WA Senate - Session - Afternoon
(April 6, 2021) - HB 1443 - Second and Third Reading

Understanding Social Equity - Cover - Excerpt

Senators adopted committee language for legislation expanding the scope of the State social equity in cannabis efforts - but many Republican members ultimately opposed passing the bill.

Here are some observations from the Tuesday April 6th Washington State Senate (WA Senate) afternoon session.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • A bill to expand the membership, scope, and timeline of the Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis (WA SECTF) had been gradually revised by legislative appointees to the task force leading development of the legislation.
    • HB 1443 (“Concerning social equity within the cannabis industry”) was passed by the Washington State House of Representatives (WA House) on March 2nd. A public hearing was held on the bill March 11th by the Washington State Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee (WA Senate LCTA).
    • On March 24th, WA Senate LCTA recommended passage of the bill after adopting changes to a striker amendment from Senator Rebecca Saldaña. This resulted in a new draft of the striking amendment, Amendment S-2159.2, which:
      • Removes the term "competitive" from the cannabis social equity technical assistance grant program (Grant Program). Provides that cannabis licensees holding a license granted after June 30, 2020, and before the effective date of the grant section, who meet the social equity applicant criteria, are eligible for the Grant Program (rather than all cannabis licensees holding a license, who meet the social equity applicant criteria).
      • Adds "strengthening [a cannabis license applicant's and licensee's] social equity plan" to the list of technical assistance activities eligible for funding under the Grant Program.
      • Removes provisions requiring the Department of Commerce (Commerce) to create a technical assistance pilot program, and instead, authorizes Commerce to contract to establish a roster of mentors who are available to support and advise social equity applicants and current licensees who meet the social equity applicant criteria, with specified contractor requirements.
      • Replaces the use of "interested parties" with "community members" when referring to persons the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) must consult with prior to rulemaking.
      • Clarifies that the social equity task force report must include the social equity impact of removing nonviolent cannabis-related felonies and misdemeanors from the existing point system used to determine if a person qualifies for obtaining or renewing a cannabis license.
      • Provides that the social equity task force must provide recommendations for the Grant Program in its reports to the Governor, Legislature, and the LCB.
      • Provides that the task force is no longer required to report on the social equity impact of reducing or ending the funding directed to the Washington state patrol (WSP) drug enforcement task force and redirecting an equivalent amount to a cannabis social equity program.
      • Extends the date by which the task force must submit its final recommendations from January 10, 2022, to December 9, 2022.
        • An amendment proposed by Saldaña extended the task force’s final report date to the legislature, governor and WSLCB.
  • Before adopting the Washington State Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee striking amendment into HB 1443, senators withdrew two proposed amendments.
    • Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck, President of WA Senate, asked the Secretary of the Senate to read the bill (audio - <1m, video) and then the committee amendment before WA Senate President Pro Tempore Karen Keiser moved that the amendment be adopted and replace language in HB 1443 (audio - <1m, video). 
    • There were two proposed amendments to the committee striker but both sponsors chose to withdraw them.
      • Amendment S-2334.2 from Senator Mark Mullet would maintain “the requirement that the legislature approve increases in the number of cannabis retail outlets” (audio - <1m, video) but was withdrawn by the senator (audio - <1m, video).
      • Amendment S-2576.2 from Saldaña proposed three changes (audio - <1m, video), but was also withdrawn from consideration (audio - <1m, video):
        • Removes the requirement that the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) determine the maximum number of retail outlets on a county basis.
        • Expands the list of items LCB must consider when making the determination, to include population increases and the number of retail licenses held by social equity applicants. 
        • Makes other technical changes.  
    • Keiser urged passage of the striking amendment, which Heck indicated was adopted after a roll call vote (audio - 1m, video).
  • Following comments from Senator Karen Keiser, WA Senate appointees to WA SECTF offered remarks on the legislation before the body voted to pass the bill.
    • With the striking amendment incorporated into HB 1443 Keiser moved that the second reading be the final reading (audio - <1m, video).
    • Keiser acknowledged the withdrawn amendments, saying “this is kind of a difficult issue to figure out during session and on the floor.” She said the bill was “an expansion of the purpose of the task force on social equity in cannabis and also expands eligible applicants and funding activities for the cannabis social equity technical assistance grant program.” She said WA SECTF had “just got started” and was “not able to complete its work because of the [coronavirus] pandemic.” Keiser stated that, with passage of HB 1443, “we’ll have an opportunity to revisit this and with the recommendations of this task force next session” (audio - 1m, video).
    • Senator Curtis King, the senate minority caucus appointee to WA SECTF, said that the bill had contained “two or three things that gave me pause for concern, fortunately we were able to remove the one that gave me the biggest pause” - apparently the mandate for the task force to study and offer recommendations on WSP drug enforcement funding. He explained that the bill has “some things I like as well,” and what he liked “overrules what I [am] concerned about.” He expected “there will be some no votes from” WA Senate Republicans (audio - 1m, video).
    • Saldaña, the Majority Deputy Leader and caucus WA SECTF appointee, congratulated task force Co-Chair Representative Melanie Morgan for sponsoring the legislation and pointed to the work of Co-Chair Paula Sardinas in developing a bill that was “needed in order to address the delays” due to COVID-19 restrictions (audio - 3m, video). 
      • She said HB 1443 was a reflection of “what we’ve learned from the important work that that task force began...at the end of last year.” Saldaña described hearing “the need for business mentors which this bill will help fund.” WSLCB staff would be able to issue a “very specific set of licenses that are already in existence that have been forfeited, revoked, or cancelled.” She was hopeful the agency would issue the licenses “in a way that actually makes sense” to increase social and economic equity within the legal cannabis market, she stated.
      • Regarding her withdrawn amendment, which had been published less than 24 hours prior, Saldaña explained that she had reviewed “the underlying bill [from] last year” and decided “it was not necessary to add an amendment at this time on the floor and that is why I removed it.”
      • Saldaña said WA SECTF was most effective when “we allow the community members to advise us and the LCB as they move forward.” She viewed the legislation as furthering the task force’s initial mandate as well as to “acknowledge the work that was done by the African American Commission...and heard from many Washingtonians that they felt that the current system does not create opportunities for participation by our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.” Diversity and equity was something policy makers had to “consider as this industry grows and thrives.”
    • Following a roll call vote, staff confirmed “33 yeas, 16 nays” and Heck declared that HB 1443 had passed (audio - 2m, video). The following senators opposed the bill:
    • As House Bill 1443 was modified by the WA Senate, representatives will have to vote on whether to accept or reject the changes. If the chamber of origin does not concur, a conference committee may be appointed from members of WA House and WA Senate to produce a compromise between the versions of HB 1443 and report for their respective chambers. This would need to be done before the adjournment of the legislative session on April 25th in order for the bill to be delivered to the governor to be signed into law or vetoed.

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