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Who Killed Bill

By March 13, 2023Blog
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With fiscal cutoff behind us this week, we’re mourning some of our top nine. House of Origin cutoff looms and we’re in the frenzy of trying to get first floor votes for bills that are still alive.

A lot of good bills died because legislators miscalculated: they think they have to play it safe. The reality: voters gave them a resounding mandate last election. Food banks are more strapped than they’ve been since the start of the pandemic. Kids are literally starving at schools. Undocumented workers continue to put their lives on the line in essential jobs while the state turns its back on them. And Democratic leaders like Senate Ways & Means Chair Christine Rolfes (D-23) wanna yell at staff and play politics with people’s lives. We’re sick and tired of good bills dying on their watch.

A lot of our bills are in the Rules committees right now or waiting for a floor vote– this week demonstrates why the Rules committees are so important. Scroll for updates and smash those buttons then get to the bottom for our blame roster.

🗡️ Who Killed Bill?

A few weeks ago, we explained that Dems in the legislature have a mandate from Washington voters who expanded their majorities last year despite all the handwringing about a red wave. This session was an opportunity for these elected officials to fulfill their campaign promises and advance the policies that folks in Washington need and want. Seven weeks into session, and they have failed.

Democrats still seem to think they have to play it safe to keep their majorities. This is a miscalculation, one that means they are f*#&ing up. A lot of important bills died before cutoff—bills that would have allowed folks to participate more fully in our democracy, provided access to unemployment benefits, and put cash in the pockets of working people.

We heard excuses. These bills are too expensive. It’s fiscally irresponsible to pass them. These excuses are hollow when legislators have multiple progressive revenue options before them – wealth tax and estate tax among them– that they aren’t bothering to advance. It’s inexcusable that great policies are passing their policy committees only to die in fiscal committees because we’re buying into a narrative that we can’t afford them.

Here at the end of cutoff, there are so many missed opportunities. Guaranteed Basic Income is dead. Expansion of the Working Families Tax Credit is dead. Unemployment Insurance for undocumented community members is dead. Presidential Primary Ranked Choice Voting is dead. School lunches has been gutted.

Who killed these bills?

Senate Ways and Means Chair Christine “There Aren’t Poor People In My District” Rolfes (D-23): Sen. Rolfes is one of the most powerful people in Olympia. Her chairship holds the keys on both revenue and spending in the Senate. That’s hard power. But she also has soft power—meaning folks, including chairs of other committees, even in the House, make upstream decisions based on their perception of her feelings. And she’s been doing this long enough to know she can manipulate both.

Running a government on cynicism, fear, and vibes is not the way forward (unless you’re a Republican). And Senator Rolfes has held-up too much good legislation over her tenure. Every year, Sen. Rolfes seems surprised by the pressure this kind of power comes with. This year, rumor has it, she’s buckling. Perhaps that’s why she killed Unemployment Insurance in her own committee—deeming it too costly while also refusing to hear a Wealth Tax before cutoff that would provide billions of dollars in revenue.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Timm “Let Them Eat Cake” Ormsby (D-3): Rep. Ormsby is Chair of the committee that spends the budget on the House side. He loves nothing more than to say we can’t afford stuff, while literally doing nothing over the course of his tenure to make sure our communities have what they need. Speaking of soft power: his historically tight grip on the purse strings makes other chairs less likely to pass bills along when they know he won’t pay for them. This year, free school lunch was gutted on his watch. Read that again: free (public) school lunch (for children who don’t otherwise have access to three meals a day) was gutted (because we can’t pay for it) on his (Ormsby’s) watch. According to Ormsby only if a kid can hop on one foot while spinning in a circle chanting U-S-A for 30 minutes straight, can they avail of a service that will keep them from starving to death. Additionally, the Unemployment Insurance bill was deemed too costly by his committee too. In other words, he thinks only workers legally recognized by the U S of A deserve to be cared for when they otherwise can’t do the essential work of growing the food we eat and taking care of the kids Ormsby wants to starve. On the House side, the Finance and Appropriations committees are separate. This means Rep. Ormsby isn’t as culpable as Senator Rolfes. But still: behave like a Democrat, dude.

Hobbs + the Democratic Establishment: In 2022, the Democratic Party establishment worked real hard and stooped real low to elect Secretary of State Steve Hobbs. They wanted—you guessed it—to put a Democrat in office at all costs. It didn’t matter to them that Hobbs spent his time at the legislature caucusing with Republicans and taking recklessly bad votes that, over and over again, put communities of color in further danger and continued harm. Despite the fact Hobbs’ opponent very clearly understood how to and supported the policies that would increase voter participation, ousted party chair Tina Podlodowski and other Democrat power players did all in their power to elect Hobbs. The result? We have a Secretary of State who doesn’t understand how to improve voting outcomes in Washington and doesn’t seem all that interested in learning.

Hobbs even published a Seattle Times op-ed last week that repeated lazy right-wing, racist talking points—claiming voters need help understanding ranked choice voting and other ‘complex voting systems.’ It cooled whatever momentum the Presidential Ranked Choice Voting bill had—not even getting a hearing despite having 20 co-sponsors. We’re sick of electeds treating voters like they’re stupid, particularly the SOS. Hobbs has put forward an anti-ranked choice voting bill this year, SB 5378, disguising it as a voter education measure. Ranked choice voting works and the data backs it up. We hope to see the bill get the attention it deserves next session. In the meantime, we hope Hobbs will get some voter education of his own.

Democratic Leadership: The list of folks in leadership on the House side is here. Senate side is here. These are the people directing the orchestra and setting the tone and pace at the legislature. When important priorities fail to move, they have a hand in it. Just as in so many years before, they seem more concerned with what will happen in November than what is happening in front of them right now in March. Governing towards election day is in direct opposition to governing toward the needs of Washingtonians. Do better.

Next week, we’ll share what’s still possible this session and tell you about our dreams that haven’t yet died. But we want better from the legislature.

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.