Session 2023 is officially over! Sorta. A special session has been called by the Governor to resolve the Supreme Court’s Blake decision. We wrote about it last year, but basically drug possession will be decriminalized this summer.
To be honest, we don’t hate that. But the Governor’s office and the legislature do. It’s hard to unwind the (highly racialized) moral panic from it all, but remember decriminalization is not legalization. And there’s a real concern that right-wing prosecutors will use the vacuum created by the absence of a criminal law to further terrorize people of color.
Enter: special session, which will be really narrow in scope. Expect the big dogs to hammer out a compromise to recriminalize drugs ahead of time since they failed to do so during regular session. Leadership seemed aghast. It came down to the final hours of session and folks seemed genuinely shocked when the vote fell apart.
In the meantime, let’s talk about what happened during regular session this year! There were some big successes- think Middle Housing and banning assault weapons- but we also were disappointed in legislators for gutting school lunch and once again punting on fixing the state tax code. Our awards for the year are below.
🥇 Most Valuable Player: Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-22) We love Rep. Bateman’s commitment to the middle housing bill and her constant championing of affordable housing for Washington residents. Rep. Bateman believes in restructuring the tax code, housing Washington’s residents, and addressing climate change now. We dig that. As a member of the Capital Budget and Housing committees, Rep. Bateman plays an important role in making these priorities a reality. This session, she leveraged everything to make middle housing and climate both successful and we want to celebrate her hard work!
Honorable Mention: The Attorney General’s office. They brought 9 bills to the legislature, championed the assault weapons ban and took on the independent prosecutor office (though admittedly they hedged a bit). AG Bob Ferguson just announced his run for Governor, and we like how he started the year.
👍 Most Improved Player: Rep. Kristine Reeves (D-30) has come a long way from her previous stint as a milquetoast moderate, and we love to see it. She co-sponsored free school lunch, wealth tax, and unemployment insurance for undocumented workers. She’s also been a strong supporter of shoring up abortion protections. We hope Rep. Reeves stays true to this course, and doesn’t run from these progressive bona fides during an election year.
Honorable Mention: Rep. JT Wilcox (R-2). He stepped down from the minority leader position and that’s a huge improvement for communities of color across our state. Thanks, Rep. Wilcox!
🥊 Offensive Player of the Year: Rep. Liz Berry (D-36) prime sponsored the assault weapons ban as part of her years-long commitment to gun violence prevention. She also brought forward a Guaranteed Basic Income proposal (which died in committee) and advanced Unemployment Insurance for undocumented workers out of the committee she chairs—getting the bill further than it’s ever gone before. Great work, Rep. Berry!
🛡️ Defensive Player of the Year: Sen. Yasmin Trudeau (D-27), who sponsored the Missing Middle Housing bill in the Senate and co-sponsored a number of important bills this year, including a bill to diversify juries, a bill to provide support to foster youth, a bill to protect abortion access and more, is mounting the defense. Sen. Trudeau worked the caucus hard for housing bill support and we celebrate her hard work and partnership on many progressive issues this session.
🎯 Rookie of the Year: Rep. Sharlett Mena (D-29) moved through her first term like a savvy veteran. Watching a community advocate become a legislator and continue to advance the priorities of the community she was advocating for before getting elected is a breath of fresh air. Rep. Mena scored big with her work on the Washington Voting Rights Act, and we trust there’s more great work from her in the years to come.
🏻🏾 Teammate of Year: Rep. My-Linh Thai (D-41) is, frankly, forever teammate of the year. I mean—have you met her? A dream. This year, she did a lot as Deputy Majority Leader to help keep things together. And her co-leadership advancing working families tax credit and the wealth tax can’t be overlooked.
🏆 Coach of the Year: Rep. April Berg (D-44) is the new Dutch boy with her finger in the dam of Washington’s upside down tax code. As the new House Finance chair, Rep. Berg’s no-nonsense approach made meetings fun to watch, and we’re excited by her continued co-sponsorship of the wealth tax. But it’s her defense that really shined this year. She didn’t let stupid anti-government tax bills come up in her committee—which is actually very hard to d! Defense doesn’t always show up in the box score, but the absence of the other side’s points is hard to miss. Good game, Rep, Berg!
⬆ Highest VORP (Value Over Replacement Player): Sen. Noel Frame (D-36). In her newly minted role in the Senate, Frame gets this award this year because her predecessor Sen. Reuven Carlyle was a total bummer. She’s a big improvement on that wet noodle, and we appreciate her ongoing commitment to fixing Washington’s broken tax code. In her new role, Sen. Frame introduced her wealth tax proposal in the Senate and championed a rural economic development bill. She also co-sponsored a whole series of progressive bills, including many of our priority bills. We’re happy to finally see a progressive champion in this seat.
👯🏽♀️ Team of the Year: LGBTQ Caucus. At a time when legislatures across the country are passing anti-trans legislation targeting young people, our legislature opted to pass a bill offering trans youth access to medical care, safe shelter, and life-saving interventions. The bill has generated a lot of controversy, and we’re grateful to the LGBTQ caucus for their brave work affirming Washington’s trans youth in the face of national backlash.
👎 Facing Relegation: The Senate Ways & Means committee. For those of you who aren’t watching Ted Lasso, relegation is what happens when a team gets bumped down to a lower-level league in soccer because they keep losing. Senate Ways & Means is far too often the place where good, progressive legislation goes to die. Sure, Senate Ways and Means has a few star players—Sens. Joe Ngyuen (D-34) and Rebecca Saldaña (D-37) come to mind—but it’s become clear that this team simply doesn’t belong in the premier league.
This year, independent prosecutors, the wealth tax, unemployment insurance all died in committee—along with a bunch of other great proposals. Duds like Sens. Mark Mullet (D-5) and Kevin Van de Wege (D-24) keep protecting the interests of their wealthy friends, blocking progressive revenue, gutting the middle housing bill, killing transit-oriented development, climate policy, and basically anything that looks like it could be a progressive idea.
At the end of the day, all clubs are a reflection of leadership. The team needs a new manager. Ways & Means Chair Christine Rolfes (D-23) continues to hold up work on fixing the tax code which is perhaps the singular key charge of her committee. And until that changes, we’re all stuck on the lower levels.
What do you think? Have any questions? Tweet us your thoughts @WACommAlliance.
Keep up on the action and opportunities to get involved through our legislative newsletter, The Tally.