The Legislative Website’s bill search engine is https://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/ If you see or hear of a bill number, you can plug in the number here and find out everything about it, including when the hearings are scheduled. Nothing perks up elected officials more than a room overflowing with citizens who are either supporting or opposing a bill. Letters and calls are important, but actually have a crowd show up makes a very visual impact they can’t ignore.
As an example, I’ll use a tax that was on your 2019 ballot as an advisory vote. It’s a very complex bill, but I think it provides all the parts that will allow me to explain how to find what you need. The bill is the Real Estate Excise Tax or REET bill – SB 5998. You can enter the bill number in the web page search engine above or just click here – https://apps.leg.wa.gov/billsummary/?BillNumber=5998&Year=2019&Initiative=false
I’ll step through this page, so you can see how each section provides you with the information you might be interested in.
Bill History. Every bill must be “read in” and referred to a particular committee. A hearing will likely be scheduled in the committee. After the hearing, if the Chair of the committee wishes to pass the bill out, there is a vote and, if it passes, it goes to the floor for a vote. Then the same process takes place in the other chamber.
In this particular case, since it was a Senate Bill, you can see it was read into Ways & Means on March 29th, 2019. If you are ever interested in a bill, the next entry is very important – the hearing date. This one was heard on April 8th. You need to monitor this part of the bill page, if you want to go to Olympia to testify in support or opposition of a bill. They are required to post the hearing date 5 days in advance. However, if time is short or if they don’t want word to get out about a bill, they might post it at the last minute and suspend the rules to go ahead and hear it without the notice. I will talk more about participating in a hearing in the next email.
One other important part of the bill history is the roll call lists. If you look at SB 5998, you will see that on April 25th, the Senate voted to pass the bill. Click on the “view roll calls” link, and you will see the Senators that voted for and against the bill. This is important whenever you are curious about how your own legislator voted. On this bill, every Republican voted Nay, but since we are in the minority, the bill passed. As you can see, the bill went to the House and followed the same path through that chamber.
Bill Documents. The first column under this heading is where you will find the actual bill. It will always have the original bill and then all the versions of the bill that followed in the process. Once the bill is passed into law, the final Session Law version is included in the list. Sometimes bills are easy to read and sometimes, it’s tough to wade through them.
All the words in each bill are not necessarily new law. If you look at Sec.1. of SB 5998 (the session law version), you will see that there are some words that have been struck through on lines 9-11. These are words that exist in current law, but the bill removes them. As you can see, it was a line that was supposed to get rid of the tax in 2023. No longer will that tax go away. Instead, as you can see in the following lines, new wording was added that would take the place of the words removed. You can tell the new wording because it is underlined. Again, any words that are struck out are current wording that will be removed, and those words that are underlined are will be the new law. There is one other thing to watch out for – the words NEW SECTION. The wording in that section is all new. They don’t underline it – they signify that it’s new by prefacing it with those words.
To provide one more example, go to page 11. On line 17, you will see that Sec.6. has very few words struck out or underlined. The entire section is current law and will remain unchanged with the exception of lines 23-24 which were added, 25-26 will removed, and the final underlined words added. Many people think the entire wording of the bill is new law, but only the struck out, underlined, and New Section parts are changes to current law.
Bill Reports. If you are like me and are not an expert in law, you will often find that reading a bill and understanding what the changes mean is extremely difficult. That is why I often skip reading the bill itself and go straight to the bill report. This document isn’t added until there is a hearing, so you may have to resort to figuring out the bill, but if there is a bill report, it’s invaluable.
The legislative staff provides a summary of what the bill does, background about the different terms and programs referenced in the bill, and then a summary of what the bill does. Once a hearing has been completed, there is a very informative section added to the report that includes a summary of testimony. This is a great place to see who the bill will harm.
Take a look at SB 5998 SENATE BILL REPORT (not the one labeled Orig). This is the summary of the bill as it passed out of committee. You will see the Brief Summary, the names of legislators on the Committee voted to pass it and who voted to not pass. Then comes the Background section that tells you about what the REET is and where the funds go. The next section is a Summary of Bill. The brief summary that you saw at the top is extremely short. This summary expands upon the other one and also provides a section that tells you the effect of the bill.
Finally, you can see a summary of testimony. Here you see that on the Pro side, this bill will net the State a lot of money. On the Con side, it will impact properties and make housing even less affordable. You can also see who did the testifying, so you can discern what groups will be harmed and which would be helped by this bill.
Amendments. As you can see by the list of amendments here, the Republicans tried to amend this bill to make it less damaging. You can also see that the majority was able to defeat their attempts to amend.
Videos. Finally, if you want to watch any of the hearings related to this bill, there are links at the bottom of this page.
Senate Bill 5998 has all the possible types of information except the fiscal note, because the bill has completed the process and become law. But very little information is available when a bill is first introduced. The information is added as it goes through the process. As an example of a newly proposed piece of legislation, here is a link to SB 6041 by Senator John Braun. https://apps.leg.wa.gov/billsummary/?BillNumber=6041&Year=2020&Initiative=false .This bill would help fund the transportation needs in our state that are currently funded by the car tabs. This would enable us to keep those tab fees down where the voters have demanded they be. It accomplishes this by putting the sales tax from motor vehicle sales into the transportation fund. It makes sense because of the direct relationship between motor vehicles and our infrastructure needs. As you can see, the bill was pre-filed, but because the session hasn’t begun yet, there is no hearing and no bill report. Those will be added as the session moves along.
I hope this has been helpful. Again, don’t feel like you have to remember all this information. Just file it away and pull it out whenever you need to look into a bill you’ve heard about. The more you use Leg.wa.gov, the easier it becomes to follow what is happening in Olympia and use the data to influence your Legislators.