End of Session Report 2022
By RPEC Lobbyist Emily Murphy
March 17, 2022
The 2022 60-day Legislative Session concluded on time on March 10th. For the second year of the pandemic, the legislature conducted its business mostly remotely.
With Democratic majorities in both chambers, the legislature passed the 2022 supplemental operating budget totally $64.1 billion in state general funds and $130.9 billion in total funds for the 2021-23 biennium, including more than $1 billion in remaining federal coronavirus aid, an overall increase of roughly $5 billion from the budget lawmakers approved last April. The 8% spending increase is paid for largely from existing tax collections which are predicted to come in much higher than previously projected. The 2022 Supplemental Operating Budget Highlights includes a list of major investments beginning on page 3. The legislature passed a rare even-numbered year transportation package totally $17 billion over the next 16 years. More information on the Move Ahead Washington package can be found here.
The 2022 legislative session began with much focus on the state’s long-term care services and programs, including amending a section of the state’s long term care insurance program passed in 2019, the WA Cares Fund. Governor Inslee signed HB 1732 and HB 1733 in January, a day after the Senate passed them. The new laws delay the WA Cares payroll tax collection until July 2023, expand the number of people who can seek permanent exemptions, and allow long-term care benefits to be more accessible to individuals who are closer to retirement.
Plan 1 COLA
Throughout the 2021 interim, hundreds of RPEC members mobilized and made their voices heard at Select Committee on Pension Policy (SCPP) monthly meetings in support of a permanent COLA. In November, the SCPP voted against advancing a permanent COLA proposal citing fiscal concerns. Instead, the SCPP recommended to the legislature a one-time 3% COLA capped at $110/month (or $44,000/year). SCPP Chair Senator Steve Conway (D-Tacoma, LD 29) was the prime sponsor of this SCPP-request legislation (SB 5676) and SCPP Vice-Chair Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn, LD 31) was the prime sponsor of the companion bill (HB 1721). Senator Sam Hunt (D-Olympia, LD 22) introduced a bill to provide a permanent 3% COLA (SB 5698) but it was not given a hearing.
The SCPP-request COLA legislation moved through the legislature swiftly and SB 5676 passed unanimously in all committees and in both chambers. On March 7th, 2022 Governor Inslee signed the bill into law, marking the largest Plan 1 COLA since the Uniform COLA was repealed over a decade ago. The bill takes effect July 1st of this year.
This significant accomplishment is thanks to the persistent, year-round advocacy by RPEC members across the state and the dedicated board and staff that serve the organization.
PEBB Medicare Benefit
The final operating budget maintains the $183 monthly subsidy rate for the PEBB Medicare-benefit.
The operating budget fully funded the employer contributions to the pension systems.
RPEC-Supported Bills Passed by the Legislature
Of the 36 RPEC-supported bills (including many duplicate companion bills, Plan 1 COLA, Operating Budget), the legislature passed 11, including:
* = Delivered to the Governor (Governor action pending as of March 17th)
SB 5546 (Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, LD 33): Insulin affordability – Caps the cost for insulin at $35 per month.
*HB 1646 (Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, LD 22: Dementia action collaborative – Continues and codifies the Dementia Action Collaborative to assess the current and future impact of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias on Washington residents and to update the Washington State Alzheimer’s Plan
*HB 1688 (Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, LD 34): Out-of-network health care – Insurance Commissioner-Request legislation expands the services covered by the balance billing prohibitions to include post-stabilization services and air ambulance services in alignment with federal law; expands the definition of emergency services to include post-stabilization services and emergency services provided by behavioral health emergency services providers; modifies the dispute resolution process for carriers, health care providers, and facilities for bills covered by the balance billing prohibitions.
*SB 5532 (Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, LD 33): Rx drug affordability board – establishes a prescription drug affordability board, and requires the Board to identify prescription drugs priced above a certain threshold.
*SB 5610 (Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, LD 46): Rx drug cost sharing – requires insurance companies to count prescription coupons used by a patient as part of the patient’s cost-sharing requirement.
Worker and Consumer Protections
*HB 1669 (Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, LD 31): PSERS disability benefits – SCPP-Request legislation creates a disability benefit for members of the Public Safety Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) totally disabled in the line of duty, with a benefit of up to 70 percent of final average salary.
*HB 2124 (Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, LD 3): Legislative collective bargaining – Grants employees of the legislative branch collective bargaining rights; creates the Office of State Legislative Labor Relations.
*SB 5508 (Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, LD 21): Insurance Commissioner-Request Legislation – Adds health care service contractors and health maintenance organizations to Washington’s Life and Disability Insurance Guaranty Association.
A look ahead at 2022 Elections
Attention now turns to the 2022 mid-term elections, with all 98 House seats 26 of 49 Senate seats up for election. The growing list of legislators who have announced they will not seek re-election in 2022 (some running for other non-state legislature positions) includes Senators Sharon Brown (R-8), Reuven Carlyle (D-36), David Frockt (D-46), Tim Sheldon (D*-35) and Reps. Eileen Cody (D-34), Laurie Dolan (D-22), Larry Hoff (R-18), Jesse Johnson (D-30), Steve Kirby (D-29), Brad Klippert (R-8), Vicki Kraft (R-17), Bob McCaslin Jr. (R-4).
The following Reps. have announced they will vacate their House seats to run for State Senate: Matt Boehnke (R-8), Noel Frame (D-36), Drew MacEwen (R-35), Sharon Shewmake (D-42), Javier Valdez (D-46), and Jesse Young (R-26).
The long list of candidates for the state legislature grows daily ahead of the May 20, 2022 filing deadline.