Legislature continues session virtually

Now in its third week of the 105-day 2021 session, the Washington state Legislature continues to operate under the pandemic-related restrictions ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee. Public participation is allowed only remotely via online connections, and in-person interaction by lawmakers is limited to a few members and staff at a time, socially distanced and masked. Under these constraints, the House and Senate last week debated and voted on a dozen bills in mostly empty chambers — a scene likened by observers to a football game played in an empty stadium.

House members passed a number of non-controversial bills by unanimous votes, with only a measure to permit public and private schools to grant individual student emergency waivers from credit and subject area graduation requirements garnering a split vote. Senators, too, passed some bills with unanimous or near unanimous votes.

• SB 5044, to require professional training programs concerning equity and cultural competency in the public school system passed with a split 30-19 vote along partisan lines after lengthy debate.

Senate Bill 5044, concerning professional learning, equity, cultural competency and dismantling institutional racism in the public school system, passed the Senate on Jan. 27 by a vote of 30-19.

This bill would add equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism to existing cultural competency standards and training for school board directors, district staff and school staff. It would direct school districts to prioritize one of three professional learning days to focus first on these topics. The curriculum would require each of Washington 295 school districts to adopt the training. None of the bill’s proposed mandates would apply to private schools, homeschooling or non-public online education programs. Amendments to make such training voluntary and to expand it beyond race to students with disabilities failed by voice vote.

Sen. Jim McCune, (R-Graham), voted no.

• Senate Bill 5061, concerning unemployment insurance, passed the Senate on Jan. 27 by a vote of 42-7.

This bill would provide unemployment insurance tax relief by not charging rate increases to employers for unemployment benefits during a public health emergency for high-risk individuals unable to work from home and shared work benefits paid or reimbursed by the federal government. For workers, the bill would expand eligibility for those in high-risk households and waive the waiting period when federally reimbursed. It would also increase the minimum benefit from 15 to 20 percent of the average weekly wage and limit benefits to a person's weekly wage.

Sen. Jim McCune, (R-Graham) voted no.

• House Bill 1121, concerning the emergency waiver of graduation requirements, passed the House on Jan. 27, by a vote of 85-11, two members excused.

This bill would authorize the State Board of Education to permit public and private schools to grant individual student emergency waivers from credit and subject area graduation requirements, graduation pathway requirements, or both, due to a significant disruption from a local, state or national emergency. Students in the graduating class of 2020 and subsequent classes would be eligible for the emergency waiver program.

Rep. Andrew Barkis (Pierce, R), voted no, while Rep. J.T. Wilcox (Pierce, R), voted yes.

WashingtonVotes.org is a project of the Washington Policy Center. Visit www.WashingtonVotes.org and check out the new Olympia news service, Washingtonvotes.org News, featured on the home page.


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