted person was a “victim.”
-SB 6256 – Street gangs. Adds “commercial sexual abuse of a minor” to the list of criminal street gang-related offenses.
-SB 6257 – Sexually explicit performances. Criminalizes such performances by minors.
-SB 6258 – Luring. Criminalizes luring minors and the developmentally disabled at transportation access points, such as bus stops and airports, for trafficking purposes
Human trafficking is a modern day scourge throughout the world, including in the United States, and in the State of Washington. These criminal enterprises greatly abuse people and treat them as disposable, inexpensive commodities. It is modern day slavery, where people are forced into sex work or other labor through trickery, threats to the victim or victim’s family, drugs, beatings, isolation, and other tactics. Victims are frequently moved between cities. Even if they escape, they remain devastated, physically and emotionally, for years or for the rest of their lives.
Again, these bills are now in the House for their action. If they are a priority for you, please let House Members know.