With the legislative session beginning Monday, more than 70 bills have been prefiled in the House and Senate on topics ranging from public health to mascots. Here are some highlights so far.
Keeping charter schools open
Two state Senators from Spokane, Democrat Andy Billig and Republican Michael Baumgartner, are co-sponsoring a bill that would keep charter schools open following a September ruling by the Washington Supreme Court that deemed charter schools unconstitutional. The bill, SB 6163, addresses the court’s concern that charter schools are not under the control of a locally elected school board. The bill creates charter school districts within existing local school districts, making the charter schools accountable to an elected board and eligible for state funding for basic education. However, charter schools would still have some independent authority in managing their budget, staff and curriculum. Currently there are eight charter schools in Washington.
Banning “redskins” as a public school mascot
Democratic Rep. David Sawyer of Tacoma is the primary sponsor for HB 2306, a bill that would prevent Washington public schools from using the term “redskin” in the names of any organizations or clubs, or as the school or athletic mascot. The bill says the word is a “disparaging racial reference to Native American” that has no place in public schools. Currently, the only school using the word is Wellpinit High School in Wellpinit, Wash., a small town in the center of the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Restricting public funding for abortions
On Dec. 7, Republicans filed House Bill 2294, an act restricting the use of public funds for elective abortions. Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, is the primary sponsor, along with 19 Republican co-sponsors. The bill prevents the state from providing “benefits or services” for abortions, unless medically necessary. It also bans the state from distributing grants or funds to “any organization that provides elective abortions or is affiliated … with any organization that provides elective abortions.”
Summer fireworks ban
If HB 2310 is passed, Washington residents will have to forget the fireworks for Fourth of July. In an effort to prevent fires this summer, the bill prohibits “the sale, purchase, use, and discharge of consumer fireworks” from June 1 to Sept. 30 this year, with the bill expiring on Oct. 1, 2016. The bill would also ban unnecessary burning outdoors without a permit from June 1 to Sept. 30. Democrat Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a firefighter from Sequim, is the primary sponsor of the bill.
Accommodating pregnant women in the workplace
If passed, Senate Bill 6149 would require employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” to pregnant employees. For example, the employer must provide more frequent bathroom breaks, provide places for the employee to sit, allow time off to recover from childbirth and temporarily modify work schedules or job duties. The bill’s primary sponsor is Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent.
Increasing the smoking age
At the request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, SB 6157 would increase the legal age from 18 to 21 for purchasing tobacco and vapor products, including e-pipes and e-cigarettes. Democrat Rep. Tina Orwall and 16 co-sponsors have signed on to the companion bill in the House. Ferguson attempted to raise the smoking age last year, but the bills failed to pass. Some cities, including New York City have increased their smoking age to 21, and recently Hawaii became the first state to raise the age to 21.