Welcome to the inaugural issue of Health Policy News for the 2016 Session of the Washington State Legislature! We will come to you each week with updates about legislative action impacting community health.
Expectations are low for many policy bills to pass this session. It is a "short session" in an election year. Legislators will want to conclude business in their scheduled time and hit the campaign trail. As they return to Olympia, lawmakers face a budget deficit caused by increased caseloads and enrollments, and the McCleary state Supreme Court case on education. In August, the state Supreme Court delivered a unanimous order and began fining the legislature $100,000 a day for failure to develop a plan to fully fund K-12 public education as directed by its 2012 McCleary decision. The McCleary case directs legislators to boost education by billions of dollars by the 2017-18 school year. Thursday, during a briefing with reporters, legislators reviewed a plan to fund McCleary, but acknowledged finding the funding will take a year.
The Legislature will also face funding of charter schools, which were ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, the Friday before the Labor Day weekend. Initiative 1366, passed by Washington voters in November puts in the Legislature in a position where it must either send a constitutional amendment to the people requiring a two thirds vote in the legislature or a public vote for all tax increases or the state sales tax is lowered by 1% from 6.5% to 5.5% on April 15, 2016. This one percent reduction in the state sales tax would result in about a $1 billion loss in tax revenue.