WA Legislature - Update
(May 16, 2023)

WA Legislature - Update (May 16, 2023) - Takeaways

The Governor provided insights about the revised “Blake fix” ahead of its release on Monday afternoon, prior to the convening of the first special session of the 68th Legislature.

Here are some observations of the Washington State Legislature (WA Legislature) for Tuesday May 16th, the 1st day of the first special session.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • On Monday May 15th after a bill signing ceremony, the Washington State Office of the Governor (WA Governor) hosted a media availability during which the Executive was asked several questions and provided some insight about the upcoming special session.
    • Jerry Cornfield of the Washington State Standard began by asking if Governor Jay Inslee had any predictions about the special session scheduled to begin Tuesday at 10am PT. Inslee offered that he had been briefed by leadership of the four caucuses of the Washington State Legislature that morning and been told that a proposal would be put forward with wide bipartisan support (audio - 1m, video).
    • Cornfield also asked if the Governor expected the special session could be convened quickly, and Inslee indicated it could be completed on Tuesday or by the end of the week (audio < 1m, video).
    • Another journalist asked about reception of the proposal beyond caucus leadership. While Inslee indicated bipartisan support had been promised in both chambers, he did not expect that support would be “unanimous” (audio < 1m, video).
    • Cornfield directly asked if the penalty for knowing possession would be set at the gross misdemeanor level, which Inslee confirmed (audio < 1m, video) but he would not go into the “thorny texture of different approaches” which legislators had navigated with regards to issues of State preemption and local control (audio - 1m, video).
    • Finally, Inslee confirmed there had been no change to the roughly $271M appropriated in the budget bills (audio < 1m, video), which the Governor was expected to sign on Tuesday morning.
    • HB 1066, a routine technical fix bill with cannabis-related provisions, had been scheduled for action at this ceremony, but the legislation was not brought up for consideration. Earlier, we speculated that as “Representative Roger Goodman is the primary sponsor of the legislation…it’s possible the Governor may want to acknowledge this contribution of a key progressive House Democrat leader.” But that was not the case by Tuesday afternoon.
  • Also on Monday, a revised version of SB 5536 (Concerning controlled substances, counterfeit substances, and legend drug possession and treatment”) was published by Senator June Robinson.
    • During the interim after the close of the 2023 regular session, twelve elected officials from each of the four caucuses were assigned the task of negotiating a revised version of SB 5536 - a “deal” sufficiently acceptable to caucus leadership to elicit a promise of support during the special session.
    • The deal retains the Senate increase of the criminalization of knowing possession of controlled substances, counterfeit substances, and legend drugs to a gross misdemeanor. The deal also introduces the new crime of knowing use in a public place of controlled substances, counterfeit substances, and legend drugs - and similarly positions that crime as a gross misdemeanor.
      • Section 1(3)(b) prevents individuals from being charged for both crimes “relating to the same course of conduct.”
      • Section 2(2)(a) explicitly acknowledges RCW 69.50.445 which retains the positioning of public use of cannabis as unlawful and a class three civil infraction.
    • The 52 page bill aims to accomplish much more beyond a “Blake fix” - and beyond our subject matter expertise. At Cannabis Observer, we’ve verified that the exceptions carved out for cannabis beginning with Initiative 502 appear to have been respected and retained. But there is much more to this bill with regards to criminal justice, public safety, public health, and behavioral health which aims to reshape Washington public life.
  • On Tuesday May 16th at 10am PT, the 68th Washington State Legislature planned to convene a first special session.
    • The Washington State Senate (WA Senate) planned to convene at 10am PT.
      • Procedurally, SB 5536 was returned to the Washington State Senate Rules Committee (WA Senate RULE) at the end of the 2023 regular session and will likely be pulled to the chamber floor calendar for second reading.
      • Senator June Robinson will move for the striking amendment to be adopted. The question of whether additional amendments will be introduced is an important one which may reveal sentiments about the language negotiated by officials from the four corners. At publication time, there were no published amendments beyond the striker.
      • In the Senate, we may hear floor speeches during the amendment process and during third reading and final passage of the legislation, at which point the legislation is referred to the House.
    • The Washington State House of Representatives (WA House) also planned to convene at 10am PT but would likely caucus until the Senate finished its work, perhaps after completing any logistical requirements for initiating the special session.
      • Based on our prior observations, it’s likely SB 5536 will face more overt resistance in the House than in the Senate. We expect the House to suspend rules to bypass committee review and immediately take the legislation into its second reading for potential amendment.
      • If any changes are made in the House, Senators would have to concur with the changes, ask the House to recede, or dispute them to prompt the formation of another conference committee.
      • By many measures, there appears to be enormous pressure for legislators to simply accept the proposed legislation and get their work done quickly - today if possible. That likely depends on whether the “progressive” House Democrats were included in the interim negotiation processes or have moderated their positions in the intervening time. It appears House Republican leadership was mollified, but there may still be some who feel the “Blake fix” doesn’t go far enough. Whether there are enough representatives between the two groups who opposed final passage of SB 5536 at the conclusion of the regular session to provoke a longer special session remains to be seen.